Poll Results – Is Black Hawk Down Too Combat Intense?

More than a year ago I asked the question on this blog whether  Black Hawk Down was too combat intense. Someone had made this comment and I was astonished because I thought the intensity of the combat in Black Hawk Down was one of the reasons why it was such an extremely powerful movie. I checked the poll a few times in the beginning and the forgot about it. The other day I had a look and the result is interesting.

26 people have answered the question. 50% think that it isn’t too combat intense, 13% however thought, that yes, indeed it was too intense. Another 20% thought that it should be even more intense and the remaining people didn’t care.

I’m still surprised anyone would think it is too combat intense but maybe we would have to know what they mean. Black Hawk Down depicts the Battle of Mogadishu, an army operation that went seriously wrong. The result of the operation shook everyone who knew about it or who was involved. The special units deployed got under heavy fire and faced an incredible aggression. They weren’t only fighting other soldiers but a huge, armed mob. Depicting something like this as realistically as possible requires intensity.

I would say, that from the point of view of  a soldier who was under heavy fire, I guess, it’s not intense as nothing can equal the real thing. But maybe for someone purely watching it, it could be too intense, meaning, “too intense to watch”.

In any case, I will check back on the poll from time to time and keep you posted.

A little question for you. Do you think there is any other war movie which depicts such intense combat scenes? I think some of the more recent South Korean war movies I watched do but can’t think of an older one as intense as this.

You can find the original post with the poll here. Please vote, if you haven’t done so already.

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My Top 10 Favourite War Movies – Revisited

I re-watched Glory the other day and while I still think it’s a very good movie, I don’t think it deserves to be in my Top 10 nor will it end up in my Top 20. Top 50 certainly. This made me think that it’s about time to revisit my Top 10. I had to replace Glory and I also decided to get rid of Band of Brothers. It is excellent, absolutely deserving of being watched and re-watched but it’s a mini-series and not a movie.

So here is the list which will probably change again, sooner or later.

Black Hawk Down

Stalingrad

Platoon

When Trumpets Fade

The Thin Red Line

Gallipoli

Joyeux Noel

Hamburger Hill

Cross of Iron

The Army of Crime

Two movies were almost included Days of Glory and Das Boot.

I’m in the process of re-watching and while I know that Black Hawk Down, Stalingrad, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and The Thin Red Line will stay on the list, I’m not a 100% sure about the others.

Which movies would have to be on your Top 10?

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.

The Thin Red Line (1998) Part II On Death and Dying

Sergeant Storm: It makes no difference who you are, no matter how much training you got and the tougher guy you might be. When you’re at the wrong spot at the wrong time, you gonna get it.

You are going to die. I am going to die. We are all going to die. It is inevitable. The difference lies just in whether we want and allow to be reminded of the fact or not. Whether it makes us feel uncomfortable or not and to what degree.

The way death and dying are shown in The Thin Red Line will trigger three different ways of reacting:

  • We see it and allow to be reminded of our own death which will make us feel uneasy and sad to different degrees
  • We see it and look away or feel nothing
  • We see it and make fun of it

These three ways to react to someone’s dying can also be found as reactions in the movie.

I would argue that there is not one war movie out there that thematizes death, dying and killing like it is done in The Thin Red Line. I would also say that I think that this may be one of the reasons some people have a problem with it as the death scenes are very intimate, very intense. We have people who die screaming, people who die swearing, some pray, some mumble, some are quiet. This is quite usual in war movies but we have also an emphasis on those who watch them which is unusual. The importance of looks in The Thin Red Line would be worth a chapter on it’s own but I will only focus on the looks related to death and dying.

We have those who look away when someone is dying, no matter how close they are to the person. And we have those who acknowledge the others dying. Some are moved by it, some are not. Watching someone die is a very intimate act, if you think of it. Being with someone during his final moments is a privilege. Private Witt gives each and every single suffering man his full attention, looks at him unflinchingly but also unobtrusively and with compassion.

There are also the looks directed at the dying enemy. They are very different. They are indecent almost. Some make fun of them, stare, strip them off their dignity. Witt also looks at the enemy with the same intent attention and compassion.

In the movie there is equally a meditation about death’s randomness as expressed in the quote by Sgt Storm at the beginning of this post. Why does one man die while the other who is maybe a far lesser soldier survives unharmed? This is something that has been on my father’s mind a lot. When he was drafted he was heartbroken and hoping to get killed on the battlefield. While his friends and comrades died, he didn’t get one scratch. My father has not one tiny little scar, yet he eagerly awaited death. This is mysterious and the movie shows this exceptionally well.

Death is part of nature (which I will try to analyze in part III) but the dying on a battle field isn’t natural, it’s man-made.

Killing is also a theme. Although it is legally acceptable to kill someone on a battlefield, in a war, soldiers didn’t kill lightly. I use the past tense deliberately because movies – or series in this case – like Generation Kill – and also already some of the Vietnam movies – show that there are more and more soldiers who have no empathy for those they kill. Those who play war games may see a running person at a distance not like a human being but just like another target. And they certainly don’t feel guilty.

The soldiers in The Thin Red Line do not kill lightly. They do feel guilt and the term “enemy” doesn’t mean much anymore once they have shot him down with their own gun.

One of my earliest posts on this blog focused on the topics Death and Dying. You can find it here:  On Death and Dying or Why War Movies Teach Us a Buddhist Lesson. Nothing has changed in my perception since then. I still think that the way death and dying are treated in our society is very problematic. We have to accept the fact that they are part of life. All war movies deal with death and dying but not all involve the viewer as much as the The Thin Red Line. Like hardly any other movie it manages in a very subtle way to raise the awareness for our own mortality.

The following parts are upcoming:

Part III. Nature and Evil

Part IV. The Actors and the Characters

Part V. Saving Private Ryan versus The Thin Red Line

The Way To the Stars aka Johnny in the Clouds (1945) A British WWII Movie about British and American Pilots on a UK Bomber Base

Starting just before the Battle of Britain The Way to the Stars tells the story of two friends and the people that surround them on a British airbase. Flight Lt. David Archdale (Michael Redgrave) and Pilot Officer Peter Penrose become friends when Penrose (John Mills) arrives at the base where Archdale is squadron leader in 1940.  The years go by. Penrose who was a total rookie at the beginning of the movie becomes a good pilot. Archdale gets married to the hotel manageress Toddy and they have a baby. Penrose falls in love with Iris who lives at the hotel with her very stern aunt.

In 1942, just before the Americans join the base, Archdale doesn’t return from a mission. Shortly before this he withdrew Penrose from flying duty as he had done far too many missions. He was now a controller which he hated. When his friend dies he becomes very bitter  and breaks up with Iris.

The arrival of the Americans in 1942 changes the tone of the movie. We could say that we become witnesses of a real culture clash. I think this is very well done and the movie manages to do both countries great justice. I enjoyed this a lot as it is so insightful and does poke fun at both.

One of the American pilots, the eponymous Johnny (Douglass Montgomery), plays an important role in the second half of the movie.  He is married but he likes Toddy a great deal, probably falls in love with her. This is not a clichéd story of an adultery but a nuanced  tale of two people who meet each other, feel very close and realize that under other circumstances they would have become lovers.

For the aviation buffs out there I have to say that we see no combat scenes but we benefit greatly from the time during which this movie was shot as you will hardly see so many original planes and different types of planes in any other movie (certainly not in anything modern). We get a particularly  good feel for the American Flying Fortress. An important part of the movie takes place in Toddy’s hotel which allows for some great character portraits. It is quite a motley crew that one would have encountered in a hotel during the war. Another interesting aspect.

In many ways this is a unique movie. Touching and quite accurate in the depiction of life on an airbase at the time. 4/5

Is Black Hawk Down Too Combat Intense?

Talking with a friend about Black Hawk Down the other day, he said he thought it was too much, the combat was too intense, too relentless. Since Black Hawk Down is my absolute favourite I did never think of it in terms of being too intense. For me it is absolutely perfect the way it is but I can see how one could feel the way he did. How about you? Any opinion on the combat intensity of Black Hawk Down?

Let’s find out what you think.

Ridiculous War Movie Characters

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.

Any other suggestions?