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Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Diplomad Movie Review: 1917

A few days ago I went with the eldest Diplosons to see Sam Mendes' film, 1917.

We went to one of those fancy theaters in Raleigh with the reclining seats, BIG screen, surround sound, waiters, etc., you know the drill. Nice time, only made foul by my receiving a traffic ticket outside of Wilmington when I fell into a known speed trap just as the I-40 enters town. I knew it was there, but it was nearly midnight, traffic was light, and I had my Jeep's Bose speakers booming out Louis Armstrong. In sum, I wasn't paying attention when the speed limit suddenly dropped from 70 to 45--and it drops for no good reason, I might add. The cops were having a field day as they had three or four other miserable miscreants lined up at the side of the road, plus this humble blogger, all awash in the flashing blue lights of shame. A good day for the coffers of North Carolina.

OK, as to the movie.

It is definitely worth seeing. Go see it. The British soldiers, for the most part, look like British soldiers of the era--no, they are not bad ass lesbians--and the sets are extraordinary, with an amazing attention to detail. The no man's land that plays a central part in the film is, to say the least, a harrowing muddy landscape of blasted and twisted machines, abandoned guns, barbed wire, partially filled craters, and rotting human and animal bodies: a remarkable depiction of hell.

A lot has been written about the "one take" technique used in the film. It is a terrific technical achievement, but, and here is my but, my sons and I found it unnecessary, and even distracting. After a bit you get almost nauseous as the camera weaves its way around and becomes--unfortunately--a hindrance to good story telling. You want some edits, some close ups, but no, it's all presented as one continuous shot. In some cases it's fine, for example, when the soldiers are walking through the trenches with the camera leading the way in a scene highly reminiscent of that in Paths of Glory  when senior officers are inspecting the trenches, and, again, when the lead character is running through an impressively orchestrated artillery barrage. There were a couple of scenes lifted almost entirely from Saving Private Ryan--you'll see what I mean when you see it. That's fine, of course, as movies borrow from each other all the time. The obsession with the one shot technique, however, robbed those scenes of the emotional impact they had in Spielberg's still superior Ryan.

Never mind all that nitpicking. Go see it. It's a tribute to brave men who saw and did their duty. You don't get much of that in contemporary movie making.


  1. When I was caught in a similar speed trap. I paid the fine, but I also wrote the judge to talk about the officers poor sportsmanship in how they stalked game for infractions. Not that it got any more than a laugh, but I was hoping that the chide would spread in the department. Because really other than pay the fine what else is there?

  2. I just saw "The Pacific" which is the follow on to "Band of Brothers." They quite accurately portray the effects of tropical climate on dead bodies. The scenes of the Battle of Okinawa are especially graphic.

  3. In NC, hire a lawyer. It'll get plead down for sure. Or show up, request a prayer for judgement, pay the court fees, and be on your way without any points or insurance hit. Do not just automatically pay it!!

  4. Although I rarely go to the movies, I saw a trailer for "1917" when I went to see "Midway".

    Midway is an excellent movie which really captures the ethos of those times which now seem like another universe. Big thanks to our Chinese friends for bank-rolling Midway when woke US Hollywood baulked.

    The trailer for 1917 did not encourage me to make a return trip to see the movie -- hints of Political Correctness, despite the stunning scenes. I am glad the film is better than the trailer.

    1. Just back from seeing 1917. Not much PC at all, Gavin. Just a couple of oddly placed black faces, and a single female character. Otherwise a refreshingly open portrayal of a war fought mainly by white males.

      I did not find the "single shot" technique distracting, but rather felt that it focuses the viewer on the signal-mindedness of the incident being portrayed.

      Quite enjoyed this intense and haunting movie.

  5. The British Army was still segregated in WW I, so there were no blacks or Indians in British Army Infantry Units, they were all in units raised from the colonies such as the Indian Army or volunteer units from S Africa, etc. And just exactly how did horses get into the middle of No Man's Land?