'They Shall Not Grow Old' Brings WWI To A New Generation

Feb 6, 2019

They Shall Not Grow Old
Credit Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures - © 2018 Imperial War Museum

It was a war that ended a century ago. The visual images of World War I-- the war to end all wars--are silent black-and-white film.

Thanks to digital technology, and the creativity and dedication of well-known Oscar winning director Peter Jackson, there is a color documentary of what life was like for the British soldiers on the front line.

Some of the memories of World War I veterans:

“I was 16 years old and my father allowed me to go... “

“I was just turn 17 at the time...”

“I was 16...”

“I was 15 years...”

“When they came to us they were frightened children and had to be made into soldiers.”

Four years ago Jackson, an award winning director best known from his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, was asked by the British Imperial War Museum to put together a film for the 100 anniversary of the Armistice, Nov.11, 2018.

Jackson had access to 100 hours of archival film, 600 hours of recordings of soldiers, and other material to put together They Shall Not Grow Old, an intimate look at the life of British soldiers at war.

Thanks to digital technology Jackson put together a finished product up 21st century standards

Jenn Lynn, Montana State University Billings history professor, teaches a class “Gender, War and Film”. She said the way Jackson used color in this film, created a new way we can look at World War I

“The narration doesn’t change, the argument doesn’t change, the experiences don’t change,” said Lynn. ”We know this through other historical documents and historical records. But what changes is the way we imagine and can think of the experiences of World War I when we think about them in color.”

There are sound effects: feet marching in the mud, squeaks of the rats that shared the trenches, gunfire, shelling and even falling debris. All made the experience quite real.

More from remembrances of the soldiers:

“We were in conditions that isolated from completely civilization. We got so generate, so isolated, that 

They Shall Not Grow Old
Credit Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures - © 2018 Imperial War Museum

includes this mud.”

“You could sympathize with how a   rabbit must feel because we here hunted by mankind just the same like a rabbit.”

“You knew your lives were in one another’s hands and it united you very closely and you didn’t let anything interfere with that.”

Lynn, who has seen a lot of war movies, said she was surprised what the colorized battlefield images brought to the movie experience.

“I also watched it in 3D so that added real interesting moment when there was this shift from black and white to color where it looks like somebody was crawling out of the trenches towards us while we were sitting there,” Lynn said. “And to me that kind of visceral reaction with the sound and the color was really unbelievable.”

A review by Peter Travers in RollingStone said “Technology has allowed Jackson to erase the barriers of time and speak to a new generation about what war does to youth.”

They Shall Not Grow Old has been on a limited release since early February, in theaters in Billings and Missoula.