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Roy’s Front Row At The Oscars: ‘1917’ — A technical marvel that emotionally puts us in the middle of World War I

By ROY MORRIS

Certainly deserving of its best picture and best director nominations this year, “1917” brings us the terror and futility of the great war — World War One — and does it in a way that, not only shows total respect for the subject matter but allows the audience, through masterfully groundbreaking production techniques, to experience the almost totally immersive and heart pounding realism of being caught in the middle of that nightmarish time — a time when sudden death was possible at any second.

The main talking point has been the way that the story is visually told in what appears to be one single shot that lasts the entire length of the movie and, whilst this is almost true (there are actually many cuts that are beautifully concealed within) the true genius of the production is how it seems to all happen in almost real time and, thus lending yet more realism and urgency to the story.

It is April 1917 on the western front in France and aerial reconnaissance has shown that the German army have taken a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line where they are waiting to overwhelm the advancing English army. Lance Corporals, Tom Blake and Will Schofield, played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay respectively, are pulled off the front line and given the task of delivering a letter to Colonel Mackenzie, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, to inform him to cancel a proposed charge by his battalion as it is to be an ambush that would destroy the entire regiment.

Although this was not an actual event that happened, for writer/director, Sam Mendes, it was his fictional account of stories his grandfather told him. There were indeed soldiers that were tasked with the taking of hand written notes to other parts of the front line advance to help aid, or in this case, try to save battalions from potential ambushes. The story then follows the two as they try to accomplish their goal and reach the colonel before it is too late. That’s all I will say because you will have to go see for yourself how it turns out and I promise you will not be disappointed as this is a beautifully crafted movie that will have you on the edge of your seat from the start.

Once the decision was made to make this movie in as many single shots as possible, Sam Mendes realized he was going to have quite the job on his hands. In order for the long shots to work there was going to need to be some forward planning — which ended up being six months of planning and set building — and then there were camera rehearsals and re-runs so that both the cast and crew could get everything synced up and be able to utilize the actual filming in the most economical way (Time literally is money in movies.)

The final budget eventually settled around $100 million, due mainly to the production time frame from beginning to end and the amount of top line production people employed. It won Oscars for Cinematography, Sound Effects and Visual Effects and that is where it shows for sure. Roger Deakin’s camera became the real star for me, even though the cast were all excellent throughout, his clever use of light against setting was quite incredible in its visualization, especially as the camera went through so many scene changes during one shot — he fully deserved his Oscar for sure.

With almost $290 Million now earned at the worldwide box office, it certainly is a bonafide hit and with all the awards it has taken so far this season, some 64 wins out of 147 nominations, it will certainly, and deservedly, earn more yet. This is one of my favorite movies of 2019, one of a few that were all equally brilliant in their own right, but this one, I feel, was the stand out production for me — I thoroughly recommend seeing it, not least for the technical achievement therein, but also, and maybe even more importantly, for the historical aspect — it certainly taught me a lot about that terrible war.