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Anti-War Movie Flops
Posted by: Dale Franks on Monday, November 12, 2007

Jonah Goldberg tries to explain why Hollywood's anti-war movies just aren't packing in the crowds, even with Oscar-winning star power in he cast.
Americans may not be as passionately opposed to the war as the polls have led Hollywood to believe. Left-wing bloggers, hyper-rich Democratic donors and antiwar activists hate the war with biblical fury. But many average Americans are depressed by the war because, until recently, it was going so badly. The polls don't capture this distinction very well.

This illuminates an underdiscussed dynamic of our times. Americans are both antiwar and anti-antiwar. Polls show they are disgusted with Republicans and Democrats. Hollywood and the left generally have misread this political discontent thinking there's a mandate for their trite Vietnam-era nostalgia for mass protest and Joan Baez speechifying. But few Americans are eager to spend their money to listen to the Jane Fonda set say, "I told you so!" for two hours. Especially not when we've heard it all before. (Indeed, Redacted is essentially a remake of his Vietnam movie Casualties of War.)

By confusing the public's war-weariness with their own carefully cultivated rage, they've badly overreached.
The explanation that film-makers are confusing their rage with the public's is fine, I guess, as far as it goes. It explains, at least, why the movies get made. But I think the reasons why the films don't do as well at the box office really arises from more fundamental reasons than that; reason that go to the heart of how we respond to drama and storytelling.

Right now, I'm reading a military sci-fi novel called One Day on Mars. The gist of the novel is that the Martian separatist movement is rebelling against the bloated, corrupt, socialist plutocracy that is the United States of Earth.

Usually, the plucky martians would be freedom-loving revolutionaries in a book of this type. Unfortunately, the plucky Martian separatists in this book kill and torture prisoner for the hell of it, run a rigidly totalitarian state, and execute anyone whose loyalty they suspect, usually by burning them alive.

So far, it's been a pretty unsatisfying book because I don't like either side. I'm hoping that something will pop up that will give me someone to root for.

But, just like me, movie-goers want to root for a hero with which they can identify. Soldiers are usually pretty good at fitting that bill. They are people who perform acts of physical courage, and are at risk of death. When the movie turns the soldiers into bad guys, and tries to make the hero a lawyer, or civil rights activist, that's a harder pill for audiences to swallow.

We just aren't used to thinking in those terms. We are comfortable watching the soldiers kill the enemy, or the police take down the bad guy. We are less comfortable when that paradigm is reversed. We tend not to like lawyers or political activists all that much. The general public perception of those people is somewhat negative. Making them the heroes, and the soldiers into villains is a bit of a stretch for mainstream audiences.

Second, people go to the movies to be entertained. They know that life is filled with shades of gray, that some cops are corrupt, and some soldiers kill civilians. The world is an untidy place, and they deal with that untidiness in their daily lives.

So, they don't go to see movies in order to relive that untidiness. They aren't interested in moral ambiguities. They want to escape from the everyday world into a world where there are good guys and bad guys, and the good guys win. they don't go to be preached to. They go to have fun. Nor do they want to walk out of a movie feeling worse than they did when they went into it.

No one wants to walk into a movie thinking, "I hate my job. I have bills coming due. Little Timmy needs an operation," then walk out thinking, "I hate my job. I have bills coming due. Little Timmy needs an operation. Oh, yeah, and my country sucks." If your movie does that, don't count on it being hailed as "The Feel-Good Hit of the Year!"

Third, if the movie deals with current events, the audience expects the movie to reflect reality. Most people know that, while some soldiers do bad things, in the main, our troops are well-trained and professional, and that, for the most part, they are good men doing a difficult job. A movie that paints soldiers as baby-killing maniacs does not, in the present day, comport with reality. To accept the story line of a movie that tries to paint them that way requires too much suspension of disbelief.

Hollywood can make any movies it wants, of course. But if they forget the fundamental reason why people go to movies, then I don't have much sympathy for their box-office failure.
 
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When the movie turns the soldiers into bad guys, and tries to make the hero a lawyer, or civil rights activist, that’s a harder pill for audiences to swallow.

Isn’t that what "A Few Good Men" did? Of course the film can be seen from a couple of different perspectives.
 
Written By: Syloson of Samos
URL: http://ingenuus.blogspot.com/
Isn’t that what "A Few Good Men" did?
Yeah, except the good guys were soldiers, too.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Heck,

I think A Few Good Men could have been about gay cowboys and it would be worth it just to see Nicholson’s speech "You can’t handle the truth!"
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
This is fairly insightful, and I mostly agree - on instinct.

However, instinct doesn’t explain how movies that defy this point of view have been wildly successful. "Farenheit 9/11" comes to mind. Or, "Full Metal Jacket".
And almost every John Grisham movie ever made has involved good-guy lawyers vs. bad guy lawyers. And, this isn’t exactly soldiers, but there must be a list of bad-guy US would-be dictator movies a la the Manchurian Candidate, some of which must have been very successful, although the only thing that comes to mind is "Enemy Of The State" and "Minority Report". Of course, the CIA is less popular than the Army, but anyway.

This isn’t the movies, but Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller come to mind as extremely successful novelists with a lot of military bad guys.

I think an even simpler explanation for the weak success of some modern anti-war movies are a) the general decline of the broadscreen cinema and b) a semi-coincidence of badly made individual movies. Man vs. mean government is a theme that can broadly resonate and sell a lot of tickets, but not if the movie is a ham-handed, overwrought garbage pile, as Rendition apparently is.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
However, instinct doesn’t explain how movies that defy this point of view have been wildly successful. ... Or, "Full Metal Jacket".
Vietnam ended in 1972. Full Metal Jacket was made in 1987, thus it avoids the ’current events’ stigma that Dale discussed. And, it was entertaining to a whole generation of guys who’d gone through boot camp and saw some part of their experience depicted in that part of the film (the first part of the film was the movie, the second part was a cartoon).
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Refresh my memory. Didn’t "TEAM AMERICA", the puppet movie, actually make lots of money?

 
Written By: POUNCER
URL: http://
However, instinct doesn’t explain how movies that defy this point of view have been wildly successful. "Farenheit 9/11" comes to mind. Or, "Full Metal Jacket".
Timing glasnost... timing...
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
As for the movie under discussion, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 26% Fresh.

Dale Franks,

I’d be curious to see how they did on the mechanics of storytelling. Where are the plot points? What is the main character’s need? etc. That is the most important stuff about any film. Its in part why a movie about "gay cowboys" did so well; the story was told well.

BTW, if you are interested in how screenplays are written, check out Syd Field’s, well, its hard to describe how important, etc. it is, Screenplay.
 
Written By: Syloson of Samos
URL: http://ingenuus.blogspot.com/
Boxofficemojo says TEAM AMERICA made 50mil worldwide and cost 32mil to make, but remember the film-makers only get part of the box office and the numbers don’t include dvds, rentals etc.

And no one can really ever explain why one movie is a hit and another isn’t. The general idea that Americans don’t want to see America bashing (which is different than Bush-bashing) is true but I wouldn’t be surprised if some antiUS movie eventually breaks 100mil.
 
Written By: abw
URL: http://abw.mee.nu
I wouldn’t either. But it has to be a good story, and a good film. A great film can rise above any of the obstacles I’ve outlined.

But great films exist in their own dimension.

If it’s "two hours of jane Fonda saying, ’I told you so,’" then that’s simply not much of an attraction.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
As for TEAM AMERICA, I think the sex scene made that movie.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
But, just like me, movie-goers want to root for a hero with which they can identify.

Except when they want to root for an anti-hero. Which is why a lot of people love Snake Plisken or film noir characters who flip a bird to all sides.
 
Written By: Syloson of Samos
URL: http://ingenuus.blogspot.com/
Maybe the movies just blow?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Team America was not released in Taiwan, but Lambs for Lions (or whatever) is already in the theaters here. Guess what? The ads make it seem like an action movie and prominently show Tom Cruise. Foreign receipts for this stinker have to basically include a lot of poor saps who were essentially tricked into watching it. Males all over the world like to watch stuff blow up and Rambo kicking ass. They will not be happy to end up getting lectured for 88 minutes by American liberals.


 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
But perhaps the larger question, here is whom such a movie WOULD appeal to. And who, would conceive of such a storyline, in the first place?

In both cases, the answer comes back:

Someone who already thinks America sucks,the Americans are the bad guys, and freedom is an undesirable item.

This is not just anti-American propaganda, we’re dealing with, here... it’s an act of self-justification for positions already held.



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
i wouldn’t call TEAM AMERICA USA bashing if thats what you guys are getting at with it. those guys make fun of everyone in that movie, they blow up Micheal Moore if i remember correctly. Believe me, at first i thought it was an anti America movie, but its really not. You can tell matt and trey like to laugh at us, and with good reason were damn funny, and they like to laugh at Bush, they did create "Thats my bush" but i have never gotten the impression they think the USA or even Bush is horrible or even a bad person. They just like to poke fun at everything thats funny.
 
Written By: josh b
URL: http://
I just think it is more a fact of modern movie makers seem to see themselves as preachers, rather than story tellers. That is why so many of these movies bomb. They have lost the art of telling a story and weaving a message into it, so now they broadcast their message, and try to throw a story in here and there.
 
Written By: Crusader
URL: http://www.coalitionoftheswilling.net
Why would anyone think that Team America is an anti-American movie?

The whole point of the movie is to make fun of the pretensions of hawks and doves, while at the same time admitting that both hawks and doves have a point - the latter of which is illustrated by the "closing speech."

josh b,

Do you recall that prior to the 2004 election South Park had an episode which portrayed an election for team mascot between a douche and a turd sandwich?
 
Written By: Syloson of Samos
URL: http://ingenuus.blogspot.com/
so? doesn’t make it anti American. Its the tone of how they say things that makes their form different and more enjoyable to me. They try to show the ridiculousness on both sides by taking things to an extreme and playing on the stereotypes on both sides. Southpark comes off VERY different than say Family Guy. In now way did i feel Team America was anti-American, it was anti extremist.
 
Written By: josh b
URL: http://
Everything pales to SYRIANA! The only true film ever made!! We should have more remakes so we can come up with more college courses!!
 
Written By: coater
URL: http://
"Everything pales to SYRIANA!"

I have been unable to watch the whole thing, although I have watched the scene where Clooney is tortured several times. I don’t see how the rest of it can get any better.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
The Good Shepherd was a very good movie in part because it did a good job of dealing with the mechanics of storytelling.
 
Written By: Syloson of Samos
URL: http://ingenuus.blogspot.com/
Clooney prolly thinks torture is waking up at 6:00 am and having to drive to work to barely pay for your mortgage. Most people just understand thats called life.
 
Written By: josh b
URL: http://
I would say the current events part play a big role. They are making these screeds about something that history hasn’t even written yet. Another part is, I can not think of a single day that goes by when I do not think of the soldiers,the wider war or some combo of them including how politics effect them. I don’t sit around thinking about it always but it does come into my mind at some point during the day. Real people are living and dieing. The forseable future is being set and Hollywood thinks I want to pay money to go see their warped views when I can turn on the news and come to my own conclusions about things.
 
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
Vietnam ended in 1972. Full Metal Jacket was made in 1987, thus it avoids the ’current events’ stigma that Dale discussed. And, it was entertaining to a whole generation of guys who’d gone through boot camp and saw some part of their experience depicted in that part of the film (the first part of the film was the movie, the second part was a cartoon).
I had two college roommates who had USMC dads (both served in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam; one was a Raider during WW2, both were DIs at one point or another).

They loved the boot camp part of FMJ, although they said that the DI wouldn’t have ended up dead.

They also agreed that the second part was a joke. In fact, to them war movies were comidy, "no one would get away with that sh*t in a real war".
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
I don’t like being preached too, and don’t find it entertaining. That’s true even if it’s my side doing the preaching, and if it is goofball Hollywood leftists, my annoyance grows by a factor of at least 10.

But Team America rocked.


 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
TNR blasted Lions for Lambs as a talky movie about boomer angst.

Ouch!
 
Written By: huxley
URL: http://

 
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