Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why so few Revolutionary War films?

Alyssa Rosenberg and Erik Loomis want to know why there are so few films about the Revolutionary War. It's a good question. It may well be that when you get into the weeds, it's just hard for modern audience to relate to the story. Independence is a great rallying cry, but why would most individual colonists favor the cause, risking their lives in the process? Because of a friggin' tea tax? Drink coffee, dude. (I'm oversimplifying, I grant you.) And the details of the war, for the most part, just aren't that compelling. It was mostly a case of the Americans very cleverly retreating until the French bailed them out -- not really how Americans want to see themselves.

Then again, it's the movies. They can always embellish! Take the film "U-571," a pretty entertaining film about the Americans who took over a U-Boat during WWII and stole the Germans' Enigma code machine. Oh, it was the Brits who did that? Well, let them make a movie about it with Colin Firth and Emma Thompson. Meanwhile, USA! USA! You see my point. One needn't be a slave to history to make an entertaining historical film.

The problem with this argument is that that's exactly what Roland Emmerich did with "The Patriot." Say what you want about Emmerich's and Mel Gibson's films, but they're usually not boring. "The Patriot" kind of was. And they took real liberties to make it compelling. They gave Gibson's character a good background and a bunch of solid reasons to join the rebel cause. They made the Brits unusually evil -- Col. Tavington was a combination of Hitler, Palpatine, and Hannibal Lecter. He locked women and children in a church and burned it to the ground. If anyone actually committed any sort of act during the prosecution of the Revolutionary War, please let me know, but this struck me as a real stretch. Nonetheless, kind of a dull film.

Why? I think it really comes down to the military technology of the time. Stephen Colbert nicely demonstrated the challenges of the front-loading musket in his reenactment of Paul Revere's ride. Shooting, followed by 30 seconds of reloading, followed by shooting, is just a poor visual. Emmerich tried to make it cooler by doing it in slow motion, but that just made it take longer between shots. Daniel Day Lewis nicely overcame these limitations in "Last of the Mohicans" by grabbing lots of rifles. He shot a dude, grabbed the dude's loaded rifle, shot the next dude with it, and so on. But that approach doesn't work as well on a Revolutionary War battlefield. Sure, you could show lots of bayonetting, but that's actually pretty gross.

If people want to keep trying to make a decent Revolutionary War film, I'm happy to go see it, but I tend to think it won't be that watchable until some daring director throws machine guns or laser beams in there.

1 comment:

PoliticsUndelivered said...

I agree, it has to be the muskets. They also, sadly, have kept EA from releasing a "Call of Duty: American Revolution"