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Like Cats, directed by Oscar-winning Brit Tom Hooper, 1917, directed by Oscar-winning Brit Sam Mendes, is a $100m conceptual experiment – a gamble – that required seamless integration of VFX to succeed. Unlike Cats, the risk here has paid off; 1917 won Best Drama and Best Director at the Golden Globes, is on track for a lot of Oscar nominations and possible victories, and is a huge box office success. Cats, on the other hand, is a turkey and a flop.
But like Cats, 1917 is rather empty spectacle; it doesn’t really have characters, relationships or emotional stakes. Oh, there are high physical stakes: lives are at stake, 1,600 of them to be precise; that’s how many British soldiers will die if Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) doesn’t fulfil his mission and deliver a message to the front lines of the British forces in time. But emotionally there’s little; Schofield has few attributes, other than being a Very Decent British Man, and the film has little to say, other than that British Men are Very Decent.
Technically, however, it is a marvel, even if the “one-shot” marketing is a furphy. But at its most exciting, the excitement is that of a video-game rather than a film, and although I know some people watch other people play video games, they’re not my preferred dramatic form.