They Shall Not Grow Old
True to its advertising of presenting WWI British soldiers as the living, breathing, non-B&W and non-silent people they were, Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is poised to be the movie event of the year for many viewers, at least ones with a generous amount of patience.
Lured by the stunning colorization of century-old footage, audiences must first contend with an awkward, off-the-cuff introduction by the director and precisely the presentation he’s fighting against — familiar, chalky moving images accompanied by recollections from a wide variety of veterans whose voices were recorded as part of an oral history project decades ago.
It’s a somewhat dry start, and despite the chronological, chapter-ish telling of soldiers’ journeys from civilians to trainees to the battlefield, the lack of a compelling narrative flow leads to frequent stagnation on an energy level.
Once the colorization kicks in, however, with a cinematic drumroll in the form of expanding from the small, period-appropriate aspect ratio to modern full-screen glory, a good deal of these weaknesses fade away. Truly chill-inducing, the effect pairs nicely with 3D that further emphasizes the faces and actions of real individuals whose endeavors are commonly reduced to archival yawns, making it clear that they were regular human beings thrust into extraordinary situations.
Even with the visual wonders on display, They Shall Not Grow Old is still pretty one-note and thoroughly bleak — true to the WWI experience, no doubt, but kind of an expected tonal approach that rarely varies. The veterans’ disembodied voices discouraging a connection to the speakers, Jackson perhaps relies too much on the colorization as the film’s core creative element, though its achievements on technical, educational, and tribute levels warrant celebration.
Grade: B. Plays Dec. 27 at AMC Classic (4 p.m.), Biltmore Grande (1 & 4 p.m.) and Carolina Cinemark (1 p.m.), and Dec. 28 at AMC Classic (4 p.m.).
(Photo: Warner Bros.)