Putting in a third entry for my trifecta of Peter Jackson in so many weeks, I watched They Shall Not Grow Old. This comes with sky-high expectations. As of when I am writing this, it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and “universal acclaim” (91/100) on Metacritc. Newspaper reviews of the film, at least what I saw, were all extremely positive. The only “social media” comment I recall was telling people not to wait for the CD as the it was necessary to get the full effect from the big screen.
For anyone who missed the media barrage, the film was created using British Imperial War museum’s footage and oral history interviews combined with near state-of-the-art digital film technology to give the archived material a new depth. This isn’t Ted Turner’s colorization by any means; while hardly flawless, the digital restoration effort is truly impressive. Combining the visual restoration with the addition of studio-created sound really does enhance the emotional impact.
For anyone who saw the publication of French color photographs from 1917 that made the rounds a few years back, you may have anticipated that images take on a lot more “reality” when they are in color. A series of black-and-whites of guys with strange mustaches from a hundred years ago feels like something from another world. The color photos makes one feel a kinship to those young men. Yes, their clothes are a little different, but otherwise they look much like us. The effect goes double for moving pictures.
The style is to forgo the big-picture history lesson in favor a individually focused narrative. The narration is (mostly, all – I don’t recall if I heard any exceptions) WWI veterans, recorded in their own voices. The specifics of battles and maneuvers are deliberately left vague. It gives it a more serious as well as a fresh feel when compared to the standard History Channel fare, mismatching well-worn visuals with stock narration. Instead, it tells the chronological story of the soldier’s life, starting with induction, moving through life in the trenches, an assault on the German lines, and then the armistice and the return to civilian life. It is well done for sure, although I’m not sure it is “universal acclaim” done.
Likewise, it is technically excellent. As I said, the film restoration and colorization is good but the full reconstruction to color and sound is extraordinary. Going overboard in complimenting the production may be the price we as a society pay so that projects like this one actually can get done. I guess I can live with that.