Back by popular demand, director Peter Jackson’s wildly successful documentary that brought the trenches of World War I to life is returning to theaters.
“They Shall Not Grow Old," which takes its name from Laurence Binyon’s poem, “For the Fallen,” will be available at cinemas nationwide for three days only — Dec. 7, 17, and 18. The re-release comes exactly one year after the film’s U.S. debut.
Jackson, whose film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” grossed nearly $6 billion in total box office revenue, pored over nearly 100 hours of original WWI footage from England’s Imperial War Museums to yield astonishingly sharpened and colorized footage so crisp it can be viewed in 3D.
Audio experiences were enhanced with excerpts from nearly 600 hours of World War I veteran interviews, while war diaries and letters provided another narrative source. Additionally, professional lip-readers lent their expertise to dub in audio.
“The thing that jumps out at you are the people, you know, the humanity, because they suddenly become real human beings," Jackson said in an interview with Forces TV.
Enhancing the footage made the experiences of the men featured infinitely more identifiable, Jackson said, which prompted him to shape a story that revolved more around the human beings immersed in the conflict than the war itself.
“They’re not Charlie Chaplin ... jerky figures anymore," he said. "They’re real people with all the nuances and subtleties of human beings. So therefore, it told me that this should be a human story, not a war story.”
It remains fitting that Jackson, who expertly transformed Tolkien’s Middle Earth into one of the most successful film franchises ever, would turn his focus to preserving the fading memories of World War I. Tolkien’s experiences during the Great War were instrumental, after all, in the eventual creation of Tolkien’s legendarium.
As a young officer, Tolkien deployed to the front lines of France just months after marrying his wife, Edith.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death," Tolkien wrote.
The author would contract trench fever while witnessing horrors of the Battle of the Somme, one of the war’s costliest campaigns. While hospitalized in England, Tolkien would turn many of his comrades, as well as his personal acquaintance with the death and destruction of war, into characters and settings in Middle Earth.
The return of Jackson’s film to theaters, which comes weeks prior to the release of Sam Mendes’ World War I blockbuster, “1917,” will feature an introduction and post-film look at the filmmaking process by the director.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.