Director Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a technological marvel, a nearly 2-hour drama set during World War I that plays as if it was filmed in one long continuous shot.
The Production: 4.5/5
On April 6 1917, General Erinmore (Colin Firth) receives word that the German retreats are a ruse, an attempt to draw the isolated Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment in the British army into a trap. Erinmore dispatches two Lance Corporals, William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who also has a brother in the isolated regiment, to cross enemy lines on foot to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to not go through with the planned attack.
That simple story is possibly the only weakness of co-writer and director Sam Mendes’ 1917, a mesmerizing journey across enemy lines. The two Lance Corporals encounter British planes many times during their journey, so it seems rather odd the Erinmore couldn’t just drop the message from a plane. That being said, what makes the film so enthralling and immersive is the appearance by Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins that this was completed in one continuous shot without ever feeling like a gimmick. There is a constant fluidity to the cinematography, achieved through the use of Steadicams, cranes, vehicles, and simple hand held shots, all completed on Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras, the first motion picture to use the smallest camera with a 4.5K image sensor. To say much more would spoil the movie, but this is truly actor George MacKay’s movie, as he carries this picture from point A to point B.
3D Rating: NA
1917 was captured at 4.5K resolution on Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras (as noted above) and completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio with IMAX sequences at 1.9:1 with Dolby Vision high dynamic range for its premium theatrical engagements. Universal’s 2160p transfer on this disc features the 2.39:1 theatrical presentation with HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision high dynamic range. 1917 was reviewed on equipment capable of only HDR10, which still delivers an excellent picture. The detail is incredible, from granules of sand and dirt along the trenches and at the front lines to layers grime on the character’s faces. Color is desaturated somewhat to give the film a World War I period look, but it is the varying grades of color that help retain a natural look to them. Contrast is exceptional, with deep blacks and solid shadow detail during the darkest of scenes and an often grey overcast sky that still retains finite cloud formations.
The default Dolby Atmos track (included on both the UHD and Blu-ray editions) is phenomenal. This track is just as immersive as the cinematography, placing the viewer right along Schofield’s journey. Planes are heard flying overhead, dialogue from soldiers in the trenches surround you and move with 360 degree fluidity along with the camera as do explosions and artillery fire. LFE adds definite emphasis to the explosions, while dialogue is clear and well-prioritized throughout.
Special Features: 3.5/5
All of the Special Features have been included on the UHD disc as well as the Blu-ray edition.
The Weight of the World: Sam Mendes (2160p; 4:29): EPK fluff piece on developing the story, Mendes’ personal connection to it, etc.
Allied Forces: Making “1917” (2160p; 12:01): Another EPK fluff piece that barely scratches the surface on the making of the film.
The Score of “1917” (2160p; 3:52): An all too brief look at Thomas Newman’s score.
In the Trenches (2160p; 6:59): A look at casting the two Lance Corporals and their performances.
Recreating History (2160p; 10:25): A look at the film’s production design and how the way this was shot made it more of a challenge.
Audio Commentary with Co-writer and Director Sam Mendes: Mendes goes into great detail on how personal this story is to him, shooting the movie in continuity order, Thomas Newman’s score, production design, etc.
Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins: The Oscar-winning cinematographer discusses the many challenges of shooting this film to appear as one continuous shot.
Blu-ray Copy: The movie in 1080p with Dolby Atmos plus all of the special features listed above.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) on Movies Anywhere. On the reverse side is a code to redeem a free movie in HD from UPHE Rewards.
1917 is a must-see for any film student (or lover of movies in general) for its technical achievement alone, and Universal’s presentation is excellent.