- by Jeff Beck
1917: A Marvelous Technical and Narrative Achievement (Blu-ray)
Director Sam Mendes has had quite the interesting career. With his outstanding 1999 debut theatrical feature, "American Beauty," he won the Oscar for Best Director, immediately turning him into a hot commodity to watch. Keeping his focus on small dramas, he churned out a few more that were on the same scale, including "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead," "Revolutionary Road," and "Away We Go," films whose reception ranged from ok to dismissive. His career completely changed trajectory in 2012 when he landed his biggest gig to date directing the James Bond film "Skyfall," which he followed up by directing the next entry, "Spectre." His latest project is keeping right in line with his recent big-budget outings, this time taking us back to World War I for a unique experience that dares to push the technical boundaries of war films and cinema in general.
"1917" is the deceptively simple story of two soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), who are tasked by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) with delivering a message to stop a quickly-approaching attack that is doomed to fail, and would subsequently cost the lives of 1,600 men, one of which is Blake's brother. Along the way, they will face immense danger, including having to cross through a "No Man's Land," traversing enemy territory, a sniper, multiple obstacles, and other unforeseen difficulties. However, with the lives of 1,600 men at stake, they bravely go forth against all dangers in hopes of delivering the message on time.
Sam Mendes' "1917" is an astounding technical achievement for many reasons, but first and foremost in its seemingly-insane attempt to make the entire film look like it was done in almost one shot. With Mendes' incredible direction, the brilliant eye of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, and remarkable skills of editor Lee Smith, the film is seamlessly made to look like it is happening in real time, giving the viewer the distinct feeling of being there and in the moment. Obviously this is not the first time a film has been made to look like this ("Birdman" and "Russian Ark," the latter of which did it for real, come to mind), but here it is used to even greater effect, giving the film a grand sense of urgency as these two risk their lives to complete their important mission.
Its accomplishments hardly stop there though, as also contained within are two wonderful performances from stars Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, breathtaking production design, outstanding visual effects, a beautiful score, and, as you would expect from any war film, excellent sound design. It's hardly a surprise that the film earned a whopping ten Oscar nominations that included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay. and several more for its technical components, winning three for Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing. Truth be told, Mendes should've easily won his second directing Oscar, but unfortunately the Academy inexplicably gave it to Bong Joon Ho for "Parasite," even after Mendes pretty much swept the other major awards, including the Critics' Choice (tied with Bong), Golden Globe, Directors Guild, and BAFTA.
Add on to its technical feats an incredibly absorbing story that has you glued to the screen every step of the way (the one-shot effect also makes it hard to turn away), and you have one of the very best films of 2019, one that earned the distinction of Best Picture from the Golden Globes, Producers Guild, and BAFTA (and which would have been a better pick for the Oscar). These are two hours that simply fly by, leaving you breathless by the end. It's an incredible journey that does so much with its simple setup, and is an experience not easily forgotten.
"1917" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. Every frame of this incredible war epic looks beautifully sharp, highlighting the brilliant work that went into its various complicated elements, including the Academy Award-winning cinematography and visual effects. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos audio is marvelous, giving you all of the dialogue, Oscar-winning sound, and Thomas Newman's magnificent score in outstanding quality. Overall, there's not a single complaint to be had about the stunning treatment that the film has received.
The Weight of the World: Sam Mendes (4 Minutes): A brief featurette in which Mendes discusses where he drew inspiration for the film.
Allied Forces: Making 1917 (12 Minutes): A fascinating featurette in which the cast and crew discuss the difficulties in making a one-shot film
The Score of 1917 (4 Minutes): A featurette in which 15-time Academy Award nominee Thomas Newman (and other crew) discuss the importance of the film's incredible score.
In The Trenches ( 7 Minutes): A featurette that has the cast and crew discussing the main characters Schofield and Blake.
Recreating History (10 Minutes): A featurette that delves into the film's remarkable sets, primarily featuring an interview with Production Design Dennis Gassner.
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Sam Mendes: A great track that has the director/co-writer/co-producer discussing several different elements that went into the making of the film.
Feature Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins: Another great track that has the master cinematographer discussing how the film shot. Conclusion:
Sam Mendes' "1917" is a remarkable technical achievement, utilizing brilliant direction, cinematography, editing, visual effects, production design, and sound design, to tell a spellbinding tale that easily ranks as one of the very best films of 2019. It comes as no surprise that the film has been an enormous awards hit, winning multiple accolades for Best Picture, Director, and more. It is a game-changer for the war film genre, and simply put, it is an experience not to be missed.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting today.
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