Culture Vulture: War Film Gratification

By CLAUDE SALHANI  |  Dec. 1, 2001 at 4:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- As Western society advances ever more into a fast-paced world that demands instant gratification, it is easy to understand why war and action movies are increasingly popular with the public.

Two recently released films, "Spy Games," and "Behind Enemy Lines" are prime examples of how Hollywood, or rather in fact the public, would have liked to see real situations handled.

Dealing with an enemy in real life, as we are currently experiencing in Afghanistan, takes time - weeks, months, if not years. Yet, in the make-believe world of Hollywood, we seem to achieve our desired objectives in about 2 hours and 30 minutes, all while munching on popcorn and enjoying a nice cold drink from the safety of an air-conditioned, darkened movie theatre, or from the comfort of our living room sofas.

But though the public welcomes these action films, as recent Hollywood surveys have shown, they take time to produce.

"Despite opinions to the contrary in a lot of circles, Hollywood tends to be a follower rather than a leader in subject matter for movies," said Dale Dye, a retired U.S. Marine captain who has served in Vietnam and Beirut, Lebanon, and who now makes a living as a military consultant to Hollywood producers and directors.

Dye has worked with Oliver Stone on "Platoon," and helped Steven Spielberg make "Saving Private Ryan."

In the years following the Vietnam War, Hollywood produced dozens of films, where, unlike reality, the enemy was quickly dealt with. American prisoners of war detained in the Hanoi Hilton and other such infamous detention centers or squalid POW camps were rapidly whisked out, and all the "bad guys" were dealt with accordingly, and with minimum friendly casualties.

These quick revenge flicks, such as the ones produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in the 1980s and 1990s, far outnumbered more down to earth films such as "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon" or "The Deer Hunter;" films that depicted the real hell of war, and offered a more realistic mindset of what the average American who was fighting in Southeast Asia was going through.

Once Vietnam was milked to the bone, the action moved to South America to take on the narco-terrorists, Southwest Asia where the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and the Middle East, where there was never a shortage of violence, or foes to fight.

"Revenge" for the Lebanon experience, for example, was quickly taken to the silver screen by unbeatable matinee idols, who gave us what the government could not.

"Producers and studio execs make movies to put butts in theater seats; not necessarily to be inspirational or correct injustices," said Dye.

But in reality, in Lebanon, the United States suffered a number of major setbacks. The U.S. Marines lost more men in any single day when a suicide truck bomber rammed a building near the airport killing 241 servicemen. It was the largest loss of life for the Corps in any single day since the World War II battle on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Then came the kidnapping of American hostages and the hijacking of a TWA jetliner. Several American hostages were killed and others held for many years.

Yet, what the Marines, Green Berets, Navy Seals and other elite military units were not allowed to attempt in real life due to reality or politics, was relegated to karate champ Chuck Norris in "Delta Force," Charlie Sheen in "Navy Seals," and Sylvester Stallone in "Rambo."

Interestingly, although Rambo was a true American hero out to crush anyone standing in his, or America's way, he was also seen as a hero by some of the very people supporting the kidnappers of Americans and other Western hostages in Beirut. During a showing of one of the earlier Rambo movies in a West Beirut theatre in 1985 that was packed with armed, bearded militiamen supporting Hezbollah, the crowd exploded into cheers, applause and shouts of support when, toward the end of the film, Rambo blasted the "bad guys" to hell, and rescued all the American prisoners. This occurred while the TWA jet was still being held on the runway at Beirut Airport by Muslim militiamen.

So the question now is how soon before we see movies featuring the Taliban and Osama bin Laden as the new bad guys where Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Charlie Sheen, or Rambo come back to settle the issues in record time? Rambo after all has had prior experience in Afghanistan.

"I suspect we will see some anti-terrorist-themed films in the future, but they will be generic rather than overtly specific to avoid this pitfall. It takes two years most times to get a film conceived, sold, written, developed, shot, marketed and released. Too many critical events can take place in that amount of time to change things, so it's not smart to rip stories out of the headlines," said Dye.

"I'm happy when films we make turn out to be educational or inspirational, or have some positive effect on our world. If films can help us understand how evil and misguided terrorism is, then let's sure as hell make films about it," the former Marine told United Press International.

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