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1917 (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

When it comes to end of the year “Best” (or as I like to say, “Favorite”) lists, many of us looked toward Sam Mendes 1917 as a glaring omission as it had not opened in theaters near our residency. And I’ll be damned if the first time I watch something like this is on an overly compressed, watermarked behind on the times format DVD screener. To the luck of some of the other films that DID get included on my Top Films of 2019 list, they were grateful for my snobbery as some of them were included where they may have been given an unfortunate bump. 1917 would easily have moved into my top ten and shaken the list up had it been able to open wide before I wrote my list (I believe it came out just a week after mine published). It is one of the great theatrical experiences of this millennium and I hope people truly find themselves immersed at home (At least watch it on a damn TV folks, please don’t do this on your phone, tablet or laptop). You’ll be able to watch it in the comfort of said home when it arrives on March 24th.

Film

In 1917 at the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKayand Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them.

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is an absolute triumph in the “cinematic experience” with movie going. This immersive journey through a story from the British side of World War I sinks you right in and doesn’t let go. 1917 doesn’t sit and showboat its narrative device of the illusion of being done in a single shot, it keeps things natural and only does what it does to prove it is the best and most important way to tell this story of the war. Yes, the best way to have seen the film (As with all films) would be in the movie theater, but rest assured, I was almost just as immersed and impressed with the film on this 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release. And I ask again…please don’t watch this thing on your damn phone, tablet or laptop, please.

I think its inarguable that Roger Deakins body of work is one of the greatest in the history of film for a cinematography. He is constantly challenging himself, improving on things he does well and wowing with the beauty of his moving frames. Doing a full on film to a appear as a single steadycam shot for him is a tall task and he takes it to a whole new level. Without trying to sell this on “We actually did it, only 4 takes!” false advertising, allows them to get as creative as possible (And to the editor’s credit, you can guess where a cut is made, but merely only guess, nothing is obvious). There were moments in here that did feel like Deakins was giving him self a nod. For instance there is a shootout/chase sequence that reminded of No Country For Old Men when Llewelyn Moss is running in the alleys from Anton Chigurh.

Aside from the action and impressive camerawork and choreography in the film, it actually works stunningly in its dramatic aspects as well. There many scenes where actors have to carry it via conversation. Mendes theatre background really comes into play here as he’s able to put what would be great quieter, character-driven stage moments together, naturally woven in to the film. The scenes are incredibly well written and acted, just adding another layer to the film that works just as well as its action and even manages to add more to it. Said drama helps to fuel the adrenaline, stakes and emotion to those scenes, adding impressive amounts of depth to what one might think on the surface is a “gimmick” or “high concept” only film.

1917 was one of 2019’s most impressive efforts and one of the few films that really takes advantage of the theater going experience and provides the whole “why we go to the theaters” argument to the naysaying “I’ll wait for streaming” lame-o’s.  Everything is on point from all facets, beyond just being a technical achievement. George MacKay showcases a hell of a lot of talent in showing how he can carry a film on his own. One can only hope he has a lot of big pictures everybody sees ahead of him. While I can’t say I’m a big time fanboy of Sam Mendes, 1917 really blew me away and has me excited for whatever he does next. For me, its easily his best film.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: 1917 comes gloriously to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format as a native 4K title, having been finished with 4K digital intermediate. Without question, this is one of the best looking 4K images every released on the format. Its so refined, sharp, detailed and showing every little touch of texture with some a wonderful cinematic look and feel to it. Its a flush, full image carrying all its style and impression with ease. It’ll be very easy to sink in and become immersed with this film at home with moving frames that look as lovely as this one.

Depth: Depth of field is extremely well done with a massive sense of scope, even at home. The pushback and “down the halloway” feel is quite grand and spacious. Foreground imagery passing by and characters allow have a nice separation and individual sense of movement as the camera wanders along. The dolly, crane and tracking is all very confident and moves quite smoothly throughout the frame. Characters and any sort of action moves naturally with no distortion issues present.

Black Levels:  Black levels are very much natural and match perfectly up the 2.39:1 matting on either side of the framing. It is deep and doesn’t swallow into any detail. The highlight is the nighttime chase and “baby” scene in the film that feel almost naturally lit and have great shadows and darkness. Blacks also help to refine and sharpen the imagery, keeping textures and patterns plenty visible. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  The film has a lot of barren ground and military infused coloring, but the saturation on this palette is wildly impressive helping to craft such fine details in the image. Color pops really occur with the fire during many sequences as well as nice green grass and the white leaves of the cherry trees. The HDR glow really clocks in quite hauntingly and truly accents into some of the grander, darker moments of the film.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones take on a colder look and maintain that consistency from start to finish, matching up with the overall palette of the film. Facial features and textures like blemishes, rosy cheeks, wrinkles, dirt, dried blood, dust and scars come through clear as day in any frame from most any distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Audio, French 7.1 Dolby Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The impressive nature of 1917‘s 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release doesn’t end at the visual portion of the presentation, this thing is all time great disc from every aspect.  With the proper Atmos set up, you are spoiled with the fantastic sound design that pits you right in the middle of everything. From the quietest field with a tiny breeze, to the loudest roaring fire with the base of hailing gunfire…you will find this outstanding blend a surreal and “lived in” experience as you follow the events of the film. You’re going to be impressed, you’re going to see this Atmos done as it should be, and you’re going to want them all to be this great.

Height: Oh there are some beautiful moments from above that your ceiling channels will gloriously show strong contribution to the film’s enjoyment. Many a times, planes flying overhead are a treat, but so are bullets, debris and much more that fits right into what you’re watching and gives a little bit of pizzazz but never going overboard.

Low-Frequency Extension: Quite a nice, powerful contribution to the sound design is the many different varieties of intensity the subwoofer provides. From bombs, to gunfire, to crashing to the engines of military vehicles you’ll feel the rumble or punch of a the film deep as they come.

Surround Sound Presentation: As if you weren’t already probably assuming by my description of the ceiling and slobbering in the opening, the speaker map and design for this film is just rightfully outstanding. Everything channel is on its toes and providing some contribution at every turn. Sound travel rolls with no problem and easily floats across the room and front and back with such a natural gusto, one can’t help but just marvel and be impressed with it.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, plenty audible in any given situation and full fitting formed into any environment as it compliments the surroundings.

Extras

1917 comes with the standard Blu-ray disc and a Movies Anywhere digital code. Bonus material is actually found on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray disc

Audio Commentary

  • With Director/Co-Writer Sam Mendes
  • With Director of Photography Roger Deakins

The Weight Of The World: Sam Mendes (4K, 4:29) – This is where Sam Mendes talks being advised to write his own script after doing Spectre and finding a story in the fragment of a war story his grandfather told him. Its also a lot of people slobbering about the “genius” of Sam Mendes too

Allied Forces: Making 1917 (4K, 12:01) – This is a very interesting look at the film as it follows the camera work and Roger Deakins’ lead on the film and his specifics. It covers the challenges and ingenuity the crew had when bringing the film to life. You get a lot of looks at what the film looked like as it was being shot and before post production.

The Score Of 1917 (4K, 3:52) – This opens with Sam Mendes saying when you make a movie, you make it 4 times; when you write it, when you shoot it, when you edit it and when you score it. Composer Thomas Newman, Sam Mendes, producer Jayne Ann-Teagan and some other discuss how specific the score had to be and figuring out how it would compliment the feeling of someone living in that environment. They even go over some certain instruments that they used and why they chose them.

In The Trenches (4K, 6:59) – This featurette focuses on our leads (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) as both the actors and the characters they portray. It also touches on the bigger named actor cameos that occur throughout the film as well, with cast and crews opinions on them.

Recreating History (4K, 10:25) – The final featurette focus on the sets from the film, coming from the guy who’d done Blade Runner and Cohen Brothers movies (Obviously working with Deakins before). They also go over the challenges of how the scenes and length of the land had to match up. Through the behind the scenes footage you get to see how incredibly impressive the production of this movie actually was at the end of the day. Its amazing how wonderful it was captured and how taken for granted this can be with how well its been done.

Summary

1917 was one of 2019’s finest cinematic achievements and definitely found itself appropriately awarded as such (So excited that Roger Deakins now has 2 Oscars). Universal Studios brings it to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray in one of the finest and best presentations known to the format, leaving you with absolutely perfection on display. Extras are all a bit quick, but definitely informative even if they do get a little bit wanky. This an absolute must have disc for anyone based on movie and presentation alone.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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