Running Through Battle

When someone dies in a movie, a moment passes. A character mourns. Edit, next scene. 1917 doesn’t give that reprieve. Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) leaves the body of a fallen soldier, is placed onto a truck, and the location recedes into the distance. Asking an audience to sit with that moment alongside Blake isn’t a gimmick. It’s emotionally compelling drama, never leaving Blake’s side.

1917 will be noted for its technique. The Academy gave 1917 multiple Oscars for its refusal to use traditional cuts. Fancy, if not inherently why 1917 works.

Blake himself is of little character. Neither is the soldier with him, Schofield (George MacKay). Like so many thrust into combat, they tragically matter little to the greater cause, their lives only statistics sent back home, their names unmentioned in press or history. 1917 keeps them anonymous, only slivers of their personal lives discussed, and even less of their personalities known.

… the gusto in 1917’s method that works, because each move matters

War isn’t constant, but it could be. That’s the tension. Blake and Schofield don’t speak because gunfire can erupt around them. At all times, they’re vulnerable. Without cutting, 1917 shows how long WWI trenches were, how wide those open fields were left, and how little safety there was. The mission (a nominal point A to point B message delivery) takes time, all the time 1917 can offer.

So much of 1917 is walking. Walking through mud. Walking through trenches. Walking through fields. Then ruins, then medical tents, then combat. By its setting, 1917 falls into the war film category, yet features little fighting. Skirmishes depict the heartlessness in brief, startling violence. It’s not guns killing men, rather compassion for others that makes these characters prone to attack. Each step taken brings them to additional evidence of cruelty.

The story is fiction, the people also. Themes and morality do not veer from any genre standard. WWI is somewhat unusual for cinema too often glued to WWII stories, but that’s marginally different. Rather, it’s the gusto in 1917’s method that works, because each move matters. Edits invisibly exist, of course, but 1917 can’t cut from action for a reaction. Being in one place drives an authenticity into the story. Using brief action flourishes instead of exhausting fighting ensures everything matters. 1917 whittles on-field war to its essential components – humanity, soldiers, and duty. Nothing else matters, because to these two men and the camera. The rest is irrelevant.

Video

Shot primarily on the latest Arri mini, the resulting images slather the screen in detail. In the first shot, with the two soldiers sitting near a tree, the fabrics in their uniforms stand out. Roughness in the leather and snags in the cotton show through fully. This likewise translates to environments, capturing the scenery’s expansiveness, and eventually, the devastation left behind. Close-ups pull facial detail to the forefront.

Taking sepia tones for its palette, the restrained saturation fits the tone. Gray overcast mixes with small earth tones (mostly greens when looking across grass), including the brown uniforms. Sedate flesh tones hold true. Underground, flames light scenes with intense orange.

Along with the color, contrast remains dimmed. That pairs with the cloudy skyline. Black levels though impress, especially during a key nighttime struggle, where shadows need to keep characters hidden. They do, this while flames appear in the background for great dimensionality.

Audio

Although lean on action, 1917 works this Atmos track whenever possible. Impressive mixing gives space to gunshots, spreading into the surrounds and overheads when fired in open air. In trenches, voices pan, both from a consistent stereo split and rear channel use.

When action does flare up, planes zip through the height channels. Kicked up dirt washes across the soundstage, totally enveloping. The score brings its own power, bested only by explosions. One in an abandoned German tunnel spares nothing, feeling appropriately confined given its rumble. Range stretches to sizable extremes, making the key moments flush with gravitas.

Extras

A few EPKs focus on director Sam Mendes, the score, and characters. Some lengthier pieces detail the filmmaking process and production design, the latter a bit over 10-minutes each. For anything meaningful, select the Sam Mendes or cinematographer Roger Deakins’ commentary tracks. Both provide unique perspective, making each valuable.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

1917
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

1917 isn’t a film that revolutionizes war cinema with storytelling, but with technique that refuses to relent or offer a reprieve.

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