Sam Mendes’ gripping World War I film, 1917, arrives on blu-ray this week, bringing it’s impressive technical achievements and tense story to the comfort of your home. Check out our full review to find out if it’s worth a repeat viewing!
1917 takes place, well...in 1917, in the latter days of the first World War. As the Germans have seemingly retreated from its entrenched location in France, one British company is intent on following up to try and force a turning point in the war. But it’s all a trap, as reconnaissance flights have revealed, but in their retreat, the Germans cut off all communication.
As such, the army charges two soldiers, Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) to travel across enemy lines to deliver the order to call off the attack. If they fail, nearly 2,000 lives (including Blake’s brother) could be lost. It’s a mission of dire importance on both a personal and large scale level. As Blake and Schofield travel across the country, a few miles have never seemed so far, as they must evade traps left by the enemy and more.
As was discussed a lot during its theatrical release, the film plays out like one long single-take, and the effect keeps the tension ridiculously high. It’s ridiculously impressive how well it's done, even knowing it has cuts/edits in there, it’s seamless. From the outset, audiences are thrust into the heart of this conflict and the feeling of terror and danger is ever-present.
Considering the short amount of time we spend with these characters (the events covered are only a few hours), it’s crazy how attached to them I got. The pull of the mission and the film’s more down-to-Earth portrayal of the war (there’s not huge action/explosions like many other war films) made it so I was engaged completely almost from the outset.
Even in its slower moments, the film manages to keep you hooked into everything that’s going on. In many ways it feels like a slow burn film, the continually ratchets up the tension with each passing moment. It feels hard to explain how I felt while watching the film. I ran the gamut of emotions and I felt both hopeful and fearful by the time the credits rolled. We only get a snippet of the war, seeing how this one small aspect of it played out. Even knowing how history ultimately played out, the film managed to invest me that deeply in how the characters were impacted.
Sight and Sound
Visually, 1917 is gorgeous. Even as it is set in the nitty-gritty heart of WWI, it brings a surprisingly diverse color palette along with impressive dynamic lighting/framing to pretty much every single scene. The blu-ray transfer highlights this wonderfully, offering a crystal clear picture with deep blacks that don’t crush. This is great considering the latter half of the film takes place mostly at night and does its best to hammer home the effect of realistic lighting. As such, there are a number of scenes in the dark, but the visual contrast is excellent and you can still see/understand everything that’s going on.
The sound design overall is excellent and the surround sound on the blu-ray helps it shine. It really helps thrust you in the heart of the action. Whether it’s sneaking through an abandoned bunker or dodging bullets in the river, you feel immersed in the action. All in all, the 1917 blu-ray does a great job of highlighting the film’s technical prowess.
The 1917 blu-ray comes with a DVD copy, a digital copy insert, and these special features loaded on the disc:
The Weight of the World: Sam Mendes – Academy Award winner Sam Mendes discusses his personal connection to World War 1.
Allied Forces: Making 1917 – Learn how the one shot, 360-degree format was executed and the pivotal role Academy Award winner Roger Deakins served in bringing Sam Mendes’ vision to life.
The Music of 1917 – Composer Thomas Newman and filmmakers discuss the important role of the Academy Award-nominated score.
In The Trenches – Go behind the scenes with the cast of 1917.
Recreating History – Filmmakers offer a detailed look at the production design challenges of recreating the First World War.
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Sam Mendes.
Feature Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins.
The bonus features all seem fairly standard, but considering the director’s personal connection to the film/story, it makes them more engaging to watch. The behind the scenes elements are fun to watch and see how they managed to create the one-shot feel to the film and the various hidden VFX. They’re all interesting, though fairly short, and I suspect more people will get more out of the audio commentaries than anything else.