The dustiest dust, muddiest mud and hungriest of rats are showed to us in 1917, which won Oscars for best Cinematography, visual effects and Sound Mixing. You’ll be on the edge of your seat from the beginning to the end in this intense war movie. Breath held in suspense you’ll find yourself not even blinking, scared you’ll miss a second of this unique film. There’s no time to waste in this real-time, trick one-shot film, which is loosely based on a real life story.
A deadly, intense, clock-beating mission
Edited to make it seem like the movie was filmed with one continuous take we enter the world of 1917 during a momentarily calm April day in the war zone of North France. We see two young soldiers resting underneath a tree, when a superior approaches them with a mission. Without hesitation, and perhaps with some hope for an easy medal, the duo follows their superior without further question.
So begins the story of Lance Corperals Schofield (played by George MacKay) and Blake (played by Dean Charles-Chapman) as they descend on a mission through no mans land, by direct orders from the General himself. 1600 British men, one of them Schofield’s brother, are about to walk straight into a German trap at dawn the next morning, and if Blake and Lance can’t reach them with a warning in time – they will all most likely meet their end. The duo has no time to waste but must quickly make their way through no mans land and into enemy territory before it is too late. We follow their journey (yes, literally follow) on this very dangerous clock-beating mission.
1917 is a real life story told my the directors grandfather
1917 is a very personal movie to director Sam Mandes, so you can be sure he respected it by giving his all. (Well, the 100 million dollar budget probably also helped a bit.) The story, told to him by his own grandfather, Alfred Mandes, who also carried messages thorough the dangerous territory of no-man’s land. Hearing it from his grandfather as a child made a big impact and the story stuck with him, sowing the seed for what is now 1917. While it is tributed to his grandfather 1917 is ultimately an exaggeration, made for the cinema. You’ll never find rats as hungry, mud as muddy, or dust as dusty as in 1917, but it does make for a great movie so I’m definitely not complaining.
An intimate and intense portrayal of war
Watching it I felt sucked into not only the world of war, but the world of Lance and Blake. It felt more like a trio than a duo, finding myself unbelievably invested in their mission. I was there with them, as a friend, sharing their fear. I was the the one following them, not the camera, and that is what makes 1917 an remarkable movie. The one-shot effect doesn’t only add to cinematic beauty, which it unquestionably does – but also to the intimacy. We witness some of the most intimate moments in war. I haven’t come across many movies that portrays war in such a personal way.
Without spoiling anything let me just say that we get to experience raw emotions, without cuts, without dramatization, in real time – as they happen. But it’s not real life, it is a movie that has done an excellent job exaggerating a true story. Something I definitely had to remind myself of throughout the movie! This way of filming is something extraordinary and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more often. Did you feel stressed out during Birdman? Well let me tell you it is nothing in comparison to what you will feel stuck in a war-zone! Sam Mandes keeping us on our toes. Witnessing such raw emotions filmed in such an intimate way is definitely an incredible thing.
Working in a treacherous landscape with many long takes
Cinematographer Roger Deakins thought it was a typo when he was first introduced to the idea of it looking like a one shot film. After reading the script it finally made sense, seeing it as a natural way to make the real-time feeling come to life. Making it happened called for some incredible genius and creativity! Making it seem like 1917 was shot in one continuous take the editing room kept busy editing the scenes. The feeling of us being the camera and following the protagonists in real-time is the key! Coordinating the long takes was still necessary, as not everything can be fixed in the editing room.
The longest scene to film was a 9 minute take and actor Chapman who plays Schofield explained in an interview that he at times didn’t feel like he was making a film, adding that as an actor you can’t help but get lost in it. Director Sam Mendes compared it to a hardcore dance, as one can imagine such long takes need a perfect choreography. Some of the clumsy accidents we see in 1917 actually happened, a result of the extremely slippery mud. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Chapman states:
I describe the mud in no man’s land compared to walking on ice, that’s how slippery it was. There’s a bit in that sequence, where the camera lowers down…and our feet are slipping everywhere, but that’s not us acting. That’s us genuinely trying to put one foot in front of another!
Follows the Hollywood formula but remains down-to-earth
1917, however brilliant, is not the best war movie I’ve seen. But it does offer a whole new perspective and feeling than any similar movies I’ve seen previously. 1917 gives out the typical Hollywood formula, with its dramatic, heroic story. Somehow 1917 manages to stay down-to-earth, probably as a result from the experience given by the real time, one shoot – effect. And of course the stunning takes and uncanny but beautiful landscapes further enhance the experience.
Filmed to look like one continuous take 1917 is a unique war movie that tells the story of a deadly mission in real time. A must watch!
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