By Andrew Harwood
At its simplest, film is a form of visual art. Yet at its most definitive, film is an expansive production.
Focusing on the actual production of film is important to understand how it exactly comes together. It isn’t all fun and games, dreams to picture, nor that “it means no worries.” A film production is just that. A production.
That’s why this week in Cinephilia, we’re focusing on a genre defined by production: the epic.
Epics are a style of filmmaking encompassed by large-scale productions, heroic characters, sweeping scope cinematography and lengthy runtimes. They generally fall into the genres of historical, period or even fantasy. Think D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” “Gone With the Wind,” David Lean’s “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” or even Sergey Bondarchuk’s seven-hours-long “War and Peace.” But, for our film of the week, there’s no epic quite like “1917.”
Directed by Sam Mendes and co-written by himself and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the Oscar-nominated “1917” tells the story of two young British lance corporals who are tasked with delivering a message calling off a doomed attack on the German front line during the latter half of World War I. Told in real-time, meaning the plot follows the duration of the film and meticulously edited to be seen as one continuous shot, “1917” is a heart-pounding adventure on the Western front.
It was hard not to pick “Lawrence of Arabia” for this genre because it’s literally the epitome of an epic, but after much consideration and head bangs against my desk, it was obvious that “1917” took the crown, as it was by far the most challenging to produce. The production was filled with months of camera rehearsal to track the duration of shots and takes, and also involved extensive use of practical effects, thousands of extras, weather challenges and precise editing.
Needless to say, the making of this war epic was… epic.
Starring an ensemble cast, including Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, composed with a hauntingly beautiful score by Thomas Newman, surreal depictions of battle and incredible imagery by cinematographer Roger Deakins, “1917” is certainly a modern epic like no other.