"The Thin Red Line"
I attended the second matinee screening of "The Thin Red Line" the day
it opened. (Quentin Tarantino was sitting in front of me.) This was the
first and only film that I went to this trouble for this year, and it
was completely not worth it.
The big hype with "The Thin Red
Line" is that it's writer/director Terrence Malick’s first film since "Days of
Heaven" 25 years ago. Well, I’ve got news for everybody: "Days
of Heaven" wasn’t a very good movie. Although it had lovely,
Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, everything else about
that film just fell flat. Linda Manz’s
was so awful it actually infringed on the beautiful images.
A 25 year hiatus hasn’t sharpened Malick’s storytelling abilities
any, and his use of bad, inappropriate narration now makes itself known
as his trademark. (I like Malick’s first film, "Badlands," and Sissy Spacek’s
bland narration.) In "The Thin Red Line," James Jones’ story of the U.S.
Army’s involvement in the invasion of Guadalcanal during WW2, Mr. Malick
has everybody and their brother narrating the story. Honestly, at least
ten different soldiers narrate during the course of this very long film.
Not only couldn’t I keep all of the narration straight, I didn’t care enough
to try. Obviously, Terrence Malick has never heard of the concept of choosing
a point of view for your story. He wants to tell everybody’s story, and
amazingly none of them holds the slightest bit of interest.
To me, the most interesting aspect of "The Thin Red Line" is that the film
is a remake and nobody has mentioned it anywhere. James Jones’
novel was first filmed in 1964 by the famous 2nd unit director,
Andrew Marton, who directed the chariot race in the 1959 version of "Ben
Hur." It starred Keir Dullea ("2001: A Space Odyssey"), and Jack Warden
played a character that was named Sgt. Warden in "From Here to Eternity."
(Jack Warden was in that film too, but Sgt. Warden was played by Burt Lancaster.)
The first version of "Thin" isn’t much of a picture. It’s really
a rather cheap ‘B’ movie, but it’s a hell of a lot better than this new
remake; it’s short and you can easily follow it.
James Jones was an interesting
and sad literary character. He happened to have been stationed in Pearl
Harbor when the Japanese attacked, and this gave him a unique point
of view for telling the story of "From Here to Eternity." I believe
it was to James Jones’ complete surprise that he wrote the Great American
World War II Novel. That accolade was handed out prematurely to Norman
Mailer for "The Naked and the Dead", then taken back and given to Jones.
(Mailer got his book out quicker.) Sadly for Mr. Jones, he was never
able to follow up on the success of "From Here to Eternity." Everything
he published thereafter was considered a letdown: "The Pistol," "Some
Came Running," "The Thin Red Line," "Go to the Widow-Maker," "The Merry
Month of May" and "Whistle." Jones died just before the release of "Whistle,"
the 3rd in the war trilogy begun by "From Here to Eternity"
and continued through "The Thin Red Line." These three books may well
be considered a trilogy, but the second two books are entirely unnecessary.
Everything James Jones had to say about WW2 was said beautifully in
"From Here to Eternity." The entire rest of his writing career was of
no particular interest, and "The Thin Red Line" exemplifies this.
The real story of Guadalcanal has nothing to do with the army, it’s a story
about the U.S. Marine Corps and their initial invasion of the island. The
army simply came in to mop up. This may very well have been where James
Jones went after leaving Pearl Harbor, but the army’s participation in
this battle was not nearly as interesting. He had been in exactly the
right place at the right time with Pearl Harbor, but he never was
And now we have Terrence
Malick’s artsy-fartsy version of Jones’ book. If you took out all the extraneous,
unnecessary crap in the film, like close-ups of marmosets, smoke through the
foliage (exactly like "Platoon"), vines winding around trees, etc., you’d
lose about 20 very dull minutes. If you then cut out all of the shots of
soldiers with dirt-smeared faces looking dazedly at nothing, you’d lose
another severely boring hour of worthless footage. If you then eliminated
John Travolta's (who was wearing a ridiculous mustache) and George Clooney’s
meaningless parts, you’d be left with a normal length, poorly focused story
narrated by the entire U.S. Army.
Dec. 27, 1998
Like most bad movies, this one has, for
the most part, shot right through my head, leaving nothing but the sediment of
annoyance. Nevertheless, the opening of the film has stuck with me because it's so
ridiculously stupid and nobody else has bothered mentioning it. The film begins in
the native village of some Pacific Islanders where two American soldiers are living.
There is no dialog and nothing is explained, but for somewhere between five and ten
interminable minutes these two soldiers simply hang out with the natives. Finally,
one of the soldiers spots a battleship in the harbor -- cut -- the two soldiers are
now aboard the battleship and Sean Penn (the tough sergeant, for God's sake) is
reprimanding them for going AWOL. Now wait a minute. First of all, you don't get
reprimanded in the military for going AWOL, you get court-martialed and thrown in the
stockade; second, and more importantly, how the hell did those soldiers get to that
island? Did they jump ship and swim there? I don't know if this is true, but I got
a sense that was supposed to be Guadalcanal. So, am I to assume that these soldiers
not only jumped ship, they swam faster than the battleship could get there? What on
Earth is this supposed to mean?