By Drake Vittitow
A common compliment given to films is how immersive it felt. When a director can seamlessly make the audience feel like they are a part of the action, then the movie generally does very well critically and commercially.
However, this compliment is overused.
“1917” is the movie that surpasses the benchmark for immersion in filmmaking.
The film takes place during World War 1 and tells the story of two British soldiers that receive seemingly insurmountable orders – they must sneak through enemy territory and deliver a message that potentially could save 1,600 lives.
The director, Sam Mendes, based this story off of his grandfather’s experiences during his time as a soldier during the war.
As I stated earlier, the movie is incredibly immersive because of the way it is shot. The movie is meant to be seen as a single shot, which means there are no quick cuts to something else happening during the entire movie. The great Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer of this technique with his movie “Rope.” To execute this skill to perfection, Mendes would move the camera behind an object while shooting a scene, like a tree or building where the camera could be stopped and then restarted without it being noticeable.
This technique forces the audience into the movie. With the camera being on both soldiers the entire movie, it makes the audience feel as if they are running through trenches and dodging artillery fire themselves.
Very few movies make you feel that way, and “1917” does this in spades.
There is one easily pointed out flaw in the movie that arises because of the one-shot technique and that is lack of character development. While shooting one-shot, it is hard to develop characters. When I was introduced to these characters, I did not immediately connect with them in any way, which is crucial to engage your audience in any film. All that I learned in the opening minutes was the mission they had to embark on and that one of them had a brother who was also fighting in the war. The dialogue also failed in linking the audience emotionally with the characters, which is not completely necessary in all films, but I think more character development would have helped this movie greatly.
Not the greatest introduction or dialogue ever composed on a script, but thankfully, it does not hinder the movie entirely. It just didn’t leave a lasting impression on me after the movie was over, even though I believe it tried to.
With this movie being set during World War 1, the production sets and costume designs looked on point and period accurate. Period pieces in film are a pain to make because every single combat boot, rifle, sandbag and canteen has to be tailored to absolute accuracy for the movie to successfully depict the time in which it is representing.
This movie is nerve-racking. There is something always going wrong for the protagonists, which creates an unsettled nerve for the audience, and that characteristic is what makes this movie great. Despite some missteps in character development and dialogue, I believe that this film is a technical masterpiece that cannot be understated. Combine that with the achievement in filmmaking with the one-shot technique and “1917” looks to be slowly placing itself in the hallowed annals of not only World War 1 movies, but war movies altogether.