War Movies Month 1 – 1917

It often feels like there aren’t enough good movies about the first World War. Most war focused movies tend to revolve around either World War II, the Vietnam war, or relatively modern wars. Even with movies about ancient wars, a lot of them take on a more fantasy, dramatic or stylistic approach. Thankfully, there do exist some brilliant WWI movies, and 1917 is one of them.

Directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall and Specter, as well as Road to Perdition, Jarhead, and a number of dark re-inventions of classic stories on-stage), 1917 released in December of 2019 – Christmas Day in some regions. Among its many awards and nominations, it received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It ended up winning Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. At the BAFTAs, it won 7 out of 9 nominations, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound and Best Special Visual Effects. It earned $384.9 million on a budget somewhere between $90 and $100 million.

Part of what makes this movie special is said cinematography, which it won numerous awards for. It’s designed to look like the entire movie is done in one shot. There are a number of tricks involved to split between the shots, and if you’re specifically looking for them, some are easy to find. It doesn’t make the effect any less impressive, and the single-shot feel also adds urgency to the movie’s story. I’ll talk more about a couple specific scenes later, but let’s get into the cast and the rest of the crew first.

There’s not a lot of detail about this film’s origins, but the movie was announced by Amblin Partners in June of 2018. Mendes both directed the film and co-wrote it with Krysty Wilson-Calms (Penny Dreadful). Sir Roger Deakins, who worked as the cinematographer for Mendes in both Skyfall and Spectre, as well as Jarhead, rejoined the director to lead the cinematography for 1917. Some of his other works include The Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner 2049, and Sicario. They planned the film from early on to use the single take style of cinematography, planning out elaborate, long takes. To be completely honest though, the film clearly splits between two takes when a character is knocked unconscious about two-thirds in. Most of the filming took place in Southwest England, Surray (Southeast England), and near Glasgow, Scotland.

The cast includes George MacKay as Lance Corporal William Schofield (Defiance, 2003’s Peter Pan) and Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Thomas Blake, who are sent to deliver a message to stop Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) from sending thousands of soldiers into a trap. Colin Firth plays General Erinmore, who gives William and Thomas their mission. There are a number of others, but with the tight focus on the main two in this movie, most other characters have bit parts at best.

The cinematography in this movie is brilliant, but the overall tone works equally well. In order to deliver the message in time, William and Thomas must cross over what they’re told is the Germans’ abandoned trench. The sequence where they’re crossing no-man’s land is genuinely tense. There’s the constant fear that they’ll be spotted and shot. At the same time, the environmental design shows a wasteland covered in mud, craters, and bodies surrounded with flies. There are moments of levity here and there, but the movie rarely lets up on this tense, somber mood. It’s just as effective as exploring the horrors of war as Saving Private Ryan, even with the slower, more subdued pace.

That’s not to say there isn’t action. There’s more than enough to keep the movie going. I won’t spoil any of this action however, as what makes this movie work so well is the tension of not knowing what approaches on the road ahead.

The only thing I will get into is the climactic shot. William is running across the frontline, while his fellow soldiers are charging towards the German trenches. Despite the shot only taking about a minute and a half, the sequence took two days to shoot. During the second take, MacKay accidentally bumped into several extras, and each time, they both fell down. Those shots were kept in the movie. Of that sequence, MacKay said that those impacts serve as a “Reflection of the entire film.”

“It’s a very simple journey through massive difficulty, but there’s the notion that it has to get done … It’s something that will always be with me.”

The soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who regularly collaborates with Mendes, is brilliant. It always enhances the mood of whatever scene it’s added to, whether the sad, somber moments in the middle of the film, to the shootout with an unseen enemy, to running away from the Germans after they’ve lost their weapons, trying to find some sort of safety.

1917 isn’t my favourite war movie of all-time. That’s still Saving Private Ryan. That said, it’s a very good movie in its own right, with every element of the filmmaking behind the movie enhancing the story itself. As with a lot of war movies released since Saving Private Ryan, it’s not shy on the blood and gore side of things. It aims for a realistic portrayal of war, so I wouldn’t recommend it to the squeamish. For those who appreciate war movies however, this is an easy recommendation.

I’ve decided that for the WWII movie of the month, I’ll be looking at Battle of Britain from 1969. From what I can tell it received a lukewarm reception in North America, but It features a star studded cast, several of which I’ve talked about in their much more recent appearances, and was a big, ambitious production for its time. I haven’t yet decided on my ancient war movie just yet, but it’s between Braveheart and Troy. As for the fourth movie, well … I won’t spoil it. For December, I’ll be making fun of four cheesy Christian movies, even if some of them are charming in their own way.

About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - www.healed1337.blogspot.com As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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4 Responses to War Movies Month 1 – 1917

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    1917 was a pretty good war movie, if a bit drawn out and slow to get going.


  2. Love the cinematography and desperation captured in this movie. A very thorough war movie and an excellent 1st pick for your month!


    • healed1337 says:

      It’s also noteworthy because there aren’t a lot of World War 1 movies that explore that particular war in a brutally honest way, even though it remains the deadliest war in history in terms of soldier deaths (WWII had more total deaths though).

      Liked by 1 person

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