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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Sam Mendes
Cast:
Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth
Writing Credits:
Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Synopsis:
As a regiment assembles to wage war deep in enemy territory, two soldiers are assigned to race against time and deliver a message that will stop 1600 men from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Box Office:
Budget
$100 million.
Opening Weekend
$37,000,200 on 3434 screens.
Domestic Gross
$159,183,029.

MPAA:
Rated R.

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio:
English Dolby Atmos
Spanish Dolby 7.1
French Dolby 7.1
English DVS
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 3/24/2020

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Sam Mendes
• Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins
• “Weight of the World” Featurette
• “Allied Forces” Featurette
• “The Score of 1917” Featurette
• “In the Trenches” Featurette
• “Recreating History” Featurette
• Previews
• DVD Copy


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RELATED REVIEWS


1917 [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2020)

Director Sam Mendes found popular and critical success with his debut feature, 1999’s American Beauty. In more recent years, he went a commercial path and directed the last two Bond flicks: 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE.

With 2019’s 1917, Mendes indulges both his more “serious” side with his action orientation. Here we get a story of World War I that encompasses an extremely limited time frame.

Set in April 1917, British Lance Corporal Baker (Dean-Charles Chapman) receives an assignment to deliver a crucial message across enemy lines. The Allied forces will attempt an assault on the Germans that seems doomed to fail, so this order will cancel the attack.

Along with Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), Baker needs to rush to prevent a bloodbath. This mission brings personal stakes as well, for Baker’s brother Joseph (Richard Madden) stands to suffer from the slaughter if he and Schofield don’t reach the front in time.

If I wanted to view 1917 in a cheeky manner, I’d call if Saving Lieutenant Baker. While not a carbon copy of the 1998 film, 1917 offers more than a minor whiff of Saving Private Ryan.

In both films, soldiers search for a particular party to rescue that person. Granted, 1917 comes with a wider scope, as Baker/Schofield embark on a mission to save hundreds of soldiers, not just one, but because the film integrates the involvement of Lt. Baker, the Ryan comparisons become more apt.

1917 uses that connection to give the story more urgency, and I don’t think the film needs it. The drama related to the imminent slaughter of so many soldiers seems sufficient, and the attempt to personalize matters can feel unnecessary and tacky.

In contrast, the search for the title character in Ryan came with a more obvious philosophical perspective. That film debates whether the needs of the few should put the many at risk, whereas in 1917, we get no similar discussion.

That’s because 1917 has it both ways. In Ryan, the attempts to rescue one soldier led to a journey that threatened many, and there was no greater cause involved. While the squad helped others along the way, they embarked on a mission solely to locate Ryan, without any grander involvement in the war effort.

With 1917, the mission exists to save hundreds of soldiers, but as painted here, we’re led to only care about one: Lt. Baker. Not that the film uses the others as pawns, but the attempt to prevent Lt. Baker’s death motivates virtually everything that the two Lance Corporals do.

And that’s not a terrible thing, but it makes 1917 feel more manipulative than I’d like. Again, I feel the film’s desire to bring the mission to a personal level seems misguided and unnecessary, as the soldiers should view the project as urgent even if they simply attempt to save strangers.

Indeed, ala Ryan, I think the story would gain power without the Baker connection. It would come across as noble if the Lance Corporals risked their lives to help soldiers they don’t know.

Beyond the basics of the mission, I wouldn’t call 1917 a plot-driven film, as it exists to present an A to B journey with plentiful pitfalls along the way. The movie gets viewed as a “serious” film, but really, it just offers a standard action flick at its heart.

I guess some feel that wartime settings can elevate an action movie into “serious film” territory. This happened 10 years earlier with Hurt Locker, an Oscar-winning effort that seemed more similar to Die Hard than to Apocalypse Now.

1917 falls into the same category, as it seems like an action flick that gains dramatic credibility largely due to the war-related side of things. Because it takes place during an actual conflict, the movie earns a level of perceived importance vs. a completely fictional tale.

I get why this tendency occurs, but I don’t agree with it, especially when the movie in question comes with such thin characterizations. We never really learn that much about the Lance Corporals, as the movie doles out a few basics and that’s it.

As such, we connect to them in a rote manner. We care about them in a fairly rote manner due to conditioning to value the “good guys” more than any personal affinity we show for them.

This occurs mainly because 1917 really does attempt a pretty relentless action affair, one that boasts an unusual cinematic choice. Like 2014’s Birdman, the movie progresses with zero obvious edits in an attempt to make it look like one continuous shot.

Of course, this doesn’t prove true, as 1917 comes with plenty of cuts. It simply does its best to hide them.

And it succeeds in that way, as the action flows pretty smoothly. However, as I also felt with Birdman, I think this acts more as a gimmick than as a useful filmmaking device.

The presentation of the story as one long shot doesn’t add urgency to the movie. We don’t feel more unnerved or invested because we get no obvious cuts.

Indeed, some in the audience – I raise my hand – may find the lack of clear edits to turn into a distraction. Because we know full well that the movie didn’t use one unending shot, some will search for the edits and lose touch with the story.

I admit I did this, though I didn’t play “Edit Detective” consciously. When I went into the movie, I didn’t decide that I’d focus on the cuts to the exclusion of all else.

But when you know a little about filmmaking, you just can’t help but search for those seams. Overall, 1917 hides the cuts fairly well, but most movie buffs will figure them out pretty easily.

Even without this potential distraction, I feel the lack of clear edits boasts little obvious purpose. This seems like a decision made to create a buzz among filmgoers more than something that adds to the storytelling.

Despite these criticisms, I can’t call 1917 a bad film. Sure, it comes with plenty of plot and character contrivances, and I could live without the handful of distracting cameos from Name Actors. These won’t totally take the viewer out of the movie, but 1917 sets them up in such a way that they shout “cameo coming! and briefly detract.

Even with these issues, 1917 offers suspense and energy. The story allows for little downtime, and the action scenes work pretty well.

Non-spoiler alert: we know that at least one of the two leads will survive until the end, so there’s not a ton of tension in these battles. Still, the danger feels real, even if the Germans in 1917 seem to have worse aim than the Stormtroopers in Star Wars.

As a basic action flick, 1917 fares reasonably well. It gives us enough menace and power in those scenes to create a fairly engaging action tale.

I just don’t think it does anything more than that. 1917 comes with Serious Film aspirations that it doesn’t quite merit, as the movie suffers from too little depth to qualify as a great work.


The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

1917 appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Shot and finished 4K, this became a terrific visual presentation.

At all times, sharpness appeared positive. Virtually no instances of softness emerged, so I thought the image seemed accurate and well-defined. I noticed no signs of shimmering or jaggies, and the movie lacked any print flaws.

While 1917 opted for orange and teal, I thought it gave these a bit of a twist. Perhaps to make the film resemble projects like They Shall Not Grow Old, the hues took on something of a “colorized” look. Within visual choices, the tones appeared well-rendered.

Blacks were always deep and tight, and I saw good contrast as well. Shadows seemed clear and appropriately opaque. The Blu-ray became a strong reproduction of the film.

Note that the IMAX presentation of 1917 opened the film up to a 1.90:1 aspect ratio. We don’t get that version here, and I suspect the filmmakers prefer the 2.39:1 ratio. Neither audio commentary addresses the IMAX ratio, though.

I also felt pleased with the solid Dolby Atmos soundtrack of 1917. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the mix offered plenty of opportunities for lively auditory information, and it took good advantage of these.

With a mix of combat scenes and other action elements, the mix filled the speakers on a frequent basis. The track placed information in logical spots and blended all the channels in a smooth, compelling manner.

Audio quality was also positive. Music sounded lively and full, while effects delivered accurate material. Those elements showed nice clarity and kick, with tight low-end.

Speech was always distinctive and concise, too. This mix worked well for the film.

As we head to extras, we find two audio commentaries, the first of which comes from co-writer/director Sam Mendes. He brings a running, screen-specific view of the project’s origins and family influences, historical elements, cast and performances, photography and editing, sets and locations, stunts and action, effects, and related domains.

A veteran of the format, Mendes provides a more than capable commentary. He gets into a good mix of creative and technical domains, as he turns this into an informative and winning chat.

For the second commentary, we hear from director of photography Roger Deakins. He offers a running, screen-specific look mainly at cinematography and camera-related topics, but he gets into connected domains like sets, editing and effects as well.

Expect a technical commentary from Deakins, which seems good and bad. On one hand, we learn a lot about the methods used for the film’s unusual photographic challenges.

On the other, Deakins tends to focus too much on how they executed the film rather than why. Because Deakins sticks with the technical areas, we don’t learn much about the creative reasons for the choices.

Because Deakins offers a friendly, engaging personality, this never turns into a dry, boring chat. That said, I wish he’d spent more time with decision-making processes and less with technical elements.

Five featurettes follow, and The Weight of the World lasts four minutes, 29 seconds. It brings notes from Mendes, Deakins, co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, producer Pippa Harris, production designer Dennis Gassner, and actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman.

“Weight” examines how Mendes launched the project and his family influences as well as his impact on the production. It mixes good insights with happy talk about the director’s greatness.

With Allied Forces, we get a 12-minute, one-second piece that features Mendes, Deakins, Wilson-Cairns, Harris, Chapman, MacKay, 1st AD Michael Lerman, producers Callum McDougall and Jayne-Ann Tenggren, and camera operators Peter Cavaciuti and Charlie Rizek.

“Forces” examines camerawork and technical challenges. Some of this repeats from Deakins’ commentary, but we get fresh information, and the visuals that depict the various domains help make this a worthwhile show.

The Score of 1917 spans three minutes, 52 seconds and includes Mendes, Harris, Tenggren, and composer Thomas Newman. As expected, “Score” covers Newman’s work, with an emphasis on the ways he integrated with the production. This becomes a short but informative reel.

Next comes In the Trenches, a six-minute, 59-second reel that offers material from Mendes, Harris, MacKay, Chapman, and Tenggren. “Trenches” covers cast, characters and performances. It becomes a decent program, though one that leans on praise for the actors.

Finally, Recreating History goes for 10 minutes, 25 seconds and delivers comments from Mendes, Gassner, Chapman, Lerman, Deakins, Wilson-Cairns, Harris, McDougall, location manager Lindsey Powell, set decorator Les Sandales and art director Elaine Kusmishko.

Via “History”, we look at sets and production design. This becomes another engaging reel that indulges in a little more happy talk than I might prefer.

The disc opens with ads for Dark Waters, The Current War, and 4K UHD. No trailer for 1917 appears here.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of 1917. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray but it omits “Trenches” and “History”.

Viewed as an action/war movie, 1917 offers some thrills. However, it doesn’t connect as a more powerful work, so expect it to remain superficial and gimmicky. The Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and audio along with a mix of useful bonus materials. 1917 becomes an interesting journey but not one that threatens greatness.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main