While I was compiling this list I realized that I have seen more war movies set in Roman times than movies set in Ancient Greece. Maybe it isn’t surprising as there has not been a proper “Ancient Greece Wave” yet. Most of the movies I found depict the story of Helen of Troy. Surprising. The most famous one is certainly Troy, closely followed by 300. I don’t mind them but they are not among my favourites either. In any case I prefer 300, I must say it is quite special and I included it on my List of 15 Most Original War Movies. My problem with Troy is the fact that I don’t like some of the actors (Who? Guess!).
Helen of Troy (US 1956) directed by Robert Wise, starring Rossana Podesta, Jacques Sernas, Cedric Hardwicke
Esther and the King (IT/US 1960) directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Joan Collins, Richard Egan, Denis O’Dea
The 300 Spartans (US 1960) directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson. Persian wars.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether you like 300 or not, the least you can say is that it is quite original. I can’t think of any other war movie relying so heavily on CGI and adding so many fantastic elements.
This is a Rock’n Roll retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. Part fact, part highly fictionalized story, it is a romp no less starring some of today’s best-loved stars like Gerard Butler (Good-bye Frankie, P.S. I Love You, Beowulf & Grendel), Lena Headey (The Broken, Terminator series) , Michael Fassbender (Centurion, Fish Tank, Inglorious Basterds) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Devil’s Whore, Centurion).
At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to the Spartans and their ways. They are warriors and already trained to become warriors at a very early age. They don’t like deficiencies or disabilities. A child that shows sings of weakness will be discarded. Discipline, endurance and self-control are the key words. At school we were taught the story of a Spartan boy who hid a fox under his coat. The fox started to eat him alive but the boy wouldn’t flinch. Every thing that we see about the Spartans in the movie is factual. Also the role of the women. Unlike in Athens, women were highly educated and treated like equals.
The war started because the Spartans did not, as demanded by the King of the Persians, Xerxes, kneel down and subdue. No way. On the contrary. Why would they, after all, this was Sparta. They were not even impressed by Xerxes huge Army against which a little number of 300 Spartan soldiers looked almost ludicrous and would probably not stand a chance. Surprisingly as this may seem, they defended themselves incredibly well. The Persians really got their asses kicked.
If you want to know what the outcome of the battle was you will have to watch the movie.
300 is quite impressive and, although it isn’t one of my favourites, it is entertaining and, despite some fantastic elements, historically accurate. I always found the Spartans highly fascinating. Somewhat crazy but interesting.
The King of Sparta and his wife are very attached to each other which gives the opportunity for a bit of romance as well.
Is this movie purely a guilty pleasure or is it more? I think it is a mix.
The question you might ask yourself right away is probably: What is an original war movie? Is Stalingrad original or Black Hawk Down? I would argue, no, they are not. They are great, they are absolute must-sees but they are not original. They consist pretty much of linear story telling. Well filmed but nothing out of the ordinary. What about Enemy at the Gates? Admittedly according to my definition this almost made it into the list, as it is originally beautiful, but so are others.
Original is about something more than beautiful cinematography, it is something beyond the well-trodden path. Either a different way of telling an old story, a new look at something we saw before, a different way of filming, a genre-blend, an original story etc. After thinking for a very long time about it, I came up with the following fifteen movies that are far from the ordinary. I guess that all these fifteen films are movies that mostly also appeal to cinema lovers in general.
Three Kings (USA, 1999): Taking place during the first Iraq war it is definitely one of the most original movies I have ever seen. The way certain things are filmed is pretty unusual. When someone gets hit by a bullet we follow the bullet on its way inside the body, see how it affects the system and causes gangrene. Quite astonishing. On top of that it is a crazy, fast-paced story. Like a filmed version of a rock song.
Ovelord (UK, 1975): WWII, UK just before D-Day. A very short movie that alternates original footage and filmed bits. Filmed in black and white, it has a very old-fashioned feel. The story is original as well as it focuses on one individual soldier who will be shipped to France. Uses dream sequences, elements of foreboding. Still straightforward storytelling. (see my post Overlord: An Overlooked War Movies masterpiece)
The Thin Red Line (USA, 1998): WWII, The Pacific. This is the most lyrical of all war movies. Intense pictures, haunting voices in the off meditate about death and dying. It is one of those cases – you love it or you hate it but can’t deny it is original.
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK, 1943): Boer war, WWI, WWII. A movie that relies heavily on almost choreography like acting, loads of allusions to British culture. Extremely funny, filmed in brilliant Technicolor. Quite slapsticky at times, reminded me of one or the other Laurel and Hardy at war movies, but undeniably British humor. Two astonishing acting achievements. Deborah Kerr playing three different women and Roger Livesey playing the young, the middle-aged and the old Colonel Blimp. Amazing performances.
The Downfall aka Der Untergang (Germany, 2004). There have been such a lot of movies about Hitler but this concentrates on his very last moment, in the bunker in Berlin. Quite an unusual look. Creepy, spooky, with a fabulous Bruno Ganz in one of his best roles.
300 (USA, 2006): The last fight of the Spartans is original because of the heavy use of CGI, outstanding camera work and graphics. (see my post 300: This is Sparta! )
The Hurt Locker (USA, 2008). Iraq movie. Academy Award Winner. Different in the sense that it focuses on one special task, bomb disposal and one special man who is doing it his way. He goes about his business as if he was a player in some video game. Death-defying. Plus the movie has a thriller feel which is quite unusual for a war movie. At times it feels like Speed goes to Iraq. (see my post A War Movie Gone Thriller: The Hurt Locker)
Waltz with Bashir (Israel, 2008): Israel. Another animated movie but of an altogether very different kind. This looks more like a woodcut. Interesting take at the Lebanon war.
Apocalypse Now (USA, 1979). Considered by many to be one of the best war movies there is, it is also very original as it doesn’t show the Vietnam war as it was, instead more like a hallucinatory re-telling of The Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam war. Using Wagner’s Valkyrie and The End by the Doors further underlines it’s aiming at being something different. Whether you like it or not, it is very original.
Full Metal Jacket (USA, 1987). This is a highly original movie as it creates images that will burn themselves into your memory. Visually one of the most powerful movies. Plus it tells two stories. Boot camp and street fight. This last element is also quite original as Vietnam movies mostly portay combat in the jungle. Plus the Vietnamese sniper…
Have I forgotten any and if so, why should they be included?