A millennial recently told me that she doesnt watch movies. Instead, she plays video games. Why watch a movie when you can be a part of the action? Movies have been becoming more like video games for some time now, and 1917 completes the transition. All that is missing is viewer participation. The film is designed like a video game. Its set design is structured as a series of skill levels, beginning with warm up walk to the the general’s office, where the the routes and objectives are explained to our avatars, played by two little known and not very accomplished actors.
The second level is a run through the trenches, with miniature confrontations with soldiers who represent minor impediments to their progress. This run, like the preceding and many subsequent ones, is shot in what is seemingly one long take by a camera following the runners. At this point, the avatars are not in harm’s way. They are simply required to provide the neccessary retorts to the obstacles who would prevent their progress.
As a narrative film, the first 45 mintes of 1917 are a virtual waste of time. For a gamer, however, they provide a warm up that sets the pace. It is not until the avatars reach the fourth level where, after clearing the trenches and covering open ground, they take shelter in a building formerly occupied by enemy troops, that a potential arises for the film to become somewhat interstong. At this point they do something incredibly stupid, something that makes no sense yet has been preceded by an event that has caused them to become complacent in such a situation. The result is the first bit of suspense and release offered by the film, The effect is jarring while the technology behind the effect is faulty. The event itself provides a turning point in the film that, under conventional circumstances, would have jump started the story that was so long in hitting its starting line.
Instead, this is where the gaming begins, as our principal avatar becomes our sole alter ego, fighting our way through a series of escalating danger zones, enemy fire coming from predictable directions, and his response just as ours would be were we playing a video game. The sets are spectacular. One in particular evokes the Du Long Bridge sequence from Apocalypse Now in all its psychedelic horror. But I have to agree with the millennial. This would be so much more fun were I the player in the game rather than passively sitting here waching the progress of an avatar.
Regarding the climax. My powers of observation were so weakened by the tedium of the experience that I could not tell whether or not the mission was successful, My guess is that it was partially accomplished.
If you are interested in seeing a real movie about the first world war, check out the link at the top of the page. The movie is 90 years old, but dont let that scare you off. The war itself happened over 100 years ago.