11th Apr2019

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp


Peter Jackson’s first feature after his second wind in the Tolkien universe after the heavy load of The Hobbit trilogy arrives in the somewhat surprising venture of a World War One documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. However, it isn’t your quintessential Discovery Channel documentary, as in all Peter Jackson directed efforts theirs a slight twist concerning the technical aspects of the production itself. In this case, it is the complete reconstruction of never before seen images and film colourised by Jackson’s own Wingnut productions. The film is undoubtedly a technological achievement in its own right but nothing we haven’t necessarily seen before in such a strong manner. They Shall Not Grow Old is a beautiful homage to those who fought for freedom, but it’s loose on a political level and ostracizes itself being drastically one-sided on a narrative front.

The colourisation of the footage in question is, of course, the crowning achievement and while it isn’t the biggest technological advancement in the age of cinema, with the practice being exercised since the dawn of celluloid, specifically in the early twentieth century, it looks outstanding to behold in how it opens this haunting world into a window of sorts for its audience. The actual achievement here is by no means disappointing or underwhelming. It looks fantastic, in fact, it’s actually far more compelling, eerie and haunting to behold, while the black and white footage is tremendous the colourisation of such opens the world for a more endearing approach. The scale and scope in what footage has been restored are incredibly gripping on screen. It’s both personal and colossal in its approach of the soldiers and ultimately the victims of this tragic deeply unnecessary war.


The issues don’t arise with the restoration process but more so on the narrative front. Jackson over stuffs himself with what he wants to convey and showcase about the great war in his documentary that just about manages to stretch the ninety-minute running time. You can tell right from the get-go that Jackson is in love with the source material but that sadly comes at a cost, and the result is the lack of restraint and level-headedness. The documentary itself is compact with so much Jackson wants to show but can’t out of necessity to the structure and intended narrative, so it sweeps past incredibly important aspects or even political conversation on the topic on a whole. However, it’s difficult to asses such decisions as Jackson is being as politically opaque and respectful to his subject as possible, perhaps They Shall Not Grow Old would have better sufficed as a mini-series of sorts with the lack of depth and overall questioning of the war itself is sorely missed.


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