On the 27th I saw “They Shall Not Grow Old” at the Century theater at Clackamas Town Center. I was the brunette who arrived late without 3D glasses and had to dash out and get a pair out of one of the return bins.
First, let me get this out of the way: the technology used by Peter Jackson worked. Sometimes. Truth be told the clips from the trailers were probably the best of it. Much of it still had awkward in-betweens and dodgy coloring. Also, much was made about the film being shown at the “correct” speed but I saw several instances of the footage being slowed to stretch the time.
I should also say that this film would have been better presented in 2D. In the trailer everything looked crisp and sharp but the 3D conversion made things fuzzy and blurry. I didn’t like it at all.
Not all of the technical problems with this film could be prevented; the lack of footage from early in the war was especially noticeable for me (Jack Harris died in 1915, but most of the footage was from 1916 on) but as I understand cameras were banned in the early years and even stills from before 1916 are rare, let alone moving pictures.
There was also a lack of actual combat footage to contend with. I get Jackson’s reasoning for cutting in artwork from “The War Illustrated” but the overall effect of these low-res images on the big screen was underwhelming to say the least.
But for its limited scope (British ground troops on the Western Front) it was at least accurate. I found nothing surprising (no new discoveries or confirmations) but it represented this particular theatre of war faithfully.
Overall I give it a 7/10, but this score is largely because of the obvious effort put into the production.
For my personal experience (ie things not considered in my criticism of the film per se), it didn’t really bring back anything for a few reasons. First, for practical reasons they couldn’t make the artillery sounds loud enough to feel in your bones or give them that distinctive echo they get around built-up areas. Second, there’s the fact that people don’t act naturally when they know they’re on camera (how many Tommies saying “Smile boys! We’re in the pictures!” can you fit in one film?). This is as true today as it was a century ago.
That said, there was a brief moment that got my pulse going. It was when colorized stills of night shots involving star flares and barbed wire were cut in very briefly. That bit was close to home. But it was little more than a drumbeat.
Overall the film didn’t have the cathartic effect I had hoped for. I found the ending of “Oh! What A Lovely War!” had more impact on me (I am not the only WWI British past life claimant who loves that movie for its poetic honesty). But I can’t be too harsh about “They Shall Not Grow Old” because it at least told the story in a way it hadn’t before and it’s worth listing among the more notable WWI films for its technical effort.