A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson that takes century-old footage of World War I and gives it an upgrade; it's restored, corrected, colored, and given sound effects, spoken voices, and narration. The effect is astonishing, groundbreaking, essential viewing, although the mature material makes it best for older teens and adults. The wartime violence is extreme: Expect to see dead bodies; mangled corpses; bloody, gory wounds; and other shocking, horrifying images. There are also graphic descriptions of dire conditions, and you'll see guns/shooting, shells, and explosions. Narration talks of soldiers visiting brothels; some (fairly tame) cartoon drawings depict this. Men's naked bottoms are shown in a nonsexual context. Soldiers are shown smoking and drinking beer, both of which are also discussed at some length. Language includes "piss," "hell," "damn," and "bastards."
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What's the story?
In THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, director Peter Jackson uses historic footage and interviews to recount what it was like to fight for the British Infantry against the Germans during World War I. Enthusiasm and patriotism run high as men ages 19-35 enlist; younger teens lie about their ages to join. Basic training is shown as hard work, but the men get in shape and prepare for battle. But the actual war is something else: a harrowing, subhuman existence spent wallowing in disease-ridden trenches, starving, and dealing with everything from rats to mud. An actual attack is described as noise and chaos, death and mayhem, with no time to process anything. When it's over, nothing feels the same, and no civilians can possibly grasp what actually happened.
Is it any good?
Director Peter Jackson's assemblage of restored footage -- colored and rendered in 3D, with added sound effects, voices, and narration -- is an astonishing achievement, a distillation of war itself. The Oscar-winning filmmaker -- whose own father served in WWI -- provides a filmed introduction, explaining how the project came about, which is helpful and necessary. After that, They Shall Not Grow Old starts gradually, with the small-frame, flickering black-and-white footage we're all familiar with. Then the various elements kick in, and, after a while, like The Wizard of Oz, it emerges in color. Suddenly the men in their uniforms feel like real people, not just faded shadows.
Jackson chooses not to show any dates, names, or places. There are no characters to follow and no story arcs or subplots. It's just one immersive dive into a particular, specific experience: the trenches of the Western Front. The spoken narration by actual soldiers, mainly recorded in the 1960s and '70s when memories of WWI were fresher, does most of the work, but the movie's 99 minutes come closer to understanding the entirety of war than just about any other film, from the initial burst of excitement to the indescribable horrors in the thick of it to the heartbreakingly anticlimactic, lost, empty aftermath. It's honorable to the memories of the men who fought but critical of the act of war itself. One former soldier says that there should never, ever be another war, and when They Shall Not Grow Old ends, audiences will agree.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about They Shall Not Grow Old's violence. Does the color make the historical gore feel more intense? How does the fact that it's real affect you?
How are drinking and smoking depicted? Do they seem cool or glamorized?
Did the movie change your view of war? Did you learn anything from these events that happened so long ago?
How did the movie's technical achievements affect your appreciation of the story? Could this technique be applied elsewhere? How?
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