A second trailer and savory new details about Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes’ World War I blockbuster should have even the most pedestrian of film enthusiasts salivating.
This week, Universal Pictures released a behind-the-scenes look at “1917,” a story about two young soldiers — played by George MacKay (“Captain Fantastic”) and Dean-Charles Chapman (“Game of Thrones”) — who embark in a race against time through the apocalyptic hellscapes of the Western Front to deliver a message that could save 1,600 lives.
To make The Great War as immersive and viewer-relatable as possible, Mendes and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins opted to shoot the entire film as a continuous shot that never departs from the two main characters.
“From the very beginning I felt this movie should be told in real time," Mendes said in the behind-the-scenes featurette.
“I wanted people to understand how difficult it was for these men. ... Every step of the journey, breathing every breath with these men, felt integral. And there is no better way to tell the story than with one continuous shot.”
Use of continuous shot cinematography has increased in recent years, with fellow award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki employing it masterfully in various films like “The Revenant,” “Gravity,” and perhaps most notably, in the stunning battle sequence from Alfonso Cuarón′s “Children of Men.”
“It’s meant to make you feel that you are in the trenches with these characters,” said film producer Pippa Harris, who worked with Mendes on “Jarhead” and “Revolutionary Road."
Because this filming technique requires the use of 360 degrees of each exterior, “1917,” like “The Revenant,” had to be shot using only natural light, a process that made actors and camera operators entirely dependent on ideal weather conditions.
A five-minute window of the sun ducking behind clouds could send cast and crew scrambling into position.
Select action sequences were so extensive that cameras had to be hooked onto wires and pushed across landscapes by operators before traversing an elevated wire reminiscent of the sky cam used during select National Football League broadcasts. Operators would then have to regather the camera, unhook it, and run alongside characters before climbing into a moving vehicle for a faster sequence.
McKay said the filming process reminded him of acting on stage.
“It was like a piece of theater every take. Once you start, you can’t stop. If something goes wrong, you just have to keep going.”
In some movies, filmmakers “might be able to cut around this or take that scene out," Mendes said. "That’s not possible on this film. The dance of the camera and the mechanics all have to be in sync with what the actor is doing.
“When you achieve that, it’s really beautiful.”
“1917” is set for a limited Christmas Day release before hitting theaters nationwide on Jan. 10, 2020.
Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game,” “Doctor Strange”), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech,” “Kingsman"), Mark Strong (“The Imitation Game,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), and Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) round out a star-studded cast.
World War I garnered renewed interest following the release of Peter Jackson’s (“Lord of the Rings”) groundbreaking documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old.”
Based on the first two trailers, it looks like Mendes is sure to do The Great War justice.
Watch the second official trailer below.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.