Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and all of those who fought and survived what many still call the Great War are now gone.
But the experiences of World War I are brought vividly back to life with sound and color in the amazing film “They Shall Not Grow Old.” By popular request, Mountain Marquee in downtown Marion is showing this acclaimed documentary, which has been held over for another weekend.
This documentary was directed by Peter Jackson, best known for his three-part Academy Award-winning adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” and his 2005 remake of “King Kong.” Jackson dedicated this film to the memory of his grandfather (who was a World War I veteran) and he created a work that makes you understand better what it was like to fight and die in the trenches.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” was compiled from hundreds of hours of original footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London and recorded interviews with British veterans of the war. Much of this footage had never been seen before.
The film does not have a narrator but rather the veterans speak for themselves about why they fought, what it was like, how they were affected and their feelings afterwards. As they tell their stories, the historic footage unfolds on the screen.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” starts off with the grainy black-and-white, speeded up silent films that we are used to seeing from that time period. Jackson includes shots of the more innocent England before the war and the buildup to the inevitable conflict that engulfed Western civilization.
When the war starts and the British soldiers go into combat, the more than 100 year old footage in “They Shall Not Grow Old” is dramatically transformed into living color with sound effects and voices. The effect is startling and unlike any other documentary.
Through digital restoration, Jackson and his team have brought these long-dead British soldiers back to life or rather they have taken us back to their time. At any rate, this film immerses us in the experience of being a British soldier living and fighting in the trenches of the Western Front.
Through images and narration, we learn about both the horrors and the boredom of World War I. We see men wading in the mud of the trenches and eating the meager food as they try to survive another day. We see and hear about their experiences with disease, lice and rats.
The footage unearthed and restored by Jackson and his team contain vivid shots of men who have been killed or mangled. The sounds of exploding mortar shells, machine gun fire and men yelling to each other make you think you are there.
Most memorably, “They Shall Not Grow Old” gives us the faces of those British soldiers, all of whom are long dead. They look back at us from a century ago as if they are trying to communicate with a 2019 audience about what they are experiencing.
For this reviewer, no dramatized film of World War I can compare to seeing real images of combat and hearing the memories of those who survived it.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” is the kind of film one would never expect to see playing in Marion. You would think of having to drive to Asheville or Charlotte to experience a cinematic event like this. But Mountain Marquee brought it here. Owners Cody Andrews and Aaron Shirley said it was their most requested film since they opened in October of last year. They originally didn’t plan to hold it over for another weekend but changed their minds due to popular demand.
The next showing of “They Shall Not Grow Old” is at 2:10 p.m. Friday. There will be two showings on Saturday at 2:10 and 8:40 p.m. It is 1 hour and 40 minutes long and is rated R for disturbing war images (which are real and not simulated).
For more information, visit the Facebook page for Mountain Marquee or www.mountainmarquee.com or call 828-559-2852.