They Shall Not Grow Old

Directed and produced by Peter Jackson who is best known for the worldwide phenomenon Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series, They Shall Not Grow Old is a truly remarkable and game-changing documentary that explores the daily lives of British and Imperial soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War I. The film is compiled from over 100 hours of original film footage taken from the Imperial War Museums and the BBC based in the United Kingdom, as well as over 600 hours of interviews given by 200 veterans in various oral history projects. Although it is comprised of the now dated archival footage taken during the war, the amazing documentary vibrantly brings the soldiers back to life by colorizing the black-and-white footage and altering it to better match modern cinematic formats. Going even a step further, a team of lip readers were assembled to try and understand what the soldiers were saying in the silent footage and, in turn, their work is used by voice actors who speak the very words that the soldiers may have been using. This pioneering use of modern technology throughout the film has a profound impact on the viewer who for the very first time is able to witness the most realistic account of a war that ended 100 years ago, stories that have been lost through time and place. Unlike a traditional documentary in which there is a single narrator that pieces together a narrative about the subject and many interviews are presented as is in a linear fashion, the filmmaker makes the unusual yet extremely effective decision to rely on audio given by 120 veterans interviewed over the years as the only narration. Each soldiers’ oral testimony gives the already vivid documentary a much more personal tone in which the soldiers themselves recount first-hand their harrowing experiences during such a tragic and brutal war that resulted in the deaths of millions and widespread destruction across Europe. Overall, I found it to be one of the more mesmerizing historical documentaries that I have ever seen, and I have no doubt that the film’s unique realism will stand the test of time as one of the most important pieces of history about World War I.

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