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Old 01-28-2020, 02:12 AM
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Is 1917 one giant plot hole? [spoilers]


The basic plot of 1917 is as follows: In World War I, in northern France, the German and British armies occupy trenches separated by a narrow strip of no man's land. The Germans make a tactical withdrawal, setting a trap for the British. Unaware of the trap, one British battalion pursues the Germans, planning to attack the next morning. The British who remain behind in the trenches become aware of the trap through aerial reconnaissance, but are unable to immediately warn their battalion because the Germans have cut the telegraph lines. So two British soldiers (and these two alone) are dispatched to hand-deliver a message to the battalion calling off the attack. On the way they are attacked by isolated German forces, including a fighter pilot, a sniper, and soldiers occupying a ruined town.

This plot has been criticized online for being nonsensical. These critics say that there was no need for the message to be precariously delivered overland, as it was a common practice for messages to be carried by air in relative safety (and simply dropped from the sky if landing was too dangerous). And indeed, we do see at least two British planes in the film.

Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:20 AM
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I liked the film a lot but yeah I wondered exactly the same thing. It would seem quite easy to send a message by air. I guess I am willing to suspend disbelief on this because the film as a whole worked.

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Old 01-28-2020, 02:24 AM
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So they could have just given it to the eagles and had them fly over and drop it where it needed to go?
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:37 AM
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So they could have just given it to the eagles and had them fly over and drop it where it needed to go?
Exactly. But at least this particular plot hole was debunked by Tolkien himself (not in the books, but in his letters), and has moreover attracted zillions of fanwanked explanations of varying degrees of plausibility. Are there any similar debunkings/explanations for 1917's apparent plot hole?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:02 AM
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I've not seen the movie so don't know the scene. I have however read a few books on how they communicated between the trenches and such. There are two books by Dispatch Riders, one called Adventures of a Dispatch Rider, the other Commando Dispatch Rider. I think the Commando Dispatch Rider he later worked on the line communications and talked about how hard it was to keep them up and running.

Both books talked about how hard it was to get good information from the front to the back and back to the front again. I can see there being no good way to get information from the front line, to a plane, and then to have that plane drop the needed information to the other lines.

In reading both books I don't recall at any time them talking about having planes deliver messages. Both books can be downloaded for free so I'm sure that they could be searched to make sure. Having not see the film, I'm can't say for sure, but it sounds plausible to me.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:08 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
I don't see why it needs to be any more complicated than "men are cheap; planes are not," the relative safety of air drops notwithstanding.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:27 AM
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I don't see why it needs to be any more complicated than "men are cheap; planes are not," the relative safety of air drops notwithstanding.
Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:34 AM
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I haven't seen the movie, but what about signal flags? Especially for a simple message like "don't attack."
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:34 AM
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Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
I've not seen the movie, but is it possible they did send a message by air drop, but also sent messengers by foot to increase the odds of the message being delivered, and we're only seeing the second part?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:42 AM
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I've not seen the movie, but is it possible they did send a message by air drop, but also sent messengers by foot to increase the odds of the message being delivered, and we're only seeing the second part?
No, the commanding officer in the trench makes it very clear that the two soldiers are the only ones tasked with relaying the orders to the battalion. The soldiers ask about this point specifically. I suppose the commander could have been lying to them (and thereby to the audience), but to what end?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:43 AM
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I haven't seen the movie, but what about signal flags? Especially for a simple message like "don't attack."
The soldiers in the trenches don't have a direct line of sight to the battalion, which is several kilometres away, down a river and through some woods.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:48 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:48 AM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:53 AM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
I had the same thought.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:54 AM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin?
No. This is the whole point of this thread—to find out whether sending the soldiers overland is just a contrivance for the film, or if there is a plausible real-life reason why it might actually have been necessary.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:58 AM
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If you do a Google search, you can find interviews in which the director describes the mission given to his grandfather during the war that inspired this film. It's vaguely, sort of, similar. A single man or two men are given a message that has to get there.
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:01 AM
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Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
I have seen the movie, and as I recall it the number was 1600 men.

Sending a couple of lance corporals with a message to a battalion several km away is entirely the sort of thing that did happen all the time in WW1. Specifically, the director's grandfather spent a couple of days wandering around no man's land looking for three missing companies to deliver orders.
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:53 AM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
A McGuffin is not the same thing as 1917's message. A McGuffin is something the movie characters are chasing, but it isn't important to the plot what it is. In 1917, the delivery of the message, and by extension the message itself, IS the plot. Sending two guys on food for a disaster-averting critical mission when a plane could (maybe!) do it in practically no time, could be a plot hole, and is the question of the thread.

Despite the fact no such unquestionable letters of transit could exist in Nazi Germany, Ilsa and Laszlo did use the letters to leave. It wasn't obvious because Louie was being forced by Rick, but in the context of the movie they were needed to leave. Rick was going to use them to get on the plane, but he gave his to Victor. Strassar was going to stop them despite the letters (as he would if it were real life. But the letters are not a McGuffin, despite what Fake News Wikipedia has to say, because they were needed and did get used.)
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:56 AM
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So is "Fake News Wikipedia" the new "Failing New York Times"?
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:22 AM
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It’s a plot hole, but covering it would have really disrupted the story the director wanted to tell. You could use bad weather to ground the RAF but then you’d have to lose the dogfight and the crash, not to mention screwing with the overall atmosphere and light. You could have the general’s assumption of a trap rejected by a higher up with authority over the planes, but like everything in the film that would have to be contrived to be witnessed by the hero.

You really have to look at this as a soldier’s story. He doesn’t know 90% of what’s going on in the big picture and most of the remaining 10% makes no sense, especially after he has retold and embellished the story countless times by the time a future filmmaker hears it
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:53 AM
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Sending a couple of lance corporals with a message to a battalion several km away is entirely the sort of thing that did happen all the time in WW1. Specifically, the director's grandfather spent a couple of days wandering around no man's land looking for three missing companies to deliver orders.
Yes, but getting a message to a small, wandering company is different than getting a message to a stationary battalion of 1600 whose precise location is known with certainty. Sending the message by air makes a lot more sense in the latter case.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:53 AM
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I haven't seen the movie yet, but I read newspapers from 100 years ago today most mornings (from the Library of Congress Chronicling America website). I pretty much followed the war in real-time from the beginning and have read many war accounts. I say that just from the description, the plot sounds plausible from a historical perspective. Messengers, anywhere from individuals to small squads, were commonly used all over the front to deliver messages.

Also, flying over the front was by no means safe, and I don't recall reading about air-dropping messages very much at all. Remember that aviation was still in it's infancy, and commanders didn't really have a good idea of what to do with it. Aircraft were primarily used for reconnaissance, and the fighter plane's priority were recon planes, both attacking the enemy's and protecting your own.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:54 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
I believe this is covered by what I call "the John Ford Rule".

One of Ford's first big successes was the movie Stagecoach (WARNING: Spoilers for a 90+ year old movie!). Towards the end of the picture, there is a desperate chase of the stagecoach across the plains by Indians. When William S. Hart was asked his opinion of the movie, he pointed out that the Indians could have simply shot the horses and then picked off the passengers at their leisure. When the reporters took this critique to Ford, he had a simple reply as to why the Indians didn't use this tactic: "it would have been the end of the picture".

In any (sufficiently entertaining) motion picture, if this is the answer to a question that begins "Why didn't they just...", then it is covered by the John Ford Rule and exempt from penalty.
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Old 01-28-2020, 10:48 AM
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You could use bad weather to ground the RAF but then you’d have to lose the dogfight and the crash, not to mention screwing with the overall atmosphere and light.
The Royal Flying Corps, back then.
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:05 AM
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They could have sent Speckled Bob.
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:50 AM
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If this was a realistic movie about WWI, they could have relayed the message to the battalion by shouting it. Even after a major advance, they would only be about fifty yards away.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:00 PM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
I haven't seen the film, so grain of salt and all, but how does it being a MacGuffin factor in here? The idea of a MacGuffin is an object that drives the plot, but whose nature is immaterial to the plot. In this film, the plot is getting the MacGuffin across No Man's Land to an allied general. How they convey the object to its destination is the important part of the movie - if part of how they convey the object doesn't make logical sense, that's a legitimate flaw, regardless of what the object is.

That said, wars are big, messy, and chaotic. There's any number of plausible reasons why they wouldn't have access to an airplane to deliver the message in time. Ideally, these reasons would be mentioned in the film, but also, the general who sends the two soldiers on this mission isn't going to bother explaining them to the grunts.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:06 PM
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I don't see it as a major plot hole. This was 1917 and who knows what means they had at their disposal for an objective like this.
How close was the nearest airfield? How do you communicate to a pilot where they have to go? Do you have a spare map of a country you're not even from? Is the map cockpit size cause the ones the generals used seemed to be table size. Do you have time to draw a new better map that won't blow out of an open cockpit? Can a pilot read a detailed map while flying? Powered airplanes had only been around 14 years. How developed was flight navigation at the time? What type of container is he going to make the drop in? How accurate of a drop can he make without hitting tall grass, trees, water? What if no one on the ground even sees the drop?
I think there's plenty of reasons an airdrop message in a foreign country during war may not be the most feasible plan.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:19 PM
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I think there's plenty of reasons an airdrop message in a foreign country during war may not be the most feasible plan.
I agree, but the script kind of undermines that by having the general refer to aerial photographs when he explains the situation to the corporals.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:22 PM
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BTW, another common way of sending a message like that in WWI was by pigeon.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:26 PM
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"Our last functioning recon plane took these photos before being jumped by a German air patrol. They were barely able to make it back behind our lines before they crashed. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"The fuel convoy was supposed to be here yesterday, but it hasn't shown up, so all our planes are grounded. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"The pilots shared a tainted pot of stew last night, and now they're all shitting themselves to death. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"We didn't have these new-fangled aero-planed in the Boer War, and I don't trust them! I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"We need you to deliver the message by hand! Pershing and I have a bet that you won't make it!"
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:30 PM
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Alas, we see British planes in the air just a few miles from the message’s intended recipients.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:57 PM
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I haven’t seen the movie yet, so maybe this is a dumb comment, but is it possible any airfield would be further for the runners to carry the message to than the nearby battalion? Based on the OP description the telegraph wires are cut so the group of soldiers that know about the trap would have to hand deliver The info wherever it ends up going. Weren’t airfields typically miles behind the trecnches?

Seems a bigger plot hole might be that they only send one small group to deliver this critical message. I would think multiple groups dispatched at different times in different routes toward the same target would be more likely to succeed, but then there’s less at stake for the group being followed by the plot.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:57 PM
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Alas, we see British planes in the air just a few miles from the message’s intended recipients.
But they need planes where they are, not where they're trying to get to.
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Old 01-28-2020, 01:23 PM
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There was a scene were the runners were told to make sure you have witnesses when you deliver the message to Colonel Mackenzie because otherwise he may ignore the orders. Couldn't have accomplished that with a plane or a pidgeon.
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Old 01-28-2020, 01:27 PM
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There was a scene were the runners were told to make sure you have witnesses when you deliver the message to Colonel Mackenzie because otherwise he may ignore the orders. Couldn't have accomplished that with a plane or a pidgeon.
That’s good!
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Old 01-28-2020, 01:27 PM
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"We didn't have these new-fangled aero-planed in the Boer War, and I don't trust them! I need you to deliver the message by hand!"
I was actually kicking that one around. It's easy to take for granted all the neat stuff you can get up to in an aircraft because air travel has been an option our entire lives. In the film it was still new tech, fraught (for real and in the imagination of someone with no time to properly research the topic) with gremlins and...fuggit. This has got to get done, so put the letter into the hands of someone with an interest in getting it there, and tell them nobody else is doing it so they must not fail. And you do this with 9 other pairs of dudes. They can find out about each other later and you'll be happy to hear them telling you what for.

Alternatively, 1,600 men in WWI was a drop in the bucket of overall losses--4 days' worth for the Brits. Maybe it was just a token effort and no big hash if the mission failed. So the commander gives the other battalion's welfare about 8 seconds of consideration and half-asses a warning to them, more out of duty than desire.
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Old 01-28-2020, 01:33 PM
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They could have sent Speckled Bob.
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Old 01-28-2020, 01:53 PM
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As for the Ford Rule, I have this to say:

If your whole movie would fall apart because of this one thing, maybe you should just make a different movie.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:01 PM
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I haven’t seen the movie yet, so maybe this is a dumb comment, but is it possible any airfield would be further for the runners to carry the message to than the nearby battalion? Based on the OP description the telegraph wires are cut so the group of soldiers that know about the trap would have to hand deliver The info wherever it ends up going. Weren’t airfields typically miles behind the trecnches?
I also haven't seen the movie but my understanding is that the information they're passing on was attained from aerial reconnaissance. So the information obviously passed through an airfield on its way to the runners.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:25 PM
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The soldiers in the trenches don't have a direct line of sight to the battalion, which is several kilometres away, down a river and through some woods.
So they're at grandmother's house?
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:38 PM
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This discussion, while relevant and interesting, ignores the much bigger hole of how the Germans cut the telegraph lines in the first place. Advancing armies can cut lines, retreating ones can't. Even if by some miracle this was accomplished by a sabotage or bombing mission it would be repaired within the hour, if not sooner.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:46 PM
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In WWI, German communication wires were 3mm multi strand bundles, with the signal and ground wires insulated and bound into a single line. UK was still using a pair of separate 20-ga solid copper wires. The two were completely incompatible. Further, the Germans were in the habit of recovering their wire upon withdrawal for later use, and so there would be nothing left behind for the allies to use in the event they were able to retrofit their hardware to be compatible with the German stuff.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:46 PM
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I'm not sure if there is a difference between "plot hole" and "weak, hard-to-believe premise", but this one was definitely a weak premise.

I'm not the most critical person, but as soon as the two guys got their mission and were told "he who moves fastest moves alone" or something, I was kind of getting confused. Wait, what? Alone? Just the two of them? Tons of mens' lives are on the line and these two guys are sending the message? Insane.

I enjoyed the movie after that, but it was a hurdle to overcome.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:48 PM
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Further, the Germans were in the habit of recovering their wire upon withdrawal for later use, and so there would be nothing left behind for the allies to use in the event they were able to retrofit their hardware to be compatible with the German stuff.
Which would be doubly true if the retreat was a feint, and not the result of a genuine rout.
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Old 01-28-2020, 03:00 PM
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If this was a realistic movie about WWI, they could have relayed the message to the battalion by shouting it. Even after a major advance, they would only be about fifty yards away.
No, in the real WWI, the Germans really did withdraw to a better-defended line many kilometres behind the one they had been holding. At least this part of the movie was inspired by historical events.
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Old 01-28-2020, 03:42 PM
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In WWI, German communication wires were 3mm multi strand bundles, with the signal and ground wires insulated and bound into a single line. UK was still using a pair of separate 20-ga solid copper wires. The two were completely incompatible. Further, the Germans were in the habit of recovering their wire upon withdrawal for later use, and so there would be nothing left behind for the allies to use in the event they were able to retrofit their hardware to be compatible with the German stuff.
Let me rephrase... To disrupt the wire signal communications of the Allied command the Germans had to cut the Allied wire. Which is behind the Allied line. Defended by Allied soldiers, from which the Germans are moving away.

Edit: Regarding repairs, they are repairing their own system, with their own surplus.

Last edited by Pedro; 01-28-2020 at 03:44 PM.
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Old 01-28-2020, 04:49 PM
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Let me rephrase... To disrupt the wire signal communications of the Allied command the Germans had to cut the Allied wire. Which is behind the Allied line. Defended by Allied soldiers, from which the Germans are moving away.

Edit: Regarding repairs, they are repairing their own system, with their own surplus.
I haven't (yet) seen the movie, but I don't see the problem here. As I understand it, the battalion in question is advancing on German soldiers that they believe to be retreating. However, the Germans are actually drawing the Allies into a trap. They have not actually withdrawn to the extent that the advancing battalion believes.

Now, the advancing battalion is stringing telegraph wire behind them as they advance so that they can maintain contact with units behind them. However, the Germans are still present in the ground covered, so it doesn't seem like a stretch that they would cut the wires. This would be especially important to the Germans if they believed that the wires might carry news of the trap they are about to spring. Don't the messengers encounter various German units as they journey to their destination? Seems those Germans are there to prevent messages from going through by either wire or foot.

What a world. Today, guys (and gals) in Nevada can bring down a world of hurt on people on the other side of the world and still go home at the end of their shift. In 1917, they couldn't even tell a unit of a few kilometers away to watch out!
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:46 PM
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Again, I haven't seen this film yet, but was there an artillery barrage by any chance? In WWI, artillery was routinely used to cut both telegraph lines and barbed wire.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:14 PM
penultima thule is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Sydney, Australia
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatopescado View Post
They could have sent Speckled Bob.
Given Speckled Jim's unfortunate demise at the hands of the Flanders Pigeon Murderer, this would likely have been Plan B.
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