Before Christmas, FTM’s Adam Thas and I attended a Fathom Events screening of Peter Jackson’s new WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. The Fathom Event encompassed two dates and six or seven screenings at just more than 1,000 theatres. I assumed that this was some sort of sneak preview and that a proper theatrical release was in the works (the film is, after all, in 3-D) but I was wrong. Demand for tickets to the Fathom Events screenings was high; almost all the screenings at our theater sold out, and the day Adam and I attended, the theater was scrambling to add screens. This led to much confusion involving patrons being directed to screens and then, finding their seats occupied, being directed to other screens. According to Business Wire, They Shall Not Grow Old “…is the highest-grossing U.S. cinema event to date, for both Fathom Events and the event-cinema industry.”
This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
Jackson involved the technicians at his WETA special effects workshop to restore all the film—to remove all of the accumulated grit, grime, and scratches and to transfer the film at its correct speed. The latter was no easy task since the majority of the newsreel cameras back then were hand-cranked. This resulted in a series of trial and error experiments on every filmic fragment. Jackson said he was amazed at the difference a speed change of a single additional frame per second made, but that when they got it right, it was instantly apparent.
Jackson next had the footage colorized, using historical experts and photographs of actual locations that have remained remarkably unchanged after one hundred years. Then the footage was converted to 3-D. Jackson directed his sound crew to comb through more than 600 hours of vintage BBC radio interviews with men who served in the war, culling the movie’s soundtrack and narration from the actual voices of the soldiers who were there. The film contains no other narration, no talking heads experts, no maps, no charts, no graphs—just real film footage shot during basic training and the war itself juxtaposed with the stories of the men who served.
Please note: Fathom Events has decided to host one more day of screenings of They Shall Not Grow Old in theatres—and that day is TODAY, January 21, 2019. I weep that this terrific, groundbreaking film is not receiving a proper release and urge readers to seek out a screening this afternoon or tonight where you can see it as it was intended, on a big screen and in 3-D. Cancel your plans, call in sick to work, and hie thee hence to your local participating cinema!
Yet another advantage of attending TONIGHT is that Fathom Events includes a bonus to accompany the screening: a half-hour “Making Of” documentary hosted by Jackson himself. As Jackson takes us through his process of making the film, it expands and enriches our appreciation for his accomplishments. The documentary alone is worth the price of admission. Last December, Thas and I were amazed and saddened by how many people in our screening left the theater after the feature and skipped the documentary entirely. Before I saw the documentary, I had no idea the extent of Jackson’s interest in WWI, and it was one of the highlights of my movie year when, explaining how they added the Foley sound effects of a big cannon being loaded on the battlefield, Jackson reported that the sound team had used HIS cannon, one of the thousands of artifacts in his collection.
Go and see this film! Then please come back and share your thoughts in the comments below?