The Screen Scene: 1917

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

Awards season is in fast forward this year. The Golden Globes have already been given out. Oscar nominations were announced on Monday. The actual awards ceremony will be on Sunday, February 8th. It wasn’t long ago that the Academy Awards were held on the last Sunday in March. The Hollywood powers-that-be decided awards season was too long, and now it’s arguably too short.

One film that debuted in December is making a late charge in the awards conversation. 1917, the World War I drama from writer-director Sam Mendes, took home a Best Picture trophy at the Golden Globes and deservedly so. The premise of the film is simple: a regiment of British troops is about to walk into a trap. Two young soldiers are chosen to cross enemy lines and deliver an order to call off the attack, saving 1600 men from certain death.

The narrative may be simple, but the visual approach taken by the film is astonishingly complex. 1917 appears to have been filmed in one long continuous shot. All of the edits have been disguised or digitally glossed over, leaving the audience with the impression that they are running through enemy territory for two hours with barely enough time to catch their collective breath.

Unlike Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and other war films, the violence in 1917 is mostly off-screen. The audience is dropped into the aftermath of the bloodshed. Dead bodies lie in piles. Villages and towns are burning. There’s one breathtaking night scene that’s lit solely by fires and flares flying overhead. At times it’s like walking through Dante’s Inferno with each scene representing a new ring of Hell.

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins won an Oscar last year for Blade Runner 2049, and 1917 should add another trophy to his mantle. The camera winds its way through the trenches, glides across the barbed wire and bomb craters of No Man’s Land and snakes its way across rivers and streams. It’s a stunning technical accomplishment.

1917 is currently playing on IMAX and Big D screens across the country, and it really should be seen in a theater. Hopefully its recent recognition on the awards circuit will bring in even bigger audiences as it expands nationwide. I give 1917 four out of five popcorn buckets.

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