A splice of colors and emotions in a dazzling WW1 Doc
Just after I panned the lackluster “Mortal Engines,” which Peter Jackson produced, I found out he directed a WWI documentary with unused vintage footage colorized and sound effects added. “They Shall Not Grow Old” is that doc, and it reminded me of how editors had to finish Orson Welles’ final masterpiece “The Other Side of the Wind.”
The following is told from the point of the English soldiers.
The soldiers presented here give out their thoughts of “what it was like to be a soldier,” rather than tell an exact story. They were young men, who lied about their ages (15-18 or 16-17 of age) in order to enlist. They also reveal what it was like to hold rifles, to survive on scraps of food, to be unable to take baths, to smell the fowl stench of dead bodies, to suffer from gangrene, but more importantly, to battle in the Great War.
War is always filled with challenges, and that’s why it’s all about the fear and risks of being a soldier, and how they see things.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” reminds you of how “The Wizard of Oz” transitioned into color. The movie opens and closes with a black and white reel, and 24 minutes into the movie, you start to see colors. It looks fabulous-fabulous in the ways the colors match the mood and tone of the Great War without destroying the footage. So, it’s like taking pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling without any risks.
The images (clips, stills, or graphics) match the mood and tone of that time; and the sound effects morph tremendously into them. You get bombs, flies, soldiers shouting, birds chirping, and gunfire-all going along with the footage. This has some great use of editing here.
Besides the format, the movie shows us the struggles of the soldiers, and their recorded interviews convince us on that notion. And even if some graphic images make us uncomfortable, we still feel their pain. This is a WWI doc about soldiers with truth and persona, and it deserves to be shown in theaters.
It’s really amazing how after directing such fantasies as “The Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong,” and “The Hobbit,” Peter Jackson takes it down a notch, by revealing life in the war. And on a final note, he dedicates this movie to his grandfather, who also served in the British army.