Reel Rundown: 1917

Reel Rundown: 1917

Elise Flor, Student Columnist

First and foremost, I must highlight the absolutely amazing cinematography exhibited in Sam Mendes’s 1917. (For those who are unaware, cinematography is how the film is actually shot.) Roger Deakins even won the Oscar for Outstanding Work in Cinematography for his fantastic work displayed in this film.

The whole movie was shot in a way that made it look to the audience as if it was one take, and had only one cut in the whole film. This meant that the camera followed the actors from scene to scene, only ever leaving them once (because one of the main characters was knocked unconscious).

This also meant that there was little to no room for error on the part of the actors, for if they made a mistake, they would either have to play it off and keep going in hopes of saving the take, or start over from the beginning.

The story itself followed two Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) as they are sent on a special mission to deliver a message to call of an attack on the retreating German army.

Along their extremely booty-chlenchingly tense journey, they must fight to keep themselves and each other alive through no-man’s-land and the open countryside of France. They traverse abandoned trenches and tunnels, crater littered mud fields, rolling hills, farmlands and villages; all of which were decimated by the war.

Chapman and MacKay, both being relatively nonamed actors, manage to keep the audience focused on them and their characters’ story rather than becoming distracted by the Hollywood heavyweights that show up in small, but important roles.

Some of these actors include Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch (both of which play high ranking military commanders), as well as Andrew Scott and Richard Madden (they play lower ranking officers, but are just as important to the overall story.

Having faces like these showing up in a movie headed by two young actors is a very tricky thing to pull off as seamlessly as Sam Mendes did here, a truly commendable feat completely worthy of Mendes’s Best Director Golden Globe Award.

Beyond Mendes and his amazing casting choices, the post production and effects departments involved in this film deserve just as much attention and praise as those in front of or responsible for the camera.

The use of practical effects are extremely prevalent in this film, much of the most important and impactful scenes involve the use makeup, props and absolutely stunning art direction and set design.

With the one shot style being used in the making of this film, the set design and build was finished weeks in advance of filming. The trenches where some of the most important scenes took place were constructed to look and feel just like the trenches that were used during the gruesome war.

The sets of No-Man’s-Land were just as intricate and detailed. A destroyed town – including a burning church tower – were constructed with meticulous accuracy. The location the used for most of the No-Man’s-Land was Salisbury in the Southwest of England and the rolling hills of that region were turned into seas of mud and dummies made to look like the bodies of dead German, English and French soldiers.

Sets were built in places all around the UK, each one more stunning and gut-wrenching than the last, most of them strewn with rubble, mud, dead body dummies, burnt trees and even sometimes destroyed German artillery.All in all, every cog in the well oiled machine of 1917 shines brightly and could be dissected for hours. But who has that kind of time?