Peter Jackson is Bringing us WWI in Color Because it Wasn’t Horrible Enough
The director of the Lord of the Rings presents “They Shall Not Grow Old,” featuring over 100 hours of remastered footage that shows WWI in color.
The First World War was a horrific event. It didn’t have nearly the body count that the Second World War did, but what it lacked in quantity of murders, it more than made up for in quality. The term “meat grinder” in reference to a battle was coined in WWI during the Battle of Verdun, and it was fairly literal.
But this year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. And as time has passed and society has changed, the events of WWI have been somewhat forgotten. The history books still extensively chronicle the four-year horror show, but names like Passchendaele and Ypres have lost some of their power. And as that fades, so to do the messages humanity paid for, dearly.
Partly to help remind us and partly because he is a big old nerd for technology, director Peter Jackson is preparing to release the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old – not to be confused with the famous and often cited line from his film The Fellowship of the Ring, “you shall not pass,” although it probably will be.
Fun fact: the phrase “they shall not pass” is actually a WWI battle cry first attributed to French General Robert Nivelle. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was heavily influenced by his own experiences in the Great War, where he would have undoubtedly heard the phrase repeatedly as it became national propaganda. Another fun fact: Gandalf doesn’t actually say that line in the book. Instead, he says the less dramatic “you cannot pass.”
For the documentary, Jackson and his team went through over 100 hours of original WWI footage, then restored it and colorized it. It seems like a little thing, simply colorizing old footage, but you can’t help but feel more connected to some of the people in the footage. With black and white documentary footage it’s easy to disassociate with it and instinctively label it as old. There’s a touch of unrealness to it. When it is colorized and the world looks like one you could step into, it feels more real.
With the 100th anniversary of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918 that ended WWI, there has been a slight uptick in interest in the war. Over the last few years, there have been a handful of new games, movies, TV shows, and plenty of non-fiction properties. This documentary may help renew interest, but people should not expect to see heroic stories and romantic retellings. Expect it to be dark and grounded in reality. And the reality of it wasn’t pretty.
They Shall Not Grow Old was co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the United Kingdom’s centenary organization, along with the Imperial War Museums, which provided never before seen video. It also provided the audio – the entire film’s audio is from veterans.
The film will see a one-night-only theatrical release on October 16 in the U.K. followed by a Q&A with Jackson. Additional release plans will likely be announced soon after.