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'They Shall Not Grow Old' Shows The Essence Of Grunt Life Hasn't Changed Much Since WWI
A new World War I documentary by Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) offers a fresh look at how warfare may change, but the mundanities of military life and the brutal realities of ground combat remain the same.
Titled They Shall Not Grow Old, the project was four years in the making, and paints a vivid picture of the Great War by putting a premium on emotional authenticity as it follows British soldiers assigned to the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.
The story was cobbled together using more than 600 hours of audio recordings of interviews with veterans of the war, who serve as your narrators throughout the movie. More than 100 hours of black and white silent footage provided to Jackson by the Imperial War Museum was painstakingly remastered and colorized. Forensic lip readers were brought on board to discern what was being said, and then professional voice actors from the appropriate region were hired to dub over the silent film.
The effect is profound: After watching the film during a special Dec. 27 release, for the first time I felt close to the men who lived, fought, and died in the trenches more than 100 years ago. The downrange dangers they faced may have been different than those shouldered by veterans of recent wars, but the way the soldiers coped and suffered alongside one another, how they grappled with disillusionment and a sense of disconnect when they returned home, and how they by turns processed and were changed by the hardships they endured will be immediately recognizable to anyone who served overseas or under fire.
Though the documentary was initially limited to Dec. 17 and Dec. 27 screenings in select locations in the United States, They Shall Not Grow Old will receive a wider release in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington beginning on Jan. 11, 2018 with plans for additional screenings in February, according to Collider.
The feature-length documentary is broken into three distinct parts: The decision to enlist and go to war; service on the front; and the return home.
The story begins in black and white and immediately introduces a rolling cast of narrators — real World War I veterans who were interviewed in the 1960s and 70s — who explain why they decided to enlist. You've heard the reasons before. You've probably given them: love of country; a desire for adventure; a sense of duty; fear of being branded a coward; or of missing out on the great undertaking of the time, to name a few. It's immediately familiar, as is the montage of footage showing fresh recruits fumbling with rifles and issued gear at the start of training before being transformed into crisp and orderly soldiers by the time they graduate.
As the men reach the Western Front, walking in a column toward the camera, the black and white footage becomes awash in color. Now that they're at war, you see it the way they do, and in many cases this is actually true considering that Jackson took photos of the battle sites and matched the color to the black and white frames in post-production.
Though the visual elements are stunning, it's the storytelling that makes They Shall Not Grow Old stand out. The film is structured in such a way that you feel like you're following a single unit over the course of the war, and without realizing it, you begin to assign voices to the faces on the screen. Nowhere is this more noticeable or poignant than during a major offensive when the soldiers charge out across no man's land under a creeping barrage of artillery fire. As they close on the German lines, enemy machine guns open fire. The screen goes black and we hear our narrators describe the sound, the sight, and the sensation of rounds ripping into bodies — their own and their friends.
The camera jumps to close-ups of the men we saw earlier in the film, then abruptly transitions to dead and mangled bodies.
As one colleague put it, "you feel like you just watched your friend die. You spent the entire movie getting close to these characters, and now they're dying in front of you."
The battle isn't specified, which may have been a deliberate move on Jackson's part to make the scene universally applicable to all those who fought on the front.
And to be honest, that's the general tone of They Shall Not Grow Old. Sure, it's a World War I story, but at it's heart it's a war story: Theirs and yours.
This is on display in the heavy moments, as well as the light ones. After spending days in the trenches, where dead bodies sink into the fetid mud, the men are given a reprieve and sent to the rear... where they're immediately ordered to clean their uniforms, shave their faces, wash their nasty bodies, and report for a working party.
It turns out that staff NCOs have been ranting and raving about unshaven faces since before any of us were born.
They Shall Not Grow Old closes with the end of the war, and the film reverts to black and white — as if "back home" is muted and dull compared to the vibrancy and violence of the front. And again, the narrators remind us how things change yet remain the same: The job market is scant; family and friends don't really want to hear about what the war was actually like; their service feels unappreciated or discounted, and at worst, entirely ignored.
It's a sentiment that perhaps any grunt, from any conflict, will find eerily familiar.
Now you can relive the glory days of screaming "fire for effect" before lobbing rounds down range, and you can do it from the comfort of your own backyard, or living room, without having to worry that some random staff sergeant is going to show up and chew you out for your unsat face scruff and Johnny Bravo 'do.
The leader of a Chicago-area street gang has been arrested and charged with attempting to aid the ISIS terrorist group, the Department of Justice said Friday.
Jason Brown, also known as "Abdul Ja'Me," allegedly gave $500 on three separate occasions in 2019 to a confidential informant Brown believed would then wire it to an ISIS fighter engaged in combat in Syria. The purported ISIS fighter was actually an undercover law enforcement officer, according to a DoJ news release.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Sen. Rick Scott is backing a bipartisan bill that would allow service members to essentially sue the United States government for medical malpractice if they are injured in the care of military doctors.
The measure has already passed the House and it has been introduced in the Senate, where Scott says he will sign on as a co-sponsor.
"As a U.S. Senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking care of our military members, veterans and their families is my top priority," the Florida Republican said in a statement.