‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ and The Forgotten War


Graphic by Glenn Horne

The film was made by colorizing original world war one footage.

Glenn Horne and

    Peter Jackson, the renowned director and producer of the beloved Lord of the Rings Trilogy, released a documentary about World War 1 on December 17, 2018 in honor of the Great War’s 100th Anniversary. To give the film, and undoubtedly the War itself some context, the cataclysmic disaster began in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and ended in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This historic occasion is marked by Armistice Day every year on November 11, and is meant to commemorate the end of the war. It was one of the most brutal, and horrific tragedies to plague our world, but unfortunately, most people in our country nowadays tend to forget the absolute scale of devastation the war brought with it. This is probably due to the fact that America was not really involved in the war until late and stayed involved for less than a year, so it is almost as if we were not really there. However, our impact, and more importantly the impact of the War, is more than few and far between.

   “The people at the imperial War Museum asked me if I could do a movie for the centennial of the Armistice and four years seemed like a long time — easy,” he recalled with Variety magazine. “They wanted me to use their footage and use it in a fresh and original way.”  

   The Imperial War Museum gave Jackson the film, and for four years he dedicated his life to making the documentary. He wanted to make it as realistic as possible so, instead of getting voice actors to narrate, all of the narration consists of interviews with actual veterans as they recall their experiences.

   In a short clip that plays before the movie, Jackson admits that at first he was stumped on how to present this footage in a way that feels unique. However, after months of experimenting, he finally came up with the idea of taking the nearly 100 year old film reels and completely colorizing them. At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but the technology that Jackson and his team used to colorize the footage is absolutely mind-blowing, and it shows. I saw the film with a couple friends and after the credits started rolling, we just kind of sat in silence for a couple minutes, completely overrun with feelings we did not quite understand. Never before had I realized just how terrible the Great War was. The documentary was a visceral experience; the presentation felt incredibly realistic, and some scenes genuinely scared me.

They wanted me to use their footage and use it in a fresh and original way.

— Peter Jackson

   They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary that follows a specific battalion of British troops as they go through boot camp, and all the way to the end of the War. It shows the horrors of war more realistic than anything else ever presented on the screen. Jackson doesn’t hold back as he shows scenes of bombs going off in No Man’s Land, to scenes depicting the effects of Trench Foot, and others showing the brutality of fighting in the trenches. Things never even thought of before are detailed in the film. Soldiers were forced to use bodies as sandbags for protection from No Man’s Land, dear friends were lost, and the once eager-to-be-soldier kids soon realized that they wished for nothing more than to be back home.

   This film stands as one of the few to teach a genuine lesson for everyone who watches it. The message of the film, and what Jackson was intending for it to do, was to pay homage to a War often forgotten in time. They successfully revitalized it through an amazing experience on the same level as Saving Private Ryan.