Warfare is seemingly the one timeless and ever present element of human existence. Ever since a prepubescent Lucy hit her sister with a juniper branch over the stealing of a certain rock toy, warfare has raged wherever humans have strayed. With conflict has come suffering, sorrow, destruction, loss, and misery. Like warfare, Hollywood’s attempts to capture conflict on film have mostly brought us the same anguish and torment.
The recent wave of war films, or crap conflict cinema(CCC, not to be confused with CCR or CCCP), follow in the semi-illustrious steps of their forefathers. Too be sure, war movies have always been bad. And yet, the long-ago golden era of CCC had a certain air of élan and royalty about it that the current brand of shitty war movies lack.
Gone are the days when we could expect a war flick to feature the leathery tanned hide of Lee Marvin, the boyish good looks of Steve McQueen, or the ever heartening and slightly comical voice of Charles Bronson. No longer do we see John Wayne swagger through a barrage of gunfire untouched. Never more will Gene Hackman bombast us with the worst fake Polish accent ever recorded on film(or on anything else for that matter).
Yes, throughout the fifties, sixties, and into the seventies, horribly unrealistic war movies abounded, but they had a certain class. A level of class you can only achieve by having Donald Sutherland act a wisecracking hippy tank commander alongside a laughably stoic Clint Eastwood. Elegance such as that has nary found its way onto celluloid since.
The loss of grace in war films became apparent when Hollywood made a single cataclysmic mistake. The year was 1984, and stalwart director John Milius, fresh from his success with “Conan the Barbarian”, decided to try his hand in a daring new war picture. The title, “Red Dawn”. The star, Patrick Swayze. The mistake, Patrick Swayze.
Now admittedly, Milius hadn’t yet seen “Dirty Dancing” when he cast Patrick Swayze. For this horrendous misstep in his pre-casting research, we can only partly blame Milius, for “Dirty Dancing” would not be filmed for another three years. In this regard, the physical laws of time/space continuance and linear progression must take the lions share of the blame. Still, some culpability must rest with Milius, for no one, being of sound mind and body, should ever voluntarily involve themselves with Patrick Swayze, in any venture.
The resulting movie features a United States freshly conquered by the combined might of Cuba and Nicaragua, and a band of unlikely teen-partisans, the “Wolverines”, named after their school mascot. The juvenile guerrilla fighters spend most of their time sitting around well lit and lightly camouflaged base camps and occasionally detach themselves from pickup football games to go fight the Reds. While one wonders if they would have had as much success if their school mascot, and subsequent battle-cry, was “Manatee” or “Cockatoo”, the movie is generally less than thought-provoking. In fact, the only other thoughts this film will incite are “Why was this movie made?” and “Why haven’t we organized a special committee to oversee the destruction of every copy of this movie?”
Drawing inspiration from the sheer stupidity of ‘Dawn’, Mel Gibson set forth to create not one but two war movies of epic idiocy. The resulting films, “Braveheart”, and “The Patriot”, shocked audiences with their barbarically convoluted gore scenes, and the combined eighty-seven and a half hour presence of Mel Gibson. While the films did have some positive features, namely their barbarically convoluted gore scenes, they were about as historically accurate as a Shakespeare play. Also, having Heath Ledger co-star in “The Patriot” was a grave mistake. His boyish charms and complete lack of acting talent were obviously meant to appeal to women. Unfortunately, women constitute 0.0%(mean average) of the audience for gruesome war flicks.
Inbetween “Braveheart” and “The Patriot” emerged what is internationally recognized as the worst war movie of all time. In fact, some consider it the second worst movie of all time, next to “Armageddon”. The title of this cinematic horror is “The Thin Red Line”. Following on the hard and well earned success of “Saving Private Ryan”, TTRL tried desperately to piss off every movie fan in the greater Terra Firma area. The film itself featured two and half hours of the supposedly introspective thoughts of soldiers on Guadalcanal. Also, there was a slight bit of fighting. The battle to take the island, apparently, consisted of one artillery barrage, the capture of a single bunker, and the gut-wrenching, horror inducing presence of Sean Penn. Mostly, I believe this movie failed in casting. The problem was that we just couldn’t believe the actors to be soldiers. Men like Adrien Brody, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, and the aforementioned Sean Penn would, in real life, only venture into the jungle at Disneyland. Also, the only ‘Japs’ they know are the vaguely Asian fellows with commerce degrees who do their taxes. Yes, ultimately casting, and two and half hours of shockingly incomprehensible ramblings, doomed this movie.
To this day Hollywood continues to search for that perfect war movie. A movie so bad that it can dislodge “The Thin Red Line” from its pinnacle of absurdity. “Pearl Harbor” made a solid attempt, depicting the story of a man who single handedly won the Battle of Britain, scarred the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, and bombed Tokyo, all in a fortnight. But even with the worst performances to date by a Baldwin, an Affleck, and a Voight, the atrociously terrible “Pearl Harbor” could not shake “The Thin Red Line” from its steadfast standing.
And so this is where we stand today. We have weathered the worst Hollywood could produce, a true testament to the human spirit. But we stand shaken knowing that somewhere Owen Wilson and Hayden Christensen are likely being cast to star as two soldiers of an 'alternate lifestyle' fighting at the battle of Antietam.
Form ranks moviegoers, the assault on our intellects will continue unremittingly.