This is by no means a conventional war film but it is, nonetheless, one of the finest portrayals of war that you are ever likely to see. The film was not on my radar and I discovered it more by accident than design. It was first released in 1998 and was somewhat eclipsed by `Saving Private Ryan' which was released slightly earlier. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards this film failed to get a single Oscar. The more that I learn about the way these award systems operate and the complexities of the whole film distribution system, the less confidence I have of their value. In many ways `the Thin Red Line' is superior to Spielberg's war epic.
Directed by the reclusive Terrence Malick, the film is an adaptation of a World War II novel by James Jones (From Here to Eternity) about the battle for Guadalcanal. American soldiers land on the island hoping to secure it from the Japanese. This film does not follow the usual path taken by other war stories and unlike `Ryan' - which begins explosively, this film takes about 40 minutes before a single shot is fired! This long prologue is used to good effect as an introduction to the main characters and some carefully selected flashbacks to their lives pre-war. The tension to the film is slowly uncoiled as the troopships approach Guadalcanal Island. This is done quietly and thoughtfully and gives the viewer a good idea of the stresses and anxieties of the soldiers as they approach this life-changing situation.
The story is told through the eyes of 5 men of C Company and the visual images are simply amazing. This is where Malick excels. He has produced a film that is a cinematographer's dream where almost every shot is carefully composed as if it was to be entered in a photographic exhibition. I watched the film in the newly restored Blu-ray version and the video is absolutely fantastic with superb colour palette and pristine sharp pictures throughout. I watched this dvd through a projector and the video quality is one of the finest I have ever seen - and that includes some pretty stiff competition.
Of course, there have been many fine war films and who am I to say whether this film is better than `Saving Private Ryan', `Apocalypse Now' or the Oliver Stone Trilogy. It is certainly up there with the very best and for my money it is sufficiently unique to stand out from the crowd. All human characteristics are shown in this film, bravery, fear, uncertainty, blind ambition to name but a few. However, for me the overwhelming image is of the chaos of war and uncertainty of such a fast moving situation. For a lot of the time the enemy cannot be seen and with explosions and gunfire all around you it is not difficult to imagine casualties caused by friendly fire. It is havoc and the film graphically shows the toll that all this takes on soldiers both in terms of exhaustion - both mental and physical, pain, injury, disillusionment and ultimately death.
However, notwithstanding this reality the film is much, much more than this. I found the violence less graphic than in Ryan and the director takes efforts not to dwell on unnecessary gratuitous violent images. This film is very much a visual, as well as a vocal poem. The film uses hauntingly beautiful music throughout both by the highly talented Hans Zimmer and also by other classical composers. Early on in the film there is an extract from `In paradisum' from Faure's Requiem. This beautiful piece of music is used in a water scene and the combined effect of the music and cinematography is simply amazing. There are many other scenes where the camera is used in taking shots from unusual angles and this gives an enhanced effect to the scene as is the case when a young woman is swinging on a child's swing. Poetry in motion!
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and it is magnificent. There are a number of excellent extras on this film including an interesting actors perspective and an interview with Hans Zimmer - both in high definition. I have not yet had time to look at the other extras.
This is a truly wonderful film. Highly recommended,