Movie review: They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old— Running Time: 1:39 — Rating: R
“They Shall Not Grow Old” is a movie unlike any other ever made. Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s gift to us is his restoration of a film made during World War I. The original was faded, broken and jerky. Jackson’s brilliance here lies in his determination to use the original film adding only color and music to bring it into this century. He adds no actors, no modern characters, and invites to stay for his on-camera comments after the film ends. I hope you stay.
From the 100 hours of original film, Jackson chose to use just that of the British role to commemorate the “war to end all wars.” Because there are no modern injections, the audience watches young men from age 14 up as they lie about age in order to join the army. In a big difference from today, the enlistees are looking forward to serving with their peers and we watch them blend as they get to know each other in their shared purpose.
Each has brought a backpack with one shirt, one pair of socks, a razor and a toothbrush for the duration. As we watch the physical training that toughens the new soldiers and teaches them how to use their guns, one says, “a man’s best friend is his rifle,” while wondering whether he would ever be able to shoot a man. When they are ordered to board ships for their unknown destination we know reality is about to hit them.
As they arrive the soldiers face the dead, bloody bodies of their peers lying in the trenches they had dug. And then comes the stench of the death of soldiers and horses, the lice, the rats and then the cloud of approaching poison gas. As they capture German soldiers, the British realize they are just boys, like themselves. They like them. And finally, the noise of battle turns into dead silence.
Dragged into holes and trenches with no one giving orders, a whole generation of two countries died, including one million British boys. As the war ended, those who lived returned to civilians who had no comprehension of what they had suffered. What hurts so is that more than a hundred years after this film was made, war is still the final solution to unsolvable disagreements among nations.
Peter Jackson uses his after-film screen time to explain how they created superb history from the broken old film. The filming is immediate and grueling because it brings war alive in a way we have never before seen. There are no actors here. Every man in this film was real.
When Jackson returns to walk the fields where the war unfolded a century ago, the trenches and holes and hills are covered with healthy green grass where one million men died. After this superb film, we are left with one question: why? War follows the inability of men to solve problems. Modern weaponry orders us to learn that lesson.
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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