To hype up the impending 4K Blu-ray release of the Oscar-winning film 1917, Universal has shared a 10-minute preview clip of the film’s director commentary track with Sam Mendes. And if you’re here on this website reading that sentence, that means you are quaking with excitement to hear what Mendes has to say about the making of the remarkable war movie.
The video jumps around the movie to give us Mendes’ insights on a few different key scenes, such as the explosion in the German trench bunker, the chaotic plane crash, and the film’s finale. So if you’ve yet to see 1917, be aware that the clip contains some major spoilers.
Mendes explains that the idea for the film came from the war stories he would hear from his grandfather, and that he prefers to think of its unique format as a movie with no cuts, rather than a movie told in a single shot. Part of the reason behind his decision to film it without cuts was to give the audience a sense that there was no way out – you have to stick right there with the main characters until the end.
He also talks about why he made certain choices, and how he pulled off some of the scenes with clever staging. For example, the scene with Colin Firth, in which the camera slowly pushes in on him standing behind a table before turning around to slowly push in on the two leads on the opposite side of the table, was accomplished by using two tables and having the leads quickly rush into place when the camera turned. It’s a simple trick, but hearing Mendes explain it while watching its seamless execution on screen is pretty impressive.
Mendes also talks a bit about how they masked certain cuts. Obviously blending and morphing with visual effects are used, but there are some that are done using basic in-camera tricks, like having a soldier pass in front of the camera to end one shot and start a new one. He reveals that one of his personal nightmares is being buried alive, which was part of the inspiration for the scene wherein Schofield (George MacKay) is briefly buried in rubble before he and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) have to scramble to escape the collpasing German bunker. Finally, Mendes explains how the experience of making two huge Bond movies (Skyfall and Spectre) was helpful in making 1917. In particular, the scene in which the German airplane crashes and a major character is suddenly fatally injured.
It’s an absolute must-watch for anyone interested in the truly exceptional filmmaking behind 1917. You can watch the clip below, and hear Mendes’ commentary in full when the film releases on 4K Blu-ray & DVD March 24.