Review: They Shall Not Grow Old

Score:  B+

Director: Peter Jackson

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rated: R

The Great War seems even longer ago than it is. Unlike World War II and Vietnam, which are always in the public consciousness thanks to an endless number of films and History Channel specials, the first global conflict often feels like a chapter we learn about in history class, but nothing more.

But hopefully that will start to change with They Shall Not Grow Old. Peter Jackson has truly brought the past to life. By not just restoring old footage, but meticulously colorizing and converting it to 3-D, his team have made not just a fascinating documentary, but a public service as well.

As Jackson explains in his intro, he used only the video available, and culled audio from thousands of hours conducted by the BBC in the 1960s and 70s, getting perspective on surviving the war from men old enough to reflect on their experiences, but not so old they'd forget them.

The film begins in black and white, as men relay the excitement they felt as they lied about their age to enlist. It's a bit sluggish to start. But when the footage switches to color when they arrive on the battlefield, the wonder turns to horror, as men relate at least a dozen ways to die, only one of which is enemy gunfire. The trench warfare left them with squalid conditions: rats were everywhere, their bathroom was a literal pit, and gangrene was common.

But there's also an exploration of the camaraderie among not just the British troops, but among the Germans they captured as well. It's a universal truth of war: men are sent to fight, killing each other for almost no discernible purpose. But in the most dire of circumstances, they band together.

They Shall Not Grow Old is moving tribute to the men who served. As Jackson mentioned in his intro, while this focuses on the British troops, these were shared experiences. This documentary is one you should share as well.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.