World War I is a period usually given short shrift in social studies classes. Neither of my kids spent time on this vital conflict, since it set the stage for the next 75 years of history. For many, the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman may have been the only time they saw what the battle may have looked like.
As a result, San Mendes’ 1917 was a welcome entry to the history on film canon, deserving the ten Academy Award nominations among many other accolades. The film, out on disc now from Universal Home Entertainment, is a visually stunning work that should be seen.
Much has been made of the cinematic approach, telling the story in a way that suggests one continual shot from the soldiers’ perspective. Kudos to Mendes for trying this and to Cinematographer Roger Deakins for making this a visually arresting film. The production design and set decoration are incredible and rich in detail.
As a result, you spent the entire 119 minutes gaping at the visual spectacle and trying to find where camera cut. It’s not until the lights come up and you pause to absorb it all that you realize it’s not a well-written movie. Mendes used an experience of his grandfather’s as a springboard and cowrite the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns about two British soldiers — Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) — tasked with getting a message to the frontlines before a disastrous ambush takes place.
Neither actor is well-known so we can’t predict if either or both survive the 24-hour ordeal. But, as the two endure sniper fire, things falling apart around them, concussions, mud pits, and more, you come to realize this is all too much for the time period. No human can endure this much without eating or sleeping (or going to the bathroom) or in need of medical care. At one point, of them falls in a cold river for some time and never slows down to hypothermia – and this after a concussion.
It’s all too much, spoiling the incredibly realistic setting the two find themselves in.
None of the characters are well-defined, more like stock players with flat dialogue that defines no one. In incredibly small roles, but to secure investments I’m sure, you can spot Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jamie Parker.
I truly wish as much effort went into creating interesting characters as they did in the visual portion of the film.
The movie is out in the usual assortment of formats including the Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p transfer had to be pristine to capture every detail because you’re going to want to pause and stare. Mendes worked magic and this is one of the best-looking films I’ve seen on disc with terrific colors and nicely captured dust, dirt, and debris. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is more than a match for the stunning visuals, nicely capturing all the subtle sounds of war.
There is an assortment of Special Features that are fine, but I wish they were stronger. We start with The Weight of the World: Sam Mendes (4:29), which covers scripting the story; Allied Forces: The Making of 1917 (12:01), a too-short look at the filming; The Score of 1917 (3:52): In the Trenches (6:59), which focuses on the unknown stars; Recreating History (10:25): Mendes’ collaboration with Production Designer Dennis Gassner; Audio Commentary: one from Mendes and one from Deakins.