Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com 11/6/05 w/ Additional Edits/Revisions & New Content.
Since the dawn of cinema, war movies have been a wonderful medium to tell stories of courage and conflict. By World War II, war had a sense of honor yet there were those who disagreed with it. Especially by the time the Vietnam War hit. With war still in debate, it's ability to tell a story about soldiers trying to save lives and defend their country remains one that people loved. In 1998, two different films about World War II came out. The first was from blockbuster director Steven Spielberg entitled Saving Private Ryan which was about a captain and his platoon trying to save a captured young man. Spielberg's war film was hailed as a masterpiece for its gritty realism and depiction of war as it was set to take several awards. Then later that year, came another film set in World War II at the Battle of Guadalcanal based on James Jones' novel The Thin Red Line. What was more surprising about that film was that it marked the return of one of American cinema's most enigmatic and poetic directors of the 1970s in Terrence Malick.
Only had made two acclaimed films in the 1970s, 1973's Badlands and 1978's Days of Heaven, Malick had quickly disappeared from the film world. With many rumors claiming that he was living in various areas as a teacher or working on unfinished projects. No one knew what had happened to the widely, admired director until rumors surfaced in the 1990s that he was writing an adaptation for James Jones' follow-up to From Here to Eternity for The Thin Red Line. Set during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, the story about the American army fighting against the Japanese while soldiers deal with other conflicts including each other.
Written for the screen and directed by Terrence Malick, the film has all of Malick's visual poetry and unconventional voice-over narratives along with themes about humanity and nature. With a huge ensemble cast of actors that included Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Ben Chaplin, Jim Caviezel, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly, John Savage, John Travolta, Thomas Jane, and George Clooney. The Thin Red Line is an engaging, breathtaking anti-war drama from one of American cinema's most premier auteurs.
It's 1942 in the island of Guadalcanal as a deserter named Witt (Jim Caviezel) is living peacefully with natives in the island. Along with another deserter (Will Wallace), they later see a ship as Witt's superior, First Sergeant Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) of Charlie Company debriefs him about an upcoming battle against the Japanese over an airfield in the island. With Penn's superior Captain James "Bugger" Staros (Elias Koteas) joining along with company, leading the campaign will be Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte) who is hoping to retire with a general star. After being debriefed by Brigadier General Quintar (John Travolta), Tall recalls his weariness and desire to be promoted.
With Welsh and Staros' men that includes many young soldiers including fellow Sgt. Storm (John C. Reilly), Corporal Fife (Adrien Brody), Private 1st Class Jack Bell (Ben Chaplin), Private 1st Class Dolls (Dash Mihok), Private Mazzi (Larry Romano), Private Tills (Tim Blake Nelson), Private Coombs (Matt Doran), Sgt. Keck (Woody Harrelson), Sgt. McCron (John Savage), Private 1st Class Edward Bead (Nick Stahl) and Private Train (John Dee Smith) all anxious to get into the battlefield but on their way, their fears began to creep in. Once they arrive onto the island waiting for the enemy as they go for a walk to await the Japanese as many of them pass out due to exhaustion. Private Witt, who is now part of the medical team wants to be part of Staros' platoon company. Private Bell meanwhile, is hoping to go home to be with his wife Marty (Miranda Otto) as he reminisces their days before the war when he was just an engineer before getting drafted.
With the battle finally ready to go, Second Lieutenant Whyte (Jared Leto) tries to get men closer to the bunkers of the Japanese only to get in trouble as immediately, the battle begins. Through the hills and long grass, the battle becomes vicious as Witt finally joins the platoon and everyone tries to save themselves and their men while battling the Japanese who are hiding through the bunkers firing machine guns. Sgt. McCron completely loses his mind during battle while in another area, Sgt. Keck creates a mental error of his own. With the battle becoming brutal, many soldiers dying while others are scared as Staros plan to attack the bunkers at the front was becoming too risky. After calling with Tall, things go wrong as the two disagree on what to do. Tall brings in Captain John Gaff (John Cusack) to take over. The next day, the attempt to overtake the bunker succeeds with help from Doll, Witt, and Bell as Gaff leads the way.
After taking the hill with several Japanese prisoners, the American troops emerge victorious while Gaff and Staros are waiting for water to come as Tall wants to move forward to attack the base. Tall commends Gaff for his attack on the bunkers as he recommends him for honors while Gaff isn't sure about it. After the attack on the village base where the Japanese were staying, it's another huge victory while Witt wonders if they’re doing the right thing. Staros gets relieved of his command though Tall will give him recommendations for medals as Staros officially leaves while having a final talk with Doll and Storm. With the soldiers resting and waiting for battle, the Japanese airbase in the island was finally attacked by air troops while a new cynicism and numbness has crept in on Storm and Welsh. Bell finally receives a letter from home but not the kind of letter he wanted while Welsh wonders in why Witt has a love for the jungle and its lights.
With the next battle getting near, a wave of melancholia ensues on the troops that once the next battle begins. It becomes more troubling as the new superior 1st Lieutenant Band (Paul Gleeson) taking over along with Marl (Donal Logue). With Japanese troops ready to attack to the last man, Witt, Fife, and Coombs try to see how many are coming as it looks more troubling as the Americans have to pull back leaving one of the soldiers to make a sacrifice leaving many soldiers to be disturb as they would have to fight another battle soon.
War movies often have perspectives on what is going on, especially if its an anti-war film where it shows not just the negative side of fighting war but also the wave of fear and anxiety in its emotions. In Malick's point-of-view, he starts and ends thing very idyllic on the island of Guadalcanal (though it's shot in areas like Australia and Solomon Islands). Yet its ending is more grim than hopeful since the soldiers know they will have to fight another battle somewhere and at another time. Even in the battles, there's a struggle for what is the right thing to do and how not to get anyone killed. Especially from the view of Lieutenant Colonel Tall who is willing to do anything for victory for his record and how his other officers respond to it. Another thing that Malick does that makes the film more interesting is in its aftermath of battles of the Japanese prisoner living in fear and shame and how some of the soldiers treat them.
The trademark style of Malick's narrative writing style is definitely prominent during the entire film. Yet this time however, he chooses to take the viewpoints of several characters. One character though is minor on screen is Private Train yet he does a lot of the film's narration with his viewpoints on war, nature, life, spirituality, and what's in the mind of his fellow soldiers. Voicing a bit of that narration is Billy Bob Thornton who takes a viewpoint that is many years distant from the Train of 1942. The characters of Tall, Staros, Witt, Bell and his wife, and Welsh all have voiceover narrations throughout the film. There, Malick provides the fear, guilt, cynicism, joy, morals, and heartbreak of all the characters and their surroundings.
The structure in Malick's script is wonderful in how he places it. The first 45 minutes is the soldiers preparing for war and getting ready while living in fear. The second act which is about over an hour is many of the film's battle sequences where the violence is realistic as well as the conflict over other troops or themselves. The film's final 40 minutes reveals the joy and wave of melancholia about those dying and those leaving. Including one scene where Witt meets another soldier in Private Ash (Thomas Jane) who gets to go home after being injured. The morality of medals and honors come into question as for the troops, it's really just a job.
Now war is something that many debate upon. Yet World War II was something, whatever views people have, was something Americans had to fight. Malick brings a lot of that fear into his directing. He reveals the soldiers being scared and at one point, brings a perspective on the Japanese as a dead-soldier (Takamitsu Okubo) talks in a voice-over narrative (voiced by Elias Koteas) where he asks Private Witt about their own conscience. Malick brings the same poetic style of directing on many fronts to many of the battle sequences to extreme close-up shots of grass and woods. To capturing the surroundings in the island where there’s a beauty in many shots from inside to the chaos that's surrounding it. Even in Bell's dreamy, American sequences, there's a sense of melancholia in Malick's poignant directing. If there's a reason for such a grim but hopeful ending, it's only because it's leading to what's coming next for many of the young soldiers and what comes after only gives an interpretation of whether or not things go right.
Malick's direction is truly hypnotic for the way he captures many of the film's gorgeous nature scenes as it features amazing shots underwater, on the sea, and in the jungle. Yet, there's an ugliness to some of those nature scenes once the war happens. For many of the battle scenes, Malick goes for all kind of shooting styles. Whether its hand-held, steadicams, or crane shots. There is always something Malick is interested in during the battle as he would have a shot of blood on the grass or something. There's always a rush once the first shots are fired in the big battle scene. The direction of the film is truly spectacular and engrossing as Malick creates a war film that is like no other.
Helping Malick capture the idyllic, epic-scope of his film is cinematographer John Toll. Toll's exquisite use of sunlight and colors capture an atmosphere that is enchanting in many of the jungle sequences while in the darker, war sequences, Toll's camera work is amazing in bringing the brutality amidst the sun on top of the fighting, especially in the village scene. Often shooting under trees and leaves, it's the natural sunlight used by Toll that brings that poetic visual style that Malick is known for as it weaves it way into enchantment.
With locations of the film mostly in Australia and in the Solomon Islands with Bell's dream sequences in California. A lot of the film's visual department in terms of production is helmed by Malick's long time art director Jack Fisk. Fisk's work along with art director Ian Gracie on many of the villages brings an authenticity to the film while bringing a lot of detail to the ships used during the war as well as weapons and gear. Helping to capture the period in terms of its clothing and look of the soldiers is costume designer Margot Wilson who captures everything from the Americans clothing to the Japanese army uniforms. In its near 3-hour running time, longtime Malick editor Billy Weber along with Saar Klein and Leslie Jones brings a wonderful, multi-layered style of editing that moves from a character to character or one situation to another. Especially in the war sequences which are masterfully executed from the perspective of the characters. Even Paul Brincat's sound design captures a realistic feel to the battle scenes and the atmosphere of tranquility in many of the film's other sequences.
Helming the score for the film is Hans Zimmer who brings a nice, ambient atmosphere to many of the film's idyllic scenes as well as the dreamy sequences of Bell's memory of his wife. For many of the battles, Zimmer brings a frenetic, rhythmic tension that just plays well to the feeling of war and the fears of the young soldiers. With additional music from John Powell as well as ambient textures by Jeff Rona. Also giving the film its idyllic, authentic tone is music from the natives of the island that brings the sense of peace for Private Witt. It's one of the best film scores captured in a war film.
Finally, there's the film's large ensemble cast of actors. While small cameos from the likes of George Clooney as a captain in one of the film's final scenes, John Travolta as a general, Jared Leto as a lieutenant, and John Savage as a sergeant who loses his mind don't add any dramatic scales to the film. Still, those cameos are wonderful to watch since they bring some credibility to the scenes they're in for other actors. Smaller performances from Tim Blake Nelson, Donal Logue, Larry Romano, Matt Doran, Paul Gleeson, Nick Stahl, John C. Reilly Thomas Jane, and John Dee Smith as the young Train all standout in their brief moments. Miranda Otto meanwhile brings a nice presence to Ben Chaplin's character as his strength while doing a wonderful voiceover work in the letter that he receives.
While Adrien Brody barely has any lines to speak, he does bring a memorable performance as the young Corporal Fife who particularly has a great scene in one of the film's final moments where we see the fear in him. Brody's performance is truly amazing in his brief scenes as does Woody Harrelson as the doomed Sgt. Keck who has one great scene where he pulls a huge error that could've costed the lives of his platoon only to sacrifice himself in the end. Ben Chaplin is excellent as Bell with his longing to return home and his will to do anything to come home in one piece while fighting. John Cusack is also memorable as a captain whose leadership in leading an attack on a bunkers is wonderful for his morals while not wanting to accept any kind of commendation. Elias Koteas is also great in the role as sympathetic Staros who refuses to see any of his men die while being a father figure to the younger soldiers he's taken care of.
Dash Mihok is a true standout in the film as Doll, a young soldier who starts off being very scared only to realize what he has to do when he fights where he gains some confidence but knows that he's just a soldier. Mihok is amazing in every scene he's in while presenting the fear and anxiety in a scene when Harrelson's character is dying and makes a promise to write to his wife. It's truly one of the best performances of the film. Nick Nolte is also great as the angry, grizzled Lieutenant Colonel Tall whose pride gets the best of him as he is willing to do anything to retire with high marks. He represents the madness of war and the immorality of how far soldiers will go to which is why you see when he wants to commend a fellow soldiers, they become very reluctant. Sean Penn is also amazing as the burnt-out, cynical, wise Sgt. Welsh who has seen it all while trying to save the lives and take care of the young soldiers. Jim Caviezel is the film's big standout as a soldier gone AWOL who is forced to return only to realize that the peace he had is gone forever and is willing to do anything to get it back while he represents the ideal dreamer in many soldiers in a truly magnificent performance.
***Additional DVD Content & New Content Written from 12/24/10-12/29/10***
Since the release of The Thin Red Line in 1998 along with arrival of the DVD. The film was released through various editions but all with the same DTS sound format and slim special features. The only feature in earlier DVD editions was the trailer for the film. By 2010, with anticipation for The Tree of Life still looming as it await a 2011 release, the cult of Terrence Malick has grown among devoted film buffs. The 2007 Criterion DVD release of Days of Heaven proved to be a landmark release for fans of Malick. Two years later, the Blu-ray DVD for that film from Criterion also came out. A year earlier, the long-awaited expanded cut of Malick’s 2005 film The New World was also released. Finally, after years of rumors and waiting, the Criterion Collection is releasing a definitive DVD for The Thin Red Line.
The 2010 Region 1 Criterion 2-disc DVD (and 1-disc Blu-Ray) for The Thin Red Line is presented with a new, restored high-definition digital transfer that is supervised by Malick and the film’s cinematographer John Toll. Shown in 2:35:1 aspect theatrical ratio for a widescreen presentation plus new Surround sound for its release. The film also includes a pre-title card before the film where Malick suggests that the film should be played loud. With that suggestion, the film takes on a much deeper level in both image and sound. Toll’s cinematography is as entrancing as ever while the sound work is far more engaging and layered in its mixing. It is definitely a massive improvement over its original DVD release.
The first disc includes not just the film’s theatrical trailer. It also includes a full-length feature commentary track from cinematographer John Toll, production designer/longtime Malick collaborator Jack Fisk, and producer Grant Hill. The three men talk about Terrence Malick along with the production of the film. Toll revealed that there were very little artificial light used throughout the film while all electrical outlets and such weren’t used either. The only big equipment used in the film was a big crane that was need for some of the film’s battle sequences. Toll also revealed about a lot of the locations that was shot which was primarily on Queensland, Australia. Though Malick and the crew wanted to shoot on location in Guadalcanal. Some shooting happened but everyone got sick from malaria as they realized it wasn’t the right idea to shoot the film entirely on Guadalcanal.
More than a 100 days was shot on Queensland with help from a private landowner who more than allowed Malick, cast, and crew to make the film at while Jack Fisk revealed that he burned a lot of grass for some of the battle scenes which the landowner wanted. For scenes with large grass, Fisk and art director Ian Gracie were able to have it grown yet the only time that Grant Hill saw Malick upset was when a cow was eating the grass. With an additional twenty-four days of shooting in the Solomon Islands and some days of shooting in the U.S. Many of the scenes with Miranda Otto was shot in a few days while a lot of the scenes on the boat were shot near Catalina in California. Hill revealed that John Travolta did two days work for his part as he was able to free up his schedule so he can work with Malick. George Clooney also was able to free up his own schedule to work with Malick since both he and Travolta were already working on various projects.
Fisk revealed that many of the interior scenes in the ship were shot in a tennis court in Australia with sets built while everything else in Queensland at the jungle were pretty good though there was a lot of improvisation. Toll revealed a lot about the film’s cinematography including the transfer of the Criterion DVD which he and Malick did some color correcting for the release. Toll also revealed that while he was shooting this film, his wife Lois Burwell was doing make-up for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The two corresponded through emails as Malick gave Spielberg a Japanese war flag while Spielberg in return gave Malick a crew jacket with his film’s title.
Toll, Fisk, and Hill also dwell into the idea of how Malick approaches post-production. With more than a million of feet of film shot, it was very uneasy where Hill visited the editing room a few times. Fisk recalled the moment Malick asked editor Billy Weber about some frames or a sequence which took Weber ten days to find. The commentary overall is superb with elements of humor and lots of information as Fisk says whenever he does a film for Malick, he’s always exhausted. Even as he briefly mentions Malick’s upcoming film The Tree of Life that’s finally coming out in 2011.
The second disc of the DVD are filled with loads of special features. Among them are interviews, outtakes, and lots of tidbits about the making of the film. For the interview with the actors, the 33-minute featurette entitled The Actor’s Perspective include interviews with Sean Penn, Dash Mihok, Jim Caviezel, Kirk Acevedo, Thomas Jane, and Elias Koteas. While Penn’s interview are from excerpts of a 2002 documentary called Rosy-Fingered Dawn. The rest are new as Dash Mihok and Kirk Acevedo discuss the casting process and how they already knew each other through acting companies while Acevedo knew Adrien Brody from high school. Acevedo revealed he got the part through Sam Shepard, who had been in Days of Heaven, since Acevedo was doing a play for Shepard. Elias Koteas revealed that when he was given the part of Captain Staros, he initially didn’t want to do it because he felt it was a thankless role. Yet, when he did decided to do it. He realized he was part of something much bigger.
Penn revealed a lot about Malick’s style and how his name was able to bring funding to the project that led to other big time actors to be interested. Penn also talked about boot camp that nearly every actor did two weeks for while George Clooney only attended a day due to his limited schedule. Thomas Jane met Malick in Texas where he along with actors discussed what would happen as did Jim Caviezel who took the part of Witt despite getting offers to do five TV pilots. Mihok, Penn, and Acevedo got a chance to imitate Malick and his directing style as they revealed that Malick is trying to give them guidelines on how to act. Even as Mihok revealed that and Brody formed a hip-hop duo in a battle of the bands contest for the Melanesian tribe. The overall featurette is a wonderful piece about what actors had to do when working with Malick.
The 18-minute interview with casting director Dianne Crittenden features rare audition footage that included actors like Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, Thomas Jane, Ben Chaplin, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Savage along with a group of actors who didn’t make it to the film. Crittenden, who had worked with Malick on Days of Heaven, was asked to help Malick with the audition. With help from pictures of soldiers from World War II, they knew they needed a certain look and style for the actors. Plus, they didn’t want stars or anyone with egos for the auditions. Still, they were young actors that did want to audition that included Stephen Dorff (though his audition isn’t shown) who took a late audition.
Among those whose audition tapes are shown and didn’t get in the film were Josh Hartnett, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Crispin Glover, Ethan Embry, Brendan Sexton, Brett Harrelson, Luke Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris. Crittenden revealed that the reasons Mihok, Stahl, and Chaplin were successful because they had what Crittenden and Malick was looking for. Notably Mihok and Stahl to convey the innocence they needed while she mentioned that Adrien Brody and Jim Caviezel were cast because of their look. With Chaplin, it was his subtle approach to the performance that got him a successful audition. Crittenden’s piece is definitely a wonderful featurette about the process of casting and why auditioning for Terrence Malick is a big deal to young up-and-coming actors.
The 27-minute editing featurette includes interviews with Malick’s longtime editor Billy Weber plus Leslie Jones and Saar Klein. Billy Weber reveals that when anyone is working on a film for Malick. Editing everyone else’s film is easy compared to working with Malick. Weber also reveals that 6000 feet of film equals to an hour of footage. Since there was more than a million feet of film to edit with Weber and Leslie Jones already trying to figure out what to put in. Saar Klein came in during the middle of post-production which about a year and a half.
Jones revealed that Malick had a hard time creating action films and suggested getting a director like Renny Harlin to help with directing action sequences. Klein reveals about the mystery of Malick’s editing process which he reveals is hard to explain. He talks about creating sequences where it’s more about image and music rather than dialogue. Jones revealed that Malick wanted less dialogue and more silent moments. Weber and Jones also talk about the legendary five-hour cut of the film which was really a rough version. Malick only saw that version once and knew that more work was needed to be done.
Jones said the reason Adrien Brody’s character was cut largely because of Malick being more interested in Jim Caviezel’s character while he also wanted more voice-overs for the film. The voice-overs were added later on with a multitude of actors as an experiment over what was needed to be said and what should be used. It’s a really interesting featurette that brings some idea about what its like to edit a Malick film and why it takes so long to get it to the final version.
A sixteen-and-a-half interview with music composer Hans Zimmer reveals a lot about Zimmer’s collaboration with Malick. Zimmer talks about Malick’s love for music and how he likes to have it used for the film. Zimmer admits, he found it challenging to work with someone like Malick while the two would have silly arguments over certain musical notes used in the film. Zimmer revealed that Malick’s descriptions and idea of what he wants in the music that Zimmer found to be exciting as he came up with some great ideas. Including the sounds of ticking clock percussions which were Zimmer’s idea while he brought in a Japanese-American musician to play these large Japanese drums.
Zimmer also talks about the other pieces of music used in the film that he didn’t write like Avro Part’s Annum Per Annum in the film’s opening scene and Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question in a scene of a Japanese soldier talking to Arie Vereen’s Dale character. Notably because he believed they were the right idea and from his view as a composer, it relieves him of what he had to try to do for those scenes musically. Zimmer also talked about those last moments when the film was near in completion where he says it’s the most tense moment. Notably because no one knows if the project will be finished as Zimmer was banned from the post-production area as he realized that it’s all part of a bigger picture. While he admits that he had to put his own ego aside, he was very glad in working on a film like The Thin Red Line.
The next big special feature are 14-minutes worth of eight outtakes presented in rough form. Many of these scenes were material that didn’t make it to the final cut while it reveals more scenes from the many actors who did make it into the film including one notable actor who didn’t make it to the final cut. The first outtake is a scene of Witt and Storm getting drunk where Storm calls out on Witt’s insubordination in a comical manner which gives John C. Reilly a chance to be funny. The second outtake is where Sgt. Becker (Don Harvey) volunteers his squad to Lt. Band. The third is Private Mazzi getting drunk as he and some other soldiers confront their new superior in Lt. Band. The fourth is where Bead kills a Japanese soldier in a brutal manner only to realize what he’s done where Nick Stahl gives an amazing performance.
The fifth deleted scene is an exchange between Witt and a burnt-out sniper (Mickey Rourke) as Witt is asked about his family while the sniper reveals his own mental wounds. It’s definitely the best outtake as it gives a chance for Mickey Rourke to give a fantastic performance. The sixth outtake involves Japanese POWs being dragged down a hill as they‘re tormented by various soldiers including Private Tills who suggests they should do the same to what the Japanese did to the Americans in Bataan. The seventh is a meeting Bell and Captain Bosche about the letter Bell received where Bosche makes some suggestions along with some news for Bell about his own military status. It’s a scene that gives more for George Clooney to do as he only was seen in the last minutes of the film. The last outtake is about Cpl. Fife getting his foot examined as a doctor reveals that he needs to take a medical leave of absence as Adrien Brody finally gets to have some lines for his character. While there’s definitely logical reasons why these were cut though it’s great to see these rough outtakes be shown.
The 19-minute interview with Kaylie Jones reveals a lot about her father James Jones, the novelist of The Thin Red Line. Jones talks about her father’s background and how he joined the Army in 1939 after the Great Depression. He was there at Pearl Harbor and was part of the first group of men to go fight in World War II. Jones also revealed an incident where her father was in Guadalcanal and killed a Japanese soldier in hand-to-hand combat when he was just alone and was using the bathroom. That moment would prove to be traumatic as it would become one of the things that would inspire The Thin Red Line. Jones also talked about her father’s hatred for government or anything that cleans up about the idea of war. Notably for the fact that James Jones, like many others, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the war as they all become wounded emotionally or mentally.
When James Jones moved to France following the release of From Here to Eternity in 1951 following some disputes with publishers over content including the use of the word “fuck”. Kaylie Jones recalls her father’s love for America, the Army, and people but hatred for government and censorship in that country while he also disliked the Euro-trash idealism with the way some kids are raised. The interview includes rare photos of James Jones as a young man and in his days with the Army along with old family photos in France. It’s a wonderful interview about James Jones and why he wrote The Thin Red Line as a way to reveal the true horrifying nature of war.
The Guadalcanal/Solomon Islands newsreels includes five news clips about the war and how it didn’t reveal the horrors about what happened. The black-and-white are all shown together in a fifteen-minute featurette where the first one is about the campaign in the Solomon Islands and the second about the victory in the Pacific. The other three are about Guadalcanal where all of the clips reveal something upbeat about the war with this idea of patriotism. While it has some excellent moments and clips about soldiers looking happy and getting medals. Yet, it is a propaganda piece that really ignores the idea of what war really is.
The last special feature is a seven-minute Melanesian chants featurette which includes three-four numbers all performed by the Melanesian Brotherhood. The tracks are played to images on set which includes rare black-and-white photographs of filming and the actors working (including Lukas Haas who was cut from the final version of the film). Also included in the DVD is a booklet featuring an essay from film critic David Sterritt and a 1963 reprint from James Jones.
David Sterritt’s essay entitled This Side of Paradise is about the film and Malick’s return to the world of film. Sterritt reveals about why James Jones’ novel was something of great interest to him which was quite a surprise considering that the story didn’t seem like the type of film Malick would make. Yet, the reason Malick was interested because it was about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Even as he created a film where he was able to put his own ideas and thoughts in relation to Jones’ psychological take on war. That way, he was able to put thoughts into the soldiers as they’re dealing with war and the atmosphere they’re surrounded by.
Sterritt also focuses on characters such as Pvt. Witt and Lt. Col. Tall, the latter of which he describes as a shallow human being who claims to be philosophical but is more concerned with getting a promotion. Sterritt also talks about the play Malick worked on in the early 90s which was an adaptation of Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff which was to be directed by Andrzej Wajda. Though the play never went anywhere, the ideas of the story as well as the images of Mizoguchi’s film were an inspiration for Malick for The Thin Red Line. Sterritt closes the essay about the questions Malick asked in the film. Though there weren’t any clear answers, it’s the questions that are actually more interesting since its asking something that every person wants to ask about the world and nature.
The second text that is in the booklet is Phony War Films by James Jones for a March 1963 article for the Saturday Evening Post. Jones’ article is mainly a critique on Hollywood and how it portrays its war movies. He starts off with the complaint about a movie called Bataan about the way a grenade is thrown when he has experienced the real thing. He also talks about how war films were used to be something to cheer about when there is really something horrifying about it. He even talks about a film like Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory where he felt the reasons audiences couldn’t relate to it is because it’s not a traditional kind of war film.
Jones also talks about the clichés that are used in various characters where the minor characters would be the first to go in a war movie. He even dwells on the way Hollywood tries to claim that these war films are meant to be realistic which is the opposite. Even as he revealed he was hired to write dialogue for a war film that didn’t work because he couldn’t use profane language. It’s definitely a great piece from the late Jones that is not just a wonderful critique about the war films made in the 1940s through the 1960s. It’s also a critique that holds true with some of war films of recent years falling to those clichés.
The overall content and presentation of the Criterion DVD to The Thin Red Line is definitely one of the must-have DVDs for any film buff or fan of war films. Thanks to Malick’s involvement with the film for its new transfer for both DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s definitely one of the DVDs to own. Even as it’s something that hardcore Malick fans must have in their collection.
When the film was finally released in late 1998, it was met with some positive reviews as well as mixed reviews. Though the box office was modest with a worldwide gross of nearly $100 million. It was a film that did divide audiences as some compared it to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan which came out in the summer of 1998. Yet, the release for The Thin Red Line was not an easy task due to Malick’s notorious last-minute editing changes.
When the film was screened in an unfinished presentation for the New York film press, Malick wasn’t pleased nor was Adrien Brody. Brody’s complaint was over the fact that a lot of his work was cut from the film. Other actors had performances cut while a slew of others didn’t make it to the final cut. Among those were Mickey Rourke, Martin Sheen, Jason Patric, Gary Oldman, Viggo Mortensen, Bill Pullman, and Lukas Haas. Even Billy Bob Thornton didn’t make it to the final cut as he had contributed more than three hours worth of narration that didn’t make it except for a few minutes. Upset over the unfinished presentation, Malick along with Sean Penn and the film’s editors were finally able to finish the film before its Christmas release in the U.S.
In February of 1999, the film premiered at the International Berlin Film Festival where the film won the prestigious Golden Bear award for Best film. The film also received seven Oscar nominations including a Best Director nomination for Terrence Malick. While the film went home empty-handed, the film’s legend started to grow as Martin Scorsese named it his second favorite film of the 1990s. With the critical acclaim for the film growing along with Malick’s cult following, rumors about a longer cut had been talked about as it was recently shot down. Even as Malick remained silent as he worked on various projects including a project that would become Steven Soderbergh’s Che and The New World which was released in 2005.
The Thin Red Line is truly without a doubt, one of the greatest war movies ever made and certainly an unconventional one from someone as revered as Terrence Malick. While it’s not the kind of war film that all audiences will be into at first. It’s definitely a film that really goes deep into the soul of soldiers as they face horrors other than themselves. With a great cast and amazing technical work, it’s without a doubt a film that will mesmerize the audience with lush visuals and a story that is filled with themes of nature, humanity, and spirituality in all of its poetic glory. In the end, The Thin Red Line is a haunting yet enchanting masterpiece from Terrence Malick.
Terrence Malick Reviews: Badlands - Days of Heaven - The New World - The Tree of Life - To the Wonder - Knight of Cups - (Weightless) - (Voyage of Time)