Sam Mendes says 1917 plays more like a thriller than a war film

1917, sam mendes, thriller

Much like Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK back in 2017, the trailer for Sam Mendes’ upcoming 1917 doesn’t make it come off like a typical war movie, with more emphasis focused on the tension stemming from the impending chaos and momentum of the story. The plot has a race-against-the-clock structure (the tagline is “Time is the enemy”, of course), and in a new interview Mendes talks about how the mission that takes stars George McKay and Dean Charles-Chapman through fields, trenches and more plays more like a taut thriller than a “conventional war movie.”

“The movie is essentially linear, and moves through a huge variety of different locations. From the trenches, to No Man’s Land, to open countryside, farmland, orchards, rivers, woods, and bombed-out towns,” Mendes said for Vanity Fair, ahead of his appearance at New York Comic-Con this week. “It bears witness to the staggering destruction wrought by the war, and yet it is a fundamentally human story about two young and inexperienced soldiers racing against the clock. So it adheres more to the form of a thriller than a conventional war movie.”

Reuniting with cinematographer Roger Deakins (SKYFALL), Mendes incorporated new filming technology with the compact Arria Alexa Mini LF (“large format”) camera to film in tight spaces. Roger also felt that we needed a camera to be invented which could fit into some of these impossibly tight physical spaces. Thanks to Arri, we got exactly this,” he said.

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Written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the movie runs at just under two hours and plays out in real-time, and even required two scripts, one being the typical shooting script and the other being made of maps showing the cast where the camera would be and when. Mendes spoke about how bringing such an intense story to life under such conditions was all done in the name of making viewers feel like they are truly immersed in the jarring experience.

“It was fundamentally an emotional choice.  wanted to travel every step with these men—to breathe every breath with them. It needed to be visceral and immersive. What they are asked to do is almost impossibly difficult. The way the movie is made is designed to bring you as close as possible to that experience.”

1917 is in theaters December 25 and expands on January 10.