Saturday, April 19, 2008

Stargate SG-1 Heroes: Sci Fi & The War Genre

Science fiction and the war genre. I do love when the two genres are fused the right way.

I love war films. I'm not a fan of war mind you. Who is? But when it comes to war films, I love the genre. I'm fascinated by them. There's nothing uplifting about them generally speaking, but it's astounding to me how a director brings out the real horror in some stories, the camraderie, the bravery of men and women or capture the poetry of the human condition in unexpected moments that give you pause. These are some of the best moments. God bless the troops that put their lives on the line every day. There's nothing easy about it and they are truly heroes.

Here is a list of the finest.

Black Hawk Down [2002] [Dir: Ridley Scott] [Somalia]
I read the book by Mark Bowden and Scott's film is so wildly kinetic it'll blow you away.

Band Of Brothers [2001] [Dir: Various] [WWII]
This is an epic ten episode HBO mini-series that is a massive achievement. The brilliant series is like an extended version of Saving Private Ryan. The characters who play Easy Company are given a chance to fully develop making for a classic wartime drama.

Das Boot [1982] [Dir: Wolfgang Peterson] [WWII]
Jurgen Prochnow [Seventh Sign] gives a flawless turn in this gem as the German U-boat commander battling the allied forces. A fascinating, genuinely harrowing and gripping take from the German vantage point. Peterson gets us cheering for the other side because it's about the humanity. Ultimately soldiers are people, players or pawns in a much bigger game.

We Were Soldiers [2002] [Dir: Randall Wallace] [Vietnam]
The story of Lt. Colonel Hal Moore and company. An outstanding work. Say what you want about Mel Gibson, who plays Moore, but he's an inspired, exceptional actor.

Enemy At The Gates [2001] [Dir: Jean-Jacques Annaud] [WWII]
This is an imperfect film surrounding the Russians and the Nazis during the siege of Stalingrad. The focus is on two snipers [Jude Law and Ed Harris] in the ultimate game of cat and mouse and while it takes liberties with artistic license there are moments that simply stop you in your tracks. Ron Perlman [Hellboy, Blade II] always turns in interesting performances. Most disturbing is the film's portrait of the brutality of the Russians on their own countrymen in retreat from the Germans. They were simply killed by their very own. War doesn't get much colder than this.

Full Metal Jacket [1987] [Dir: Stanley Kubrick] [Vietnam]
A much maligned film that turns in some gritty performances from Firefly's Adam Baldwin and Law And Order's Vincent D'Onofrio. The boot camp portion of the film is striking filmmaking, but the staged war scenes are pretty visceral as well. It still holds up as one of the nastiest depictions of war.

Thin Red Line [1999] [Dir: Terrence Malick] [WWII]
There is a canvas-like quality to this picture. The film is witnessed through the sometimes dreamy, spiritual eyes of Jim Caviezel [The Passion Of The Christ] and his performance combined with the haunting beauty of the cinematography that surrounds the brutal makes this film by Malick something special.

Rescue Dawn [2007] [Dir: Werner Herzog] [Vietnam]
Once again, an astounding transformation from Christian Bale [The Machinist] from muscle strong to bone gaunt as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He plays Dieter Dengler and this is a true story of one of the rare survivors of the conflict to actually escape imprisonment. Check out the earlier documentary in which it is based by Herzog, Little Dieter Needs To Fly. Bale never hesitates in these challenging roles. Rescue Dawn was actually filmed backwards to accomodate the physical transformation.

Grave Of The Fireflies [1988] [Dir: Isao Takahata] [WWII] This is one of the most powerful war films I've ever seen. It's anime. Takahata looks into the brutality and inhumanity of war through the eyes of two starving Japanese children following the firebombing of Japan by the US. Apart from the sheer physical devastation of war, Takahata paints a story of emotional pain as a nation turns its back on its own children. Beautifully animated and tenderly delivered.

K19 The Widowmaker [2002] [Dir: Kathryn Bigelow] [WWII] This film is about as powerful a film as you'll find dealing with nuclear submarines. This is the true story of the Russian K-19 from the Russian perspective. The bravery of men answering their captain's call and their country illustrates pure courage. These men were ill-equipped and despite facing certain death by radiation men heroically contain a reactor leak in the sub's core. The physical devastation is horrific. This is heartrendingly gruesome stuff. A tough one to stomach.

Saving Private Ryan [1999] [Dir: Steven Spielberg] [WWII] This is absolutely incredible filmmaking from the man that brought us E.T.. His films have become more and more ambitious and Minority Report, Artificial Intelligence, and Schindler's List rank among the best.


Flags Of Our Fathers [2006] [Dir:Clint Eastwood] [WWII].

Letter From Iwo Jima [2007] [Dir: Clint Eastwood] [WWII].

The Deer Hunter [1979] [Dir: Michael Cimino] [Vietnam] The scene inside the POW camp with Christopher Walken will leave you numb. It is a long film, but mostly exceptional.

Apocalypse Now [1979] [Dir: Francic Ford Coppola] [Vietnam]. It's a classic epic with some amazing performances.

So bringing this back into focus to science fiction and war, the combined genres mix is always exciting but often keeps the reality of war at a safe distance thanks to the science fiction element.

Stargate SG-1 offered perhaps the near perfect culmination of the two genres. There is such a heavy respect for the military code and the world in which SG-1 inhabits while also exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, oh and technology. Sounds like Star Trek, but Star Trek doesn't have the same gritty military backdrop that grounds SG-1's science fiction in our earthy reality. So Stargate SG-1 delivers a near perfect science fiction war drama.

Heroes is one of the finest in the SG-1 episode cannon, especially Part 2. It's a fan favorite for many reasons, which I will not divuldge here in the event you haven't seen it. There are far too many wonderful things about this episode including the first appearance of Robert Picardo [China Beach- ironic] as Agent Richard Woolsey, the character of Emmett Bregman, the handheld documentary style of the episode, the stunning visual sequences and the reverberating circumstances of a pivotal moment that is about as mind-blowing as science-fiction drama gets for a show after being on for seven seasons. There is genuine emotional power here and one crucial moment caught me entirely by surprise because I made every effort to avoid knowing anything about the series. The episode packs some real punch. It's hands down one of the finest war/science-fiction episodes to ever grace television.

Here's one sequence extracted from Heroes that really pulls together both genres exquisitely in Stargate SG-1. This is indeed a Black Hawk Down moment for the entry. It's one of the most intense sequences in the show's history.

Heroes [Part 1] & Heroes [Part 2] [deftly written by Robert Cooper and directed by Andy Mikita] Heroes: A

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