The jaw-dropping moment of digital wizardry in They Shall Not Grow Old as 100-year-old footage is flooded with colour is reason enough to crown it one of this year’s most exciting films. The shock of this spectacle is comparable to audiences’ first glance at technicolour. Our detached gaze of both familiarity and alienation in the face of faded wartime footage is gone; Peter Jackson has switched on a light, illuminating faces previously hidden by the limits of a history book.
The monumental accomplishment that is Jackson’s visual restorations is not the only innovative element to this work. Though the documentary’s structure is chronological and rather typical, it is based solely around audio recordings of soldiers reliving the day-to-day of WWI. The resulting whole is an intimate, visceral scrapbook of memories.
Jackson makes some equally trailblazing decisions when it comes to what to include. We are not spared the dire images of the frontline entrenched in decaying bodies, open ravine-cum-toilets, and at one point an almost analytical closeup of a gangrenous foot. Perhaps more shockingly, the soldiers frequently recount their enduring excitement, an element that Jackson boldly includes, despite the counter effect it might have to a narrative on war.
At points Grow Old’s impact does hang too heavily on its impressive artifice; without Jackson’s tinkering, some scenes would feel outdated, more akin to a television special than a documentary of this calibre.
Although it makes no groundbreaking larger comments on the war itself and houses weaker moments, They Shall Not Grow Old is vital, less as a piece of cinema and more for its vast historical, almost anthropological unearthing.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
SYNOPSIS: Peter Jackson uses archive footage and audio to narrate WWI as the soldiers saw it.