Why It’s Occasionally Necessary to Watch the Dubbed Version of a Movie – The Case of Defiance

While I will write a proper review about the US movie Defiance, starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, in a day or two, I feel like writing about fake accents here because that is something that bothered me while trying to watch the movie.

Nothing drives me up the wall like fake accents or illogical accents. And no matter how much some people try to convince me that it’s not important, it is. I’m a linguist and a translator. Languages are important to me. If it isn’t important to you, that’s fine, but some will feel like me, I’m sure.

If a Russian speaks English with a Russian accent I’m pretty sure I may think this is cute but if an American or British actor speaks English with a Polish accent for no other reason than some illogical attempt at authenticity, then it’s not cute. The movie Defiance was one of those bad examples. I tried watching it three times, every time I gave up after half an hour and had to stop it. Yesterday, on the fourth attempt, I remembered that I had a German DVD. While dubbed movies are something I truly do not like, it was blissful to change to the German version. All of the actors were just speaking German and although Russians and Poles would hardly speak German in real life (in their own country among their fellow country men!), they most certainly would not speak English with a Russian or Polish accent. Now I see that this is an attempt of authenticity, but for me it’s plain silly.

While I was thinking about this, I remberered the wonderful Cate Blanchett in The Man Who Cried and that her Russian accent didn’t bother me at all. On the very contrary, I found it admirably well done. So why did Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber annoy me, while Cate Blanchett didn’t? Because Cate Blanchett plays a Russian who meets English-speaking people and it’s logical, or possible that she should have an accent, while it isn’t logical that Daniel Craig’s characters traipses around the Russian forest speaking English with his brother and on top of that with an accent.

To make me prefer a dubbed version it takes a lot. Two other movies which improved greatly in their dubbed versions were Memoirs of a Geisha and Frida. I’m not sure which one wound me up the most but I think the prize has to go to Frida.

I’m aware that watching a dubbed version isn’t an option for native speakers of English. I’m sorry for that.

Whether I liked Defiance in the end and what it is all about will be the topic of my next post.

What do you think of accents and dubbing in general?

The Thin Red Line (1998) Part IV The Actors and the Characters

The Thin Red Line is a movie with an incredible cast. This is not uncommon in war movies but what is unusual is that we have actors from a very wide range in the same movie. Actors you’d hardly ever see together in another movie. I’m pretty sure this was done on purpose. Seeing the actors and the characters gives a feeling of heterogeneity. This isn’t a “Band of Brothers”, these are individual characters thrown together by the circumstances. Of course I will have to mention this again in my most anticipated post of this series Saving Private Ryan versus The Thin Red Line (which is not so much a duel than a simple comparison, to show, that those two movies go together like two faces of a medal).

The actor is one thing, the characters another. This post is meant to explore the characters. Not all of them, of course, not even all those who are included in the opening picture. I don’t want to write a 2000 words post.

Brig. General Quintard aka John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Love Song for Bobby Long)

Like in every war movie, there are good characters and bad ones, likable ones and idiots. Although it is one of the strengths of The Thin Red Line to show the complexity of human beings, and therefore we do not find black and white characters, John Travolta’s character is the only really negative one in this movies. This is pure asshole material.

We only see General Quintard at the beginning of the movie when he instructs and – in my eyes also debases – Lt. Colonel Tall. Quintard is typical High Command. He most certainly will never see action. He is preposterous and enjoys putting down people. Malick has him stare over the ocean for a while, which means nothing else than that the guy is in an abstract, combat-free zone, somewhere above everything and not really interested in things and even  less in people. An empty shell.

Lt. Colonel Tall aka Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides, Cape Fear)

There have already been quite a lot of discussions involving Tall in the former posts. I know I argued he is the typical “mad” superior officer, going over dead bodies to achieve what he has been told. He blindly follows orders and believes in the chain of command like in nothing else. While all this is true, to a certain extent, it’s not the whole picture we are given. Tall is far more complex than that, and I agree with a commenter, who stated that this was another proof of how excellent a movie The Thin Red Line is.

When we see Tall and Quintard together we already learn that this is pretty much the last chance for Tall to prove himself. He’s been left out during all the last promotion rounds. One can only suspect why this was the case. Seeing the type of superior he has, we can assume he didn’t have the right contacts. This has made him bitter, this and the fact that his son didn’t want to join the Army but prefers to sell fish bait.

Bitterness and the fear to fail are powerful drivers and he looses perspective easily. He tries to see the bigger picture and wants to achieve success, no matter how high the costs. He thinks that sacrificing a few to save a lot is justified. He thinks you have to drive the men, despite their hunger and fear. When given the choice, however, he will let them rest and drink. He isn’t sadistic. He is just extremely driven and not inclined to think about the individual need of his soldiers. He shouts and screams and fumes in a totally exaggerated way. That’s why I called him crazy. He is neither abusive nor does he enjoy being mean.

Private Witt aka James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ)

Witt has the role of the one who questions good and evil. He is also the one character who would – and eventually does – sacrifice himself for others. In this he can be compared to Sgt Elias in Platoon. I mentioned it somewhere else, but I’ll mention it again, I don’t think it was a coincidence that Dafoe who played Elias later got to play Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, just like Caviezel played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ after The Thin Red Line. They ooze a saviour aura in the war movies that stuck to them and was later exploited by other directors.

Private Witt is teamed up with Sgt Welsh. These are two characters that clash when looked at superficially. If you look at it more closely however, they have a lot in common.

Sgt Welsh aka Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Mystic River)

We tend to have our favourite characters in a movie and in this one, my favourite one is Sgt Welsh. Sean Penn is also one of my favourite actors. I would argue that this is one of the most memorable characters in any war movie but you need to watch it at least twice to realize it. He is cynical but out of vulnerability. He is one of those who does the right thing, the good thing at the right moment but he doesn’t want it to be mentioned. He is discreet and calm. The biggest difference between him and Witt is the fact that he is no believer. Nothing makes sense to him, he thinks that all that happens is down to human nature which is inherently bad.

Capt. John Gaff aka John Cusack (High Fidelity, 2012)

Capt John Gaff is one of those young, eager officers that have the words “promising career” written all over their faces. He isn’t a bad sort but distant and withdrawn. He is everything that Tall would have loved his own son to be. At the same time he is probably also everything Tall himself would have liked to be.

Capt Staros aka Elias Koteas (Shooter, Shutter Island)

Capt Staros is the antithesis of Tall. Tall isn’t a completely bad guy, but Staros is decidedly a truly good one. He will always think of his men first, which means he will always think of the individual first. Maybe sacrificing a few would bring the desired outcome of a  mission but that is not the way Capt Staros, a deeply religious man, would ever go. He is also very courageous and, if necessary, disobeys orders. His feeling for what is good and right is so strong that he will not think about the consequences his insubordination will have for him. But he isn’t a Private Witt, he wouldn’t sacrifice himself. He also doesn’t believe that people are inherently good but he thinks they deserve to be protected.

Sgt Keck aka Woody Harrelson (Natural Born  Killers, The Messenger)

Sgt Keck is worth mentioning because his death is so useless and tragic and on top of that his own fault. He gets one of the longest dying scenes of the movie and while he realizes he will die he goes through a wide range of emotions in a very brief period . He is one of the good ones, a good sort who dies, not through enemy fire, but through a tragic accident that underlines futility and the randomness of death.

Private Bell aka Ben Chaplin (Murder by Numbers, The Remains of the Day)

It’s through the character of Private Bell that the battlefield and the home front get connected, the life of the soldier and the life of the civilian meet. All through the movie he is thinking of his wife back home and their love for each other. It’s a bit of a war movie cliché that he is the one who gets a letter from his wife telling him that she found someone else because she was too lonely.

As you can see in this older post, there are many other actors and characters in the movie. Some like Lt Whyte (Jared Leto) and Cpt Bosche (George Clooney) have just tiny roles. One stands for the numerous men who died without anyone ever really knowing them, the other one is one of hundreds of officers that come and go endlessly. Some are good, some are bad, some are remembered, many are forgotten.

If you have seen The Thin Red Line, who is you favourite character?

If you are interested in the other parts here is

Part I The Review

Part II On Death and Dying

Part III Nature and Evil

Part V The Thin Red Line vs Saving Private Ryan is upcoming.

The Thin Red Line (1998) Part III Nature and Evil

This great evil. Where does it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doin’ this? Who’s killin’ us? Robbing us of life and light. Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might’ve known. Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night? (Private Witt)

What’s this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two? (Private Train)

Is there evil in nature? Is man part of nature? If man is part of nature and man is evil, then nature is evil? Are nature and man one? Or is there a distinct dichotomy between man and nature?

Besides offering a profound meditation on Death and Dying The Thin Red Line also explores the topics nature and evil in different ways. Two positions are explored. Position one  assumes that man is part of nature and since he is capable of evil, nature is not all good. This idea is supported by Lt.Coll Tall when he speaks to Cpt Staros who wants to save his men. Tall shows him the lianas that suffocate the trees. This is evil, according to Tall, as it will kill the tree. Nature is not all good. He tries to make Staros accept evil because he thinks it is inevitable and part of nature.

Other scenes support this. In the beginning of the movie we see a little bird, probably he fell out of the nest and seems to be struggling for his life. We see him, his fight and we know he will die. Nobody did this to him, it just happened. It’s the way of nature.

One of the powerful symbols is the crocodile. In the beginning of the movie we see him swim freely, dive, in the end he has been bound by the men. He cannot harm anymore but he is subjugated.

The second line of thinking says that nature cannot be bad. Only man can be bad. We know the term of natural death. As I said in Part II death is part of nature but the death on a battle field isn’t natural, it’s man-made. This line of thinking supports that man has left the realm of nature, is not part of nature anymore.

Even if there are bad things in nature, nothing as bad as war can happen without man’s doing.

The Thin Red Line is set in the Pacific, on the Solomon Islands, a place to which hardly any Americans or Europeans had gone before the war. An island with a lush vegetation and a population not knowing anything of Western civilisation. The movie begins with idyllic scenes among the natives. They live in harmony with nature and its rhythms.

When the soldiers later disembark on Guadalcanal, an old native man passes them by but doesn’t even acknowledge them despite the heavy gear they are carrying and the clothes they are wearing. They are only foreigners. The natives and their land do not know yet what they bring.

War has come into this tropical paradise and not only does war kill men, it destroys nature. The men are surrounded by tall grass, hiding in it, but the bombs and grenades destroy this lush paradise and transform it into arid land.

The end of the movie seems to want to say that no matter how much man tries to destroy nature, nature will survive and the film ends on a last picture of a sprouting  coconut.

These reflections on nature and man’s nature are very old. Philosophers like Rousseau have dedicated whole books on this. Rousseau thought that man was born good but society, or culture, made him bad. In his Discourse on Inequality you can find the following passage.

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody. (Rousseau 1754)

Here are

Part I The Review

Part II On Death and Dying

Part IV The Actors and the Characters and Part V The Thin Red Line vs Saving Private Ryan are upcoming.

All About War Movies is One Year Old or A Best of War Movie List

What started as a simple experiment to fight procrastination and get me back into a daily writing routine has become sort of an institution. Another aim of this blog was to explore the topic of war movies systematically. It ended up being less systematic than intended. For the time being that is. I still have a project in the back of my mind and should I find more time I will pursue it. I have lost a few friends and won a few on the way. What does that mean you wonder, well, I had some funny reactions from people I know in real life. Seems as if my interest in war movies didn’t match the picture they had of me… Do I care? A little bit but not too much.

Ok, now, so this little blogging project is one year old. I have written 220 posts, at first three per week and then, during last summer, almost daily. If I wasn’t writing two other blogs, maybe I would have gone on at that pace.

I could tell you a lot of different things looking back on this year, a lot of things about myself but let’s not go there. In lieu of all that let me give you a best of list. A very personal best of list that takes into consideration what I like, nothing else.

Best movie on the Napoleonic wars

Waterloo

Best Civil War Movie

Glory

Best WWI movie

Gallipoli

Best WWII movie

When Trumpets Fade

Best Vietnam

Platoon

Best Vietnam Vet

Jacknife

Best Korea

Gotta pass, haven’t seen enough

Best Gulf War

Three Kings

Best Iraq

Battle for Haditha

Best other American war movies

Black Hawk Down

Best Resistance

L’armée du crime aka The Army of Crime

Best German war movie

Stalingrad

Best Submarine movie

Das Boot

Best Sniper movie

Enemy at the Gates

Best War Romance

Casablanca

Best least known war movie

When Trumpets Fade

Best female actress in a war movie

Madeleine Stowe in Last of the Mohicans

Best war movie score

Black Hawk Down

Most watched war movie

Black Hawk Down

Best Irish Civil War

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Best Hitler Movie

Der Untergang aka The Downfall

Best Holocaust movie

The Pianist

Best Remake

Are you joking?

Best epic war movie

King Arthur

Most surprising war movie

My Boy Jack

Best Infantry combat

Saving Private Ryan

Best Cavalry Combat

The Lighthorsemen

Best Air Combat

The Dam Busters

Best Naval Combat

Master and Commander

Funniest war movie

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Best Children and War

Voces Inocentes aka Innocent Voices

Best War and Journalism

Welcome to Sarajevo

Best POW

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence

Best Legal Drama

Judgement at Nuremberg

Best war movie poster

Platoon

Most dreaded war movie (obviously not watched yet)

Tha Battle of Algiers

Yeah well, I could go on but that’s it and since it’s my blog’s birthday, I’m lazy and will not link the movies. Or just not today…

Historically Misleading War Movies as Seen by the TIME Magazine

I discovered an article today in TIME magazine in which they made a list of 10 historically misleading movies. As was to be expected quite a few of the movies are war movies. The whole article was spurred by the movie The King’s Speech which is also among the 10.

I will only concentrate on the war movies they name and give a brief summary why they chose to include them.

The Patriot (2000)

They critizied that The Patriot portrays British soldiers as evil. Another point was the fact that Benjamin Martin whose character was a mix of different real charcters, was shown as a family man while  Swamp Fox who was one of the real characters was no family man and actively persecuted Cherokee Indians. Further more the movie showed a total ignorance of slavery and whitewashing of history. They consider it to be pure American propaganda.

Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood tried to transform myth into history. Although it was correct to transform Richard Lionheart into a bloodthirsty monarch, the accuracy ended there.

Braveheart (1995)

This movie has, according to the TIME Magazine, too many inaccuracies to be named. How about the kilts? Scotsmen in the 13th century didn’t wear belted plaid. Gibson’s Wallace is born poor, the real Wallace was a nobleman. And why is he wielding a Chinese weapon? Wallace never met Princess Isabella and certainly did not impregnate her. At the time the movie took place she was only 9 years old anyway.

300 (2006)

Sparta was not a free city-state at all but on the contrary  known for mistreatment and exploitation of its slaves. The Persians were not as debauched as they are shown and their monarch wasn’t a circus freak.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor was mostly criticized for the rearranging of chronological events and its sappy simplistic nationalism.

Yeah well, not so surprising after all. At least I didn’t have the feeling any of the ones mentioned were very accurate or at least not in every element.

What strikes me is the title of the post and its explanation. They actually imply that people learn their history through the watching of movies.

For those of you who are curious about the other movies, here are the non-war movie ones: The Far Horizon, 10 000 BC, JFK, The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love.