War movies have been always reliable to create fascinating stories of heroism and their execution brings out the best of its visual aesthetics and its performances. The World War 1-set film “1917” adds to the roster of great war films, and its magnificent feat on cinematography, set design and editing was a tough challenge for director Sam Mendes to pull off and ultimately succeeded.
The basic premise of “1917” centers on 2 young British soldiers being tasked to deliver a message along enemy lines to another battalion, wherein a brother of one of those soldiers, warning to hold off an imminent attack because of a planned German ambush.
The story is based on a brief account from Mendes’ own paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes. In a Times interview in August 2019, the filmmaker behind “American Beauty” and “Skyfall” recalled him telling “the story of a messenger who has a message to carry. And that’s all I can say. It lodged with me as a child, this story or this fragment and obviously I’ve enlarged it significantly. But it has that at its core.” The skirmish is prompted due to the German army retreating to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich in 1917.
This inspiration led him to craft a heart-pounding thriller of two soldiers crossing no man’s land, all in a continuous shot. It is helpful that Mendes tapped his “Skyfall” collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins, to execute the uninterrupted long shot of the entire epic while maintaining a beautiful aesthetic on every frame.
On filming the entire film in a single shot, Deakins revealed in a January 2020 that once Mendes told him about the single-shot approach for the entire two hours, he thought, “There’s always limitations with any film you do. It’s particularly challenging to work out where you want to put the camera and how to show the audience what you needed to show. But I don’t know how different it is from any other movie. You’re just doing it in sections and building them all up really.” The production notes even point out that “1917” will be “filmed in a series of extended, uncut takes that could be connected seamlessly to look and feel as if it is one continuous shot”, plus rehearsals, blockings, military drills and internalizing the life as a WWI British soldier.
The epic war film recently reaped the Best Picture – Drama award from the recent Golden Globes and gained 10 nominations for the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards, including acclaim for director Sam Mendes for his surprising Golden Globe win.
The film stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, and is produced by Neal Street Productions for Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment, in association with New Republic Pictures and Amblin Partners.
“1917” will be shown in Philippines cinemas on February 6, 2020. The film is distributed by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.