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Documentaries about World War I don’t exactly set the box office on fire, but Peter Jackson‘s They Shall Not Grow Old bucked that trend. The doc opened late last year as part of a special Fathom Events presentation and proceeded to become the highest grossing release in the company’s history, making over $8 million.
Now, everyone is looking to capitalize on the interest in this fascinating film, which utilizes cutting edge film tech to restore life to century-old war footage. So if you missed the original Fathom Events release, don’t despair: They Shall Not Grow Old is opening in 500 North American theaters early next month.
They Shall Not Grow Old will screen at 500 theaters in 150 markets starting on February 1, 2019, with special preview screenings being held on January 31. History buffs will note that this year marks the 100-year anniversary of the “Great War” coming to an end, something that is noted in the press release:
“With this being the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, I can’t imagine a more appropriate time to honor the courage of the soldiers who fought in WWI — what was then ‘the war to end all wars’ — many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. Peter has made history come alive through the medium of film, and we are so pleased to be a part of bringing his vision to today’s audiences.”
They Shall Not Grow Old was a passion project for Jackson, who worked on the film while balancing his duties as a director on the Hobbit films and a producer on Mortal Engines. And while his penchant for digital wizardry could have proven distracting, the use of 3D, colorization, and even audio recreation results in a film that transports audiences to the hellish trenches of World War I in ways never seen before. In her /Film review, Hoai-Tran Bui wrote about how the technology only enhances the old footage rather than distract from it:
But They Shall Not Grow Old is more than just a stunning technological achievement. It’s an utterly human film that dwells on the faces of the soldiers, beaming, laughing, staring at the camera in wide-eyed confusion. Jackson hired forensic lip readers to determine what the soldiers were saying onscreen, and brought on speakers with the matching dialects to give them voice in a painstaking restoration of life in the trenches. More so than the brutal images of carnage and dead bodies piled in the mud — which become doubly visceral in the restored color — the focus on the soldiers’ faces are what make this film so powerful and affecting.
When I visited Wellington, New Zealand on a work trip a few years ago, I was able to visit Peter Jackson’s Great War exhibition, an immersive and sobering experience full of objects, weapons, clothing, and vehicles from the actual conflict. While Jackson will always be associated with Middle-earth and Hobbits, this catastrophic war and the men who fought in it clearly matter to him a great deal. The fact that his passion project was made, is good, and has been embraced by audiences enough to warrant a larger release feels like a minor miracle.