Last week we attended the afternoon screening of They Shall Not Grow Old at our local suburban multiplex. The movie is a documentary drawn from 100 hours of archival World War I footage held by the Imperial War Museum and accompanying audio drawn from 600 hours of museum interviews of British soldiers. Peter Jackson is the director of the film; the screening included a separate half-hour film of Jackson in front of the camera explaining how he came to make the documentary and illustrating the techniques he used to create it.
I expressed my appreciation of the film last week here. The film was screened around the country as a Fathom Event again yesterday and I took advantage of the opportunity to see it once more, this time in 3D. The film vividly conveys the trench-level experience of the British soldier. Jackson seems to have wrought something like a miracle in doing so. Watching it in 3D, I thought, renders the miracle times two.
The December 20 and 27 Fathom Event showings cannot help but add to our appreciation of the film with their inclusion of Peter Jackson’s fantastic half-hour documentary about the making of the film. One sees that Jackson is an obsessive stickler for detail and infers that They Shall Not Grow Old is in part a loving homage to his grandfather, who died at the age of 50 as a result of grave wounds suffered during the war. Jackson says it is his most personal film.
All in all, the experience of viewing the documentary in the theater is harrowing. It is in fact an experience, period. Seth Lipsky puts it slightly differently. “Breathtaking is the best word we can think of for They Shall Not Grow Old,” he writes, but we do not disagree in the least.
I learned of the film in Mekado Murphy’s excellent New York Times feature “How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New” (accessible here on Outline without the videos included in the Times feature). Murphy’s article sent us on our way the first time around.
When I wrote last week I observed that something is happening here. Each screening of the film at the Edina AMC multiplex in suburban Minneapolis was sold out. Yesterday afternoon I saw the 3D version at the Rosedale AMC multiplex in Roseville (suburban St. Paul), where it was also playing in 2D. Our screening of the film at 4:00 was sold out.
I happened to catch the theater’s general manager at the customer service desk on my way out of theater following the mid-afternoon screening I attended. I asked him if the 2D screening had been sold out as well. He told me that they had originally scheduled the film in 2D and 3D for one screening in two of the theater’s “houses.” Those two screenings sold out in an hour. They added two more screenings, then two more, then two more. It turns out that the film set a new Fathom Events box office record.
Here is the good news: “Warners will open They Shall Not Grow Old in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, on Jan. 11, with expansions to the top 25 markets on Feb. 1, Super Bowl weekend.” If you missed the film this time around, you have something to look forward to.
I wondered how viewers had even learned of the film. Although I found out about it in the Times, it had not been heavily advertised or promoted. I overheard one conversation taking place next to me as we left the theater yesterday. “Thank you so much for telling me about the film,” the gentleman said to his friend. I think that’s what they call word of mouth in the business. Below is the trailer for the film.