PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Part 1: The Thin Red Line to Star Wars Episode I (January - May 1999)

The first part of PopMatters' look back at the films of 1999 is bookended by the long awaited return of two cinematic auteurs of wildly different styles, Terrence Malick and George Lucas.

Director: Terrence Malick

Film: The Thin Red Line

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Cast: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte

Website: http://www.foxmovies.com/thinredline/

MPAA rating: N/A

First date: 1998

US Release Date: 1999-01-08 (General release)

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/t/thinredlineposter.jpg

Display as: List

The Thin Red Line

Director: Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is the Axl Rose for people who use terms like “visual poetry” on a regular basis.

In the 1970s, Malick directed Badlands and Days of Heaven, two beautiful films that won over critics and art film lovers, if not the general public. After the release of Days of Heaven in 1978, Malick took a two-decade hiatus from filmmaking, ending with his announcement that he would be adapting James Jones’ novel The Thin Red Line to the big screen.

Unfortunately, like Chinese Democracy, or The Phantom Menace, or just about every other return of a cultural hero to the main stage, The Thin Red Line did not meet the highest hopes audiences had set for it. The film is very good, and it made plain that Malick still had his game from 20 years back. The film’s problems, in fact, seem to stem from the same quality that makes the film admirable: Malick’s bold ambition. Why would a filmmaker with a penchant for thoroughly visual and pastoral studies of American lives attempt to adapt a novel with about a dozen main characters fighting the Battle of Guadalcanal? Perhaps it was hubris, or a bar bet, but whatever the cause, Malick managed to make a film out of it that is sometimes frustrating, sometimes thrilling, and sometimes just plain boring. But the film is also consistently gorgeous and, even when not all that enjoyable, thoroughly rich and impressive.

The contradiction of Malick’s visual style and the multi-character war narrative inform many of the salient aspects of The Thin Red Line. Malick clearly did not have a general audience in mind for this film (or, if he did, he clearly does not understand people), but The Thin Red Line has the kind of all-star cast that is designed for box office success and absolutely belies the art house nature of the film. However, that art house nature becomes clear in the film’s first moment, when an alligator slides into murky waters to the sound of a swelling chord on an organ. The movie continues with thoughtful visual beauty for about the first hour.

Once the battle that is the film’s narrative focal point gains momentum, the visuals become less compelling (how many times must filmgoers be subjected to gunfights in slow motion with an orchestra playing sorrowfully in the background? By 1999, shouldn’t filmmakers have devised a new, better way to make viewers feel the tragedy of war?). However, the characters gain depth as the battle narrative unfolds. Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, James Caviezel, and Sean Penn all play compelling characters whose competing philosophies on the nature of war, self, and mortality give the narrative heft and make the film’s shift in tone forgivable. The love story of Private Bell (played by Ben Chaplin), however, is remarkably annoying. The incessant flashbacks to he and his wife cuddling and the melodramatic end to his story recall the most painfully maudlin moments of From Here to Eternity.

About two hours into The Thin Red Line, the battle narrative reaches what seems like a conclusion, but the film continues for another 45 minutes. Some of the stunning visuals return during this time, and the stories of several characters gain resolution, but this final third of the movie feels like an epilogue, as if the dual needs for narrative and filmic resolution were too much for one ending.

Even as the film tests one’s patience, though, it creates the desire to spend more time with it. The Thin Red Line is a complicated, even messy, film that undoubtedly frustrated moviegoers expecting another Saving Private Ryan. But for those viewers up for the challenge -- the kind who think a befuddling final image is good cause to see a movie all over from the beginning -- The Thin Red Line is rich with opportunities for rediscovery and revelation. Many of the best movies of 1999 supplied audiences with rich visual fun. Maybe it’s not so bad that Terrence Malick made one visual experience that demanded something in return. David Camak Pratt

The Thin Red Line

Director: Hugh Wilson

Film: Blast from the Past

Studio: New Line Cinema

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley

MPAA rating: N/A

First date: 1999

US Release Date: 1999-01-27

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/blastfromthepastposter.jpg

Display as: List

Blast from the Past

Director: Hugh Wilson

It is the tendency of fans everywhere to ascribe profound meaning to the things they love, even (or especially) if that meaning isn't evident to the unbiased observer. After all, who hasn't felt a mounting frustration when trying to describe just what makes that book / film / song / painting so amazing? If only they could only see it like I do, you think, they would understand how good it really is.

When I tell people that Blast from the Past is one of my favorite films, I'm usually rewarded with a smirk. When I try to explain why, the smirk usually grows into a full-fledged grin. But the film has depth, goddammit, and until I can bring more people around to my point of view I'm going to keep on yapping away about it, because that's what fans do.

The film manages the rather neat trick of semi-plausibly depositing a child of the '50s into '90s Los Angeles: during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) hustles his pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) down into their ingenuously-designed bomb shelter in anticipation of the coming nuclear apocalypse. When a fighter jet crashes into their house, their worst fears are confirmed, and Calvin seals up the bomb shelter -- activating a complex system of locks that will keep them in (and the presumably mutated holocaust survivors out) for the next 35 years. They occupy their time by raising their son Adam (Brendan Fraser), until the day that he must inevitably leave -- to find his way in the world, and to meet the girl (Alicia Silverstone).

The film is commonly read as a nostalgic look back at the 1950s, and indeed Adam spends much of the film being charmingly quaint. But to take it only at that level is to miss how dark (and interesting) the film truly is, and what vision of the 1950s it really portrays.

First of all, the only characters from the film who were actually alive during the '50s -- Calvin and Helen Webber -- have serious problems. Calvin is well-meaning but eccentric, and Helen, trapped with him in their thousand-square-foot prison, takes to drinking to pass the time. But he's so perpetually clueless that in the 35 years they live in the bomb shelter he never realizes she's become a chronic alcoholic. They might be a typical couple for the era, but they're certainly not a perfect one.

That's a moot point, though, because Adam is charming not because he grew up in 1950s America but because he didn’t. He grew up in a bomb shelter, an entirely artificial world that had the lovable aspects of the '50s (the Perry Como, The Honeymooners) and none of the many things that blighted the era (McCarthyism, racism and segregation, or the Korean War). The film plays off our nostalgia for the '50s, sure, but it also satirizes those same feelings of nostalgia by showing how they have little to no basis in reality. Adam isn’t just unprepared for life in the '90s -- he’s unprepared for life. He’s been raised like Beaver Cleaver, and as a consequence he has profound trouble interacting with society.

And therein lies the beauty of the film. Adam is damaged because of his upbringing, and so too is Eve, in her way -- she's angry, and cynical, and has trouble with men. The two fall in love not because of their backgrounds but despite them; what Blast from the Past says is that broken people have the capacity to mend one another. That what matters is not where we are from but instead who we choose to be with.

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into things. But even if none of that is right then it's still a damn likeable film, with a good cast and funny jokes and a plot where everything falls nicely into place. So wipe that smirk off your face. Kyle Deas

Blast from the Past

Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.