Combat is hell. We all know that. But some combat situations are made even worse because of the weather. I have seen four movies and episodes of series in which the depicted weather conditions made me think: “How utterly awful this must have been”. The terrible weather conditions are a great means for film directors to enhance how horrible combat is and how utterly futile some battles when facing not only a strong(er) opponent but the force of nature.
The first movie is Stalingrad. To watch those troops in the icy cold snow of the Eastern Front is harrowing. Countless men who survived the battle died from hunger and cold.
Horror weather example number two is also due to snow and cold. It is shown in the episode “Bastogne” from Band of Brothers.
As brutal as the winter in Europe and the Eastern Front was, the constant rain the troops had to face in The Pacific was no less demoralizing. Example number three is the episode number 4 “Cape Gloucester” from The Pacific which takes place just after the battle of Guadalcanal. Humidity and the constant noise of the torrential rain lead to stress and illness.
Another really harrowing example was shown in the Australian movie Kokoda. The mud, rain and dirt of the Kokoda trail has to be mentioned among the worst experiences any troops have undergone.
I just realized that all these are examples from WWII. Makes it look as if there hadn’t been any terrible weather conditions during other wars but that is of course not the case. I remember a few WWI movies in which the mud and rain played an important role but I’m not able to pick a perfect example. Additionally I would like to add an example in which scorching heat proved to be fatal.
Which is the worst weather you have ever seen in any war movie?
When I wrote my post on ANZACS the other day I realized that there are quite a few great war mini-series out there. There are certainly more than 10 but out of all those I’ve seen or heard of, I would say, the 10 that I mention below are the ten you should really not miss. They all cover different wars or different aspects of the same wars. Many of them are better than most movies. My favourites are Band of Brothers, Hornblower, Sharpe and Generation Kill.
Wings (1976) WWI Air Combat. I must admit, I haven’t seen this yet but it has a great reputation among air combat fans and should be a nice companion to the WWII based series Piece of Cake.
Danger UXB (1979) WWII – Bomb disposal unit. I liked this series when I watched it quite a bit. It gives you a good feel for what a bomb disposal unit had to go through during the Blitz. All the different types of bombs. The characters are appealing and we get a good impression of civilian life during the Blitz as well. Here is my review.
Das Boot 1985 – WWII submarine. Das Boot exists in two versions. One is the cinema the other the TV version which was twice as long. I have seen the cinema version which is one of the best war movies there is. Some people prefer the longer TV version. It’s worth checking out.
ANZACS (1985) WWI. Infantry combat. I just reviewed the final episodes of this excellent mini-series that follows the ANZACS from Australia to Gallipoli and from there to the Somme and back home again. Great combat scenes and a nice “band of brothers” feel. It also contrasts British command and Australian insubordination in a funny way. Here is my review.
Piece of Cake (1988) WWII Air Combat. The series follows the men of the Hornet Squadron during the early weeks of WWII. It shows how inexperienced boys become excellent fighter pilots.
Sharpe (1993 – 2008) – Napoleonic wars. Infantry and cavalry. Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell this is a very elaborate and suspenseful series. In its center is the character Sharpe an enlisted man who is such an excellent soldier that he is soon raised to the rank of officer. This is problematic as he isn’t an aristocrat. He faces injustice and adversity. Sean Bean stars as Sharpe. It’s one of the best roles of his career. Here is my post.
Hornblower (1998 -2003) – Napoleonic wars. Naval combat. This is another extraordinary tale of one man’s ascent. Ioan Gruffud stars as Horatio Hornblower which might explain why I hear this series mentioned quite often by women. If you like Master & Commander, you will love this. It’s like a very long version with an appealing central character. It is based on the books by C.S. Forester. Here is my post.
Band of Brothers (2001) WWII. Infantry combat. This is one of the most amazing series. Based on the book Band of Brothers it follows the paratroopers of Easy Company from 1941 – 1945, starting in the US until the freeing of the KZ’s. The characters of this tight-knit company are very well depicted and you really care for all of them. Seeing them die or get wounded is harrowing. Some of the episodes, like the one called Bastonge, are so intense, they still overshadow most other WWWII infantry combat scenes I’ve seen before or after.
Generation Kill (2008) Iraq. Special unit. This is a series that is hard to get into, especially when you are used to others. It has a very slow build-up but after two episodes I really appreciated it. It achieves a very authentic depiction of modern warfare and shows how problematic it is to send a generation used to war games into combat. It shows how much is absolutely boring, just standing around and waiting. At the center of the unit is the “Iceman” Sgt Brad Colbert played by Alexander Skrasgard. The Iceman is an amazing character and even more so because he is based on a real person. This guy really always keeps his cool. The series is based on the account of an embedded journalist. Here’s the link to the book. And here is my post on The Iceman.
The Pacific (2010) – WWII. Infantry combat. If you do not compare this series to Band of Brothers, you will like it. It’s less the story a group of people than individual stories. The soldiers are also shown during their leaves and some love stories are incorporated. However the combat scenes are even grittier that those in Band of Brothers. Not pretty at all. My favourite episode is Rain on Cape Gloucester. Here is my Pacific short review.
Maybe I am going to hurt a few feelings here, I am sorry, but I can’t help it. I discussed war movie characters I liked, some that I found obnoxious and now it’s the turn of those I think ridiculous. There are not that many (I certainly forgot quite a few). The question is probably also, what do I consider to be ridiculous. Let me explain my choices.
4. David Schwimmer as Herbert M. Sobel in Band of Brothers. This is really a ridiculous character. He is insufferable and makes himself look ridiculous by misjudging his own capabilities.
3. Blackburn in Black Hawk Down. I do have my problems with Orlando Bloom outside of Lord of the Rings. Occasionally I do believe he shouldn’t have done anything else than Lord of the Rings. When I spotted him in Black Hawk Down I couldn’t help sniggering. On top of looking silly the poor guy has one of the most ridiculous accidents in war movie history. He falls out of the chopper before the action even begins.
2. Nicolas Cage as Sgt. Joe Enders in Windtalkers. I have spoken at length about Windtalkers in an earlier post. A lot of my criticism is linked to Nicolas Cage being just so outrageously ridiculous in this movie. Bad, bad acting. If you suffer from post-traumatic stress, please, don’t look as if you were having indigestion. It is not becoming.
1. Mel Gibson in Braveheart. This simply beats it. Is anyone allowed to look this ridiculous? He was just the wrong man for this role. No amount of kilt-wearing, long hair or war paint can make this guy look like some pre 20th century warrior. This cast was a total no-go. I can not even remember the movie anymore, I was so entranced by his appearance. Mel Gibson on his worst hair day. My absolute no 1. ridiculous war movie character. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he did a lot of very good movies, but this one was not for him). Actually, they should have let him ride a bike in it.
I was thinking today, why shouldn´t I write a post on the war movie characters I hate most? Obviously I am not talking bad acting here. On the very contrary, it is maybe more difficult to play a truly unlikable and obnoxious character. A true bully or a monster like Hitler. Bruno Ganz who stars as Hitler in The Downfall aka Der Untergang apparently refused the role at first whereas I believe I remember having read, Anthony Hopkins found his role in The Bunker to be particularly challenging and he did enjoy such a challenge.
But apart from extreme evil historical people like Hitler, there are numerous mean characters populating war movies. The list I made are those that came to my mind easily, those I will never forget, no matter how many years have passed since I last saw the movie. Often those really evil people are paired with good ones like in Platoon, Casualties of War and Cross of Iron.
Here´s my list of war movie impersonations of meanness or just plain unlikable geeks.
In an interview Dale Dye, a military advisor for many war movies, was asked why The Pacific had many female viewers and here is his explanation for that fact.
“By telling a story that reflects the thousands of whirlwind wartime romances that happened during World War II. There’s this great desperation element—I might get killed in the next six weeks, we’ve got to get married now—and females really identify with that. They get it.” (Dale Dye in The Atlantic)
He also believes that the love story between the two soldiers John Basilone and Lena Riggi made women like it.
Aha? So it is only the romance that makes women appreciate The Pacific? Could it not be that it has more to do with the fact that there are simply more women in The Pacific than in Band of Brothers?And that there is a whole psychological dimension in The Pacific, with all its tales of post-traumatic stress, that might appeal to women?
I would love some comments. Do women like The Pacific? Do they prefer it to Band of Brothers? Or did they even like both?