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A Cinematic Tribute to World War I in They Shall Not Grow Old

Director Peter Jackson focuses on fragments of World War I through a modern lens.

An homage to the British troops of World War I, director Peter Jackson brings to life never-before-seen-footage of soldiers during the uncertainties and dangers of battle in Belgium. Jackson offers a historical reimagining as he provides digital restoration to historical documents—rendering a freshness perfect for modern audiences. 

Gone is the distinction between past and present; World War I is no longer a forgotten memory but a vivid experience. Instead of relying on history books or stories about The Great War, we are jolted with first-hand experiences of a gripping war. Jackson trades grainy black and white newsreel clips for colorized archival footage—the film is also available in 3D. The usually stilted clips have been sped up from its 13 frames per second to the contemporary standard of 24 frames per second. Jackson adds 21st century sound design through the crisp sound effects of roaring cannon booms and galloping horses. It is through these innovations that audiences achieve an understanding of the grotesque conditions soldiers inhabited. 

We are exposed to images of recruiting posters that morph into shots of long lines of British volunteers, fresh faces eager to participate—some as young as 14. We closely observe daily life in the trenches: lice and rat infestation, horrific wounds, and proximity to death. But the film also captures the enthusiasm, humor, and friendship these soldiers shared as they confronted the horrors they endured. We are also treated to the surprising intermission that occurred when soldiers peacefully interacted with their German counterparts during a cease-fire. 

Related: 11 Best World War I Books 

Instead of featuring traditional narration like many other World War I movies, Jackson decided to use audio excerpts of the soldiers talking about war memories, in order to center the film on the soldiers themselves. A passion project under development since 2014, Jackson superbly uses BBC interviews with surviving soldiers from the 1960s—the film’s crew reviewed over 600 hours of interviews from over 200 veterans. He dedicates the film to his own grandfather, who served with the 2nd South Wales Borderers infantry regiment from 1910 to 1919. 

Related: 8 Surprising Facts About Grigori Rasputin, Russia's "Mad Monk"

The film reportedly brought in $2.6 million at 1,335 North American sites during its Martin Luther King Jr. Day screening. As of Jan. 21, the film was the No. 4 film at the domestic box office, with the highest per-screening average of any film in release. It has received critical acclaim for its restoration work and portrayal of war, earning a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary. 

They Shall Now Grow Old releases in theaters February 1, 2019. 

Featured still via House Productions

Published on 31 Jan 2019

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