They Shall Not Grow Old: Peter Jackson’s Immersive Docu of WWI

Meticulous restoration work and immersive experience define They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s essential documentary.

The film is composed of original footage of WWI, taken from the Imperial War Museum’s archives, most previously unseen, all over 100 years old by the time of release.

The audio elements are culled from BBC and Imperial War Museum (IWM) interviews of British servicemen, who had fought in the conflict

Jackson’s docu joins two other honorable features about WWI: Sam Mendes 1917 and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life (yes, films often come in thematic cycles).

Most of the footage has been colorized and transformed with modern techniques, and the addition of sound effects and voice-acting make the docu at once more evocative and intimate in recreating the soldiers’ actual experiences.

It’s the first documentary for Jackson, a fearless director who likes to be challenged with difficult material, such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001 to 3003.

Early on in his career, Jackson had made the mockumentary Forgotten Silver in 1995 and produced the West Memphis Three documentary in 2012.

Jackson has said that he intended the film to be an immersive experience of “what it was like to be a soldier” rather than a story or a recount of events.

The crew reviewed 600 hours of interviews from 200 veterans and 100 hours of original film footage. The title was inspired by the line “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old” from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen,” which was used in the Ode of Remembrance.

They Shall Not Grow Old premiered at the BFI London Film Fest and in selected cinemas, before airing on BBC Two on November 11, 2018, marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, November 11, 1918.

It received a limited release in the U.S. in December, then expanded into wider theatrical release in February 2019, scoring big at the box-office with over $20 million.

The docu is dedicated to Jackson’s grandfather, who had fought in the war.