They Shall Not Grow Old


The Great War, made living once again.

(2018) Documentary (Warner Brothers)  No cast listed.  Directed by Peter Jackson

 

When we think of Peter Jackson, we mostly think of Middle Earth. Some of his fans are aware, however, that he is a World War I buff, a war that his grandfather fought in and who died of injuries sustained in the war before little Peter was born. So when the Imperial War Museum offered to allow him to make a documentary using their film archives he jumped at the chance.

What has resulted is nothing less than an epic documentary, but this isn’t a typical “How the War was Won” informational film with maps and narration. This is the stories of the soldiers who fought the war, in their own words (taken from audio interviews decades after the fact) on footage that has been restored from jerky 18-frames-per-second hand-cranked jerkiness to smooth 24-frames-per-second realistic motion. He has also digitally colored the film, bringing depth to the faces and making the war something less from the dusty history books and more real and immediate for audiences.

Initially released in 3D IMAX, it is available at home now and in a lot of ways, it is less distracting to watch it from your couch than in a big IMAX seat with all the overpowering sound, even though the sound is part of the realism here. To be honest, I got lulled a bit during the middle as the film stretches on. I like to think of myself as a history buff but at times even I found it tedious, although it’s possible that when I saw it I was on the tired side which may have impacted my enjoyment of it.

Still, this is a document that comes as close to making the viewer a part of history as I think it is currently possible to become. The faces even given the hair styles and period dress, could be anyone you encounter on the street, in church, at your local theater. Or at least, used to. Some of the images of corpses, of dead horses and of explosions disturbingly close by may be a little much for those who are sensitive.

One other thing; we are never introduced to any of the soldiers speaking; we only get a sense of their experience and not who they are. That’s a lot like reading a dust jacket and trying to get a sense of what the book is like. This was deliberately done by Jackson so as not to bog down the film and I understand his reasoning, but I think it backfired. I would have liked to have known these men a little bit better. At least, some of their names.

REASONS TO SEE: The footage is incredible and the technology that brings it to life breathtaking.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little too long, a little too tedious, a little too impersonal.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images from the war.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jackson was given carte blanche by the Imperial War Museum to use their footage however he saw fit (so long as it was respectful). Some of the footage has never been seen by the public.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Now, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/17/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 91/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Great War
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Pick of the Litter – December 2018


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Aquaman

(Warner Brothers) Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe. The first post-Justice League DC film will be under a microscope as we explore the origin tale of Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis who will be enlisted to unite the peoples below the sea and above it. Forces exist however who want to send the two peoples into a cataclysmic war that will determine who rules the world once and for all. December 21

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Ben is Back

(Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton. A mother’s most devout Christmas wish comes true when her estranged son appears unexpectedly on her doorstep Christmas Eve morning. However, the sins of his past including drug abuse and criminal activity are not far behind him and she will fight tooth and nail to keep it from dragging the rest of her family down with it.  December 7

Vox Lux

(NEON) Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Ehle. The events that shaped the world from 1999-2017 are viewed through the eyes of a self-centered pop diva. One of the most anticipated films to come out of Toronto this year, there is already talk that this might be Portman’s next Oscar win. December 7

ROMA

(Netflix) Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta. Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron returns to his Mexican home turf to examine the life of a middle class family in a suburb of Mexico City during a single year in the tumultuous ‘70s. A big hit at various film festivals (it received the award for Best Film at Venice), Netflix is giving it the widest theatrical release in the history of the company in November in preparation for a major Oscar push. December 14

Ghostbox Cowboy

(Dark Star) David Zellner, Specialist, Robert Longstreet, Vincent Xie. A Texas entrepreneur who isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier relocates to China where he reinvents himself as something of a maverick in China’s booming tech market. However, unscrupulous and corrupt American businessmen are prepared to take him a lot further than he wants to go in this parable about the trade war mentality. December 14

 They Shall Not Grow Old

(Warner Brothers) Peter Jackson. Legendary producer/director/writer Peter Jackson is a World War I buff. Using modern technology, he has taken archival film from the Great War, restored it and added sound and color to make the scratchy, jumpy and sped up footage look more natural and realistic, allowing viewers to really become immersed in the experience. Theatrically, this is playing only at special screenings on December 17th and 27th via Fathom Events. December 17

Cold War

(Amazon) Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza. Set in the background of the height of the Cold War, two young Poles, completely mismatched but stuck with each other, try to navigate the dangerous currents of Stalinist Poland and perhaps the even more dangerous currents of the human heart. This is Poland’s official submission for the 2019 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and comes to us from the director of a previous winner, Ida. December 21

 Destroyer

(Annapurna) Nicole Kidman, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan. The leader of a notorious gang emerges from he shadows, prompting an aging L.A. detective who was once undercover in the gang with tragic results to seek out surviving members of the gang to exorcize her own demons and to get to the bottom of what happened so long ago. And yes, that is Kidman in the photo above. December 30

Stan and Ollie

(Sony Classics) John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston. The legendary comic duo of Laurel and Hardy are well past their prime and in desperate need of a hit. Undertaking a grueling theater tour of Britain, the two must deal with the ghosts of their past, Oliver Hardy’s failing health and their own feelings for each other. December 28