So this documentary series was recommended by a reviewer or two after watching the Ken Burns and Lynn Novack PBS documentary from 2017 (which left me wanting, and feeling cheated, by the end). When I found out that this documentary series was censored via its 2004 DVD release (compared to it’s 1987 VHS release), that sealed the deal. I would watch this, but not before tracking down the original VHS set, which I acquired on eBay for about as much as I payed for the Blu-Ray Ken Burns documentary. Watched it in its original VHS glory, then burned them onto my computer, and later compared and contrasted the VHS versions with the DVD version (the latter of which are currently available on youtube; only a couple of the VHS episode versions are on youtube as of this writing). And unfortunate to say, I’m seeing a pattern here with documentaries of old compared to documentaries of new, and revised versions of documentaries of old. But either way, I can definitively say this, Vietnam – A Television History is a far better documentary on Vietnam than the 2017 PBS version is. While the PBS version spent a respectable 18 hours on the subject spanning over 10 episodes, the VHS version spends 13 hours over a span of 13 episodes (while the DVD version only has 11 episodes, thus only 11 hours), and still manages to provide a better understanding of it all.
I’ll be referencing the uncut VHS edition from here on (at least up until the end). If you want to see how badly the DVD version fucked things up, I uploaded several youtube videos (and 1 bitchute video, because fuck youtube and its censorship bullshit) highlighting the differences between the VHS and DVD versions, mainly showing what was left out (not in any stylish way, I decided to keep it simple and therebye subtly encourage those who are interested to track down the VHS editions to get the full experience if they’re interested). You can see them here (though the last episode is missing simply because the DVD version left out the last episode entirely):
It’s films like these that make me glad to be an avid film-watcher. Films that show how powerful film can be, the emotions they carry, the memories they hold, and how they cause one to reflect upon life. That doesn’t mean I consider this to be a perfect film, or even one of my favorites, but it is never-the-less a solid film that evoked an emotional response within me.
The film is a coming of age story, and how film has affected the coming of age process not just for the main protagonist, but for just about everyone he has known as a child. The important role watching films at his local cinema played for him in his life, the lessons that can be gained from film and from outside of film. And also trying to live life away from the hobby he had cherished for most of his youth.
It takes place in this little Italian town where Toto (that’s more of a nickname, but that’s what I’ll go with) spends most of his time in a theater, watching this Catholic priest (who pretty much runs the town on a cultural level) forcing the edits of various films, cutting out footage that shows people kissing on screen (that fucking asshole). Toto not only sees this (and therebye gets to see the uncut footage before it is cut), but also learns how projectors work thanks to hanging out in the projection booth with the projectionist Alfredo. Alfredo often quotes words of wisdom that he gained from the films he’s watched, some words that Toto takes to heart (or at least tries).
It’s not all fun and games though. While Toto and most of the village do show up to the movies to watch them and enjoy themselves (making it more of an experience, an opportunity for practically the entire town to get together and have a romp in the theater, not just to see the film itself), there are times where the dangers and fears of making film-watching possible are shown. The fear of the lion where the projected film comes out of, the easily flammable film reels which must not be taken lightly, and how one mustn’t let film cause them to become irresponsible with life’s other duties and experiences.
As Toto gets older and more mature, so do the films. While he was a youth the Catholic priest’s concern for kissing scenes and anything that becomes too tantalizing for viewers causes him to prevent such footage from being shown to protect the youth, so is the case for many adults who don’t want their children to become exposed to such stuff. But when they get older, when they become young adults, the youth have a desire to seek out those they want a relationship with, to find love. And so eventually the Catholics lose their ability to control what shouldn’t be seen in a movie, and those scenes are left intact for everyone to see (much to everyone’s delight, as many complained about the edited versions in the past, and rightly so). So the viewers are able to see the actors/actresses kiss on screen, so does Tito finally find his first love and get his first kiss.
Where the film becomes somewhat off-putting is when Tito joins the military. It’s brief, and granted I guess it’s meant to show that he has to spend time away from movies, away from his hometown more than anything else. It just threw the pacing off a bit for me. And to be honest, it’s the only real issue I had with the entire film. And on that note, eventually Alfredo convinces Tito that he must leave the town, leave this place, forget about everything and live his own life, create his own memories outside of this town, outside of this film. Basically, Alfredo wants Tito to have the life he never could. So that’s what Tito eventually does.
It isn’t until much later in life that Tito returns, after learning that Alfredo had died. Yet Alfredo never wanted Tito to return, and expressed this wish to his mother, yet Tito’s mother calls Tito back regardless. So at the end, I was wondering if it would end up being a good thing or a bad thing for Tito to come back to the town. But seeing everyone else from his childhood gather for Alfredo’s funeral, and for the demolishing of the Cinema Paradiso (things have changed, theaters have become less significant with the VHS technology; a bit foreboding for today I must say), and coming across a film reel Aldredo left behind for Tito, just in case. And Tito watches the film reel through a projector, and sees that it’s all the cut footage from all those films of the past, of all these actors and actresses giving each other passionate kisses. Tito becomes emotionally floored.
It’s these romantic moments that become important for Tito in the past. Because he also shares a love for cinema just as these characters in film share a love for each other. And how could he not have a love for cinema? Cinema provided a way for him to learn many of life’s valuable lessons. How to find love, making friends with others, working projectors to put these sounds and images on a screen to make everyone else laugh and cry; and ultimately a way for everyone to find moments of happiness. How can one forget the past when it has brought them so much? How can one turn their back on film when it holds so many moments, so many memories, so many emotions?
Highly recommended film.
PS: Well, apparently there’s a couple other versions of the movie. There’s the version when it was first released in Italy, clocking in at roughly 155 minutes, then the International cut which runs about 124 minutes (the version I saw), and then there’s the more recent “Director’s Cut” (which is a bit misleading from what I understand, it’s more of an extended cut, the initial Italy version is more to the Director’s vision I think) which clocks in at a whopping 170 minutes. Strangely enough, there’s some debate as to which version many would consider superior. Despite the cuts, many believe the 124 International Version is the superior film because of how it ends up portraying the relationship between Tito, Alfredo, and Elena (Tito’s first love) by the end. See here for more:
Rated: 2 / 5
So they did it, they made a modern adaptation of the novel (itself I have reviewed). How is it compared to the novel? As in most novel-to-film adaptations, not as good. And it suffers from some of the problems that I geared it would. Yet does have some balls with some of the subject matter contained, which is something that is much needed today. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as far with it as it should have, which is something the book did.
Oh, by the way, I will be spoiling both the book and the movie here. But I’ll be doing this review under the assumption that you’ve read the novel. Because if you haven’t, you should. Plus it’s a short book anyway.
Anyway, so the film is in a more modern, somewhat futuristic (by our present day standards) setting, with the only real technological advances being that video is shown along the entire outside of a building. So sort of like modern day New York, but more extreme than that. And it just doesn’t seem practical. You know how fucking difficult it is to keep something like that cleaned? What if it breaks? What if there are pixels that need to be repaired? Plus the film doesn’t do the one thing I was expecting it to do from a technological standpoint, and that’s having a living room with all the walls made out as television screens. Considering that was something not only in the main protagonist’s home in the novel, but also that it was considered common, and considering the film has entire skyscrapers that act as one big-ass tv screen, you would think the movie would’ve had that in it.
But I digress, it does have some nice modern touches to it, such as having an Alexa-like unit in most places, responding to questions, offering advice, and spying on you (even when you think you’ve shut it off). And it does have the whole “brainwashing kids in school” thing, though the film is being a bit devious about this by having law enforcement figures be shown doing the brainwashing (thus metaphorically saying, “Cops are bad, m’kay?”). And it does a bit of satire on social media, by having all the news stuff showing little facebook-like icons floating all around live feed bits, sshowing people’s reactions to them (in a far too simplistic manner in my opinion; The Orville did that better in one of its episodes, and I thought that show was mediocre).
But other than that, the film is just a typical by-the-numbers movie, rather boring at times, and not all that interesting. It doesn’t get across the important bits of wisdom as effectively as the novel did. Probably because it dumbs it down, which is rather ironic considering what the novel’s message is. The acting is decent, but none of the actors seem to have any real chemistry, and the relationships all come off as forced.
It also doesn’t help that our protagonist Montag, played by Michael B. Jordan (who’s casting has been met with some reservation by die-hard fans of the book, for reasons I’ll get into later), doesn’t have a wife in this adaptation, like he did in the novel. Instead, it opts to let him have a more close relationship with the captain of the fire team, a sort of father-son relationship (even though they’re not actually father and son), or sort of bromance, a comradery thing. This causes the film to suffer in a great way compared to the novel. For starters, the relationship in the novel demonstrates how isolated the husband and wife are from one another, how they don’t really love each other, how the wife is more into television shows and chatting with her friends about said-shows. The media creating a kind of isolation, something I pointed out as a danger to society in that film Suicide Club. And it shows just how far gone she really is, how much the way society is, the instant gratification mindset, the materialistic mindset, has led her to not care about Montag at all. It’s a symptom most in this society have (at least in the novel version), which showcases the overall problem on a smaller scale. We don’t get that in this film. Rather, it just does the typical totalitarian society ala 1984. Look, if you wanted to do a modern adaptation of 1984, then just do a modern fucking adaptation of 1984. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t supposed to be like that. It’s about how society has become its own worst enemy, rather than those in charge being the ones as the primary cause of the harm.
The other issue with the film is that these firemen (and I assume many in the society) take drugs via eyedrops, which I guess is supposed to suppress emotions and/or emotional memories. You know, like the drugs in the film Equilibrium. And none of that shit was in the novel either. So why did they do it? As I indicated in the last paragraph, it dumbs down the ideas in the novel. In the movie, they take drugs to make their job easier, to function in society with less emotion and less remorse. In the film, members of society drifted into this direction without drugs because of the instant gratification mindset, because of the simplistic tv shows (doubtful they have full-length movies, considering the attention span). Sure, people took drugs in the book, but not for the same reason they do in the movie. It was mainly anti-depressants, a side-effect of becoming so isolated via technology and the lifestyle. Montag (in the novel) also has this mindset; he smiles and acts happy even though he isn’t. And he has been doing this for so long he has forgotten what true happiness is, and just assumes he really is happy even though he isn’t. This is not something the film contains within it, for anyone. Makes the film shallow and more uninteresting.
In fact, the manner in which Montag gets an awakening from this mindset is also far different than in the novel. In the novel, he meets, by random chance, some little girl who acts carefree and different from everyone else. This is to highlight what the children are actually like, what they’re expected to be, and highlighting an important quality that all humans should have, lest they lose semblance of meaning and happiness. Now, this little girl isn’t in the movie per-se, but there is an older substitute (otherwise I guess some would mistakenly assume Montag is a pedophile or something, because we can’t have adults having and innocent conversation with a child, in the middle of the night, alone on the street, with no one else around; guess I’m not helping my case out very much when detailing the context; the 50s were a more innocent time period). An older substitute that he eventually makes out with (well now that would just make the novel version awkward). The thing is though, she doesn’t awaken Montag to this way of thinking so much as she brings him in to the revolution. Yep, it all comes back to challenging the totalitarian pricks in power, as opposed to pointing out how society is flawed because of its own self-inflicted wounds. Again, why the fuck do this and call it Fahrenheit 451 as opposed to 1984?
Oh, and also, there’s no killer robot dog in this. Ah, whatever.
There’s also this interesting yet strange plot development halfway through the film. How the revolutionists, somehow someway, have utilized digitized versions of old novels and created an artificial DNA molecule that can be implanted into DNA. It’s not explained too well, but I guess the implication is that, once this spreads into more humans, it will eventually infect everyone with this DNA strand, and they will naturally know about all these books on an instinctual level. The more I think about it, the more dumb it seems compared to the ending plan in the novel, which was also far-fetched but at least seemed more achievable compared to this. Besides, this plan never made it to the human stage, it only got into a single bird species. How the fuck is it supposed to spread to humans? DNA spreading doesn’t cross species like that! And even if it did, it would take so fucking long it wouldn’t even matter by the time it kicked in! The bird species might have died off by that point! Honestly, this would be one of those contexts where that speech Yoda makes in The Last Jedi would actually work (sure as shit didn’t work in that movie). Plus it all ignores the other plot element in the novel about the other danger to society being the way it is. Lack of compassion leads to not caring about impending doom to the point where no action is taken when a fucking missile blows up an entire city! I don’t know, maybe it was a budget thing.
Lastly, the main actor himself. He’s black. Some have an issue with this, and they’re not KKK members or neo-nazis. They take issue with this the same way they take issue with having the human torch from Fantastic Four being black in that one incarnation no one liked. Not accurate to the novel/comic. Now, personally, in this film’s case, I didn’t have a problem with it in terms of being faithful to the novel. But it is worth bringing up an element of the novel that I just knew this film wasn’t going to have the balls to do. The novel mentions that minorities are one of the potential faults in society. Not necessarily because minorities in of themselves are bad people so much as it’s easy to put the blame on them for when something goes wrong, like the stock market crash of 2008 or some shit like that (indicated in the film The Big Short). However, while they can be used as scapegoats for something they didn’t do, there are some bad things they are responsible for, and it’s addressed in a very brief manner that gives something for the reader to think about. And when this book was written, blacks were considered minorities. Today, many would still attribute that label to them. And considering the manner in which the captain has a conversation at certain points with Montag (in the novel), he addresses him as a white man, telling him how black men are (grouping them with other minorities). It’s not done bluntly, it’s on the more subtle side, but it’s there.
With that being said, I didn’t really give much of a shit about them changing the main protagonists race, he could be played by anyone (don’t push it with the sex change though, we’re already getting enough of that shit with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call and Ocean’s 8). But I do take issue with the intention behind it, and this is a thinking outside the box sort of thing that is inconsequential to the events that happen within the movie itself. It’s the same reason why all the villains are white, and why the leader of the revolution is a black lady. The whole subliminal thing of making blacks out to be the good guys, and whites out to be the bad guys (excluding Black Panther, where Michael B. Jordan played the villain, but that film is an exception). Another one of those films which we’re going to see much more of that take little jabs at the white guilt complex. It’s really petty stuff honestly. Did find it a bit strange that Montag was pretty much the only black guy on the fireteam though.
But anyway, at the end of the day, the film is dull, a poor adaptation of the novel, and dumbs down if not altogether eliminates the important points made in the original source material. Plus I don’t think they had the budget to pull it off. It’s just not that interesting of a film, which is frustrating when it has such interesting subject matter. The potential is there, which makes it all the more tragic and infuriating that it has been wasted. The irony.
Over the past couple weeks, my drive has slowed to a crawl. I have no one but myself to blame, for the most part. I have a bad habit of taking on too many projects at once, from television series (attempting to make a review for Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, Babylon 5, Vietnam – A Television History, and perhaps a couple others), movie trilogies (mainly the Star Wars prequel trilogy so that I can re-address the newer Star Wars films), other various movies (thought about reviewing Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Made in America, and Redline), developing a fan-made expansion for a board game, creating my own original (somewhat) board game, and of course revisiting my Nostalgia for the 90s post by making the February 1990 sequel, which I’m having a hard time doing because I find it difficult to gain the willpower to track down and watch all the films/shows/games/songs from that month of that year (but I am down to a single film at least). I try to keep myself focused on one thing, but rarely succeed. Guess that’s the downside to having a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder. So I usually try to finish these things in spurts.
But then comes situations that I know I’m going to want to address at some point, but try to avoid. But then I just say, “Fuck it, I’m at my best when I spontaneously combust and go on spontaneous rants on something topical.” So what set me off this time? The recent school shooting (at this point it doesn’t really matter which one I’m referring to, consider it any of the shootings that involve school kids blowing away other school kids, and not in the sexual way [I don’t care how insensitive that joke is at this point]).
This isn’t going to be a single post. This is going to be a series, where I not only review a film, but address how it’s themes address this ongoing “crisis” (if it can even be called that). Because the problem with youth isn’t so simple that it can be condensed into just one topic. And there isn’t any single film that can adequately address all those topics (though that one movie Higher Learning sort of tried; it failed, but it tried). When it comes to something like this, people tend to try to make it as simple as possible, believing that the problem is something so simple that only 1, maybe 2 things need to be changed and then everything will be all better. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Suicide Club review
Rated: 3 / 5
Let me get this out of the way, I’m not against suicide. I used to be, in the past, mainly because all we would here is how suicide is bad, people shouldn’t kill themselves, we have more to live for, blah blah blah. That’s all true, and one must also consider how selfish of an act it is and what consequences it would entail to those close to them, mainly family members and friends (assuming they have any). However, what if one doesn’t have more to live for? What if there is no one close to them who would be all that emotionally affected by their death? What if they have no friends (or more importantly, what if they feel like they have no friends)? Much of the downsides to suicide go away, and the only thing they would have to worry about is, “I really hope I don’t fuck this up,” or, “I really hope this is going to be quick and mostly painless.” Basically whatever it takes to make the pain go away, whether it’s a physical pain from some disease or a physical injury; or mental pain from being bullied, from guilt over an action of the past, from thinking the future is too bleak, or from being alone and feeling isolated for too long. All of those can start to look like very good reasons to off yourself regardless of what anyone else tells you. Sure there are those who try to re-assure you that if you tough it out things will be alright in the end. But what do they know? They don’t know the future. They don’t know everything. They don’t know if your life will improve or continue to go into the shitter.
On the other hand, much of it could be applied to groundless paranoia, subliminal messaging, peer pressure, and the people you hang around with. While there are good reasons worth killing yourself over, sometimes people are coaxed into it by people who don’t really give a shit about you. Either way, good idea or bad idea, don’t take it lightly. There’s no going back from something like that. It’s a one and done thing, unless you fuck it up somehow and then you may end up a vegetable or a more miserable person than ever before who becomes less independent and less capable of killing yourself, living your life in an endless hell. So either way you need to do things proper and with some amount of responsibility. You know, like with living life.
Which brings me to this movie, known in the U.S. as Suicide Club, known in Japan as Suicide Circle. It begins with a bunch of school kids jumping onto the tracks of a subway and they all get run over by the train. A very gruesome scene of mass suicide. Boy do those janitors have their work cut out for them.
Alright, I think I’ve held off long enough on reviewing these films, so let’s get to it. But it should be mentioned that I am not a major die-hard fan of the Star Wars franchise. I’ve only really watched the movies, I haven’t ever gotten into the spin-off comics, novels, or tv shows. So I don’t know hardly anything about the extended universe. I’m just going to be looking at these as one who has only watched the films, and hasn’t dug all that deeply into the lore beyond that, and that’s it. Also, the original trilogy is great, the special edition versions can lick my butt and suck on my balls.
Oh, and there will be spoilers.
Rated: 3 / 5
Contrary to what current versions say about the first Star Wars film being titled Episode IV: A New Hope, that is not how it started out. It started out with just the title Star Wars, no episode number, no sub-name, that was it. And it blew audiences away back in the day, more so than Jaws.
But past, mash. What are my thoughts on it today? It’s a decent film. I don’t hold this particular film as one of the greatest of all time, but I do admire its reputation and historical significance on film history, and the entire original trilogy is worth watching just for that reason alone. It has enough to it to keep me interested, but it comes off as an entertaining popcorn flick, just a B movie. The main portion of the film where it shined for me was during the finale, the Death Star battle. That entire last act is intense, and still holds up rather well to this day, despite a couple special effects that show their age (especially this brief moment where the size perspective of an X-Wing seems way off). This is a film that definitely saves the best part for last.
It’s also the film that has the worst lightsaber fight in the history of Star Wars films. The Kenobi vs. Vader fight, good God, is it bad. I mean, I know Kenobi is old and all, but I wish they put more effort into the choreography. Considering the whole lightsaber thing, and much of the jedi lore, is heavily inspired by the way of the samurai (because the Japanese are awesome), and also considering they can use the force, you would think that they could put up a better effort than this.
This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.
Everything else I thought was entertaining enough, albeit nothing too spectacular (again, I’m speaking regarding my views of today, not how many would’ve viewed it back then). The acting is so-so (except for Alec Guinness who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shined brightly in that role), special effects are good enough, the music is iconic (so much so that it would be utilized in virtually every other Star Wars film that follows), and the story is basic (but with a few brilliant subtle tidbits sprinkled in here and there that are easily missed). And seriously, George Lucas was heavily inspired not just by Buck Rogers stuff, but also by Akira Kurasawa films, particularly The Hidden Fortress. Sure there’s also the whole critique on totalitarian governments and stuff, which is very simplified but given a small amount of depth in a brief scene where Vader gets in a brief squabble with some individual in a high-command position. So while the whole film is simple, the simplicity is a tad bit deceptive. It’s no Dark Crystal by any stretch, but there’s enough to indicate hidden potential.
Regarding that tapped potential, Obi-Wan says this line: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” This line will be repeated in an altered form in the next film, but with a more personal note to it, and dare I say with better delivery by a puppet.
There’s also a message of martyrdom: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” And of course, the message of rebelling against a corrupt/totalitarian empire, which I suppose could be reflective of either the United States or Vietnam or China or Russia during the time period (the Cold War and some of the stuff all nations were doing at the time made something as simple as this relevant, though this message has been done to death in the present age of film):
“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
“Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy.”
The message can be used in virtually any of the above Cold War conflicts, as anti-U.S. (in the case of Vietnam), pro-U.S. (against totalitarian regimes of Russia and China), and perhaps in similar situations of today. Funnily enough, even the prequel trilogy takes on this concept in the more present-day light (more on that in a future post).
The hidden potential would be ripped out of its hiding place and thrust into the spotlight in the next film, which would blast this soon-to-be franchise from entertaining popcorn/blockbuster status into legendary “biggest fan-base next to Star Trek of all time” status.
Rated: 5 / 5
As you can tell from the rating, this is one of my favorite films of all time. And this is the movie that made Star Wars the franchise it is today. Let me rephrase that, it made Star Wars the franchise it was until Disney got a hold of it (more on that later, in a future blog post). Everything that was in the previous film has been expanded in incredible ways, from the characters themselves to the lore with the force and the way of the jedi. This is the film that evolved the force and the jedi from a basic B-movie idea/concept into a religion (and by religion, I mean people in real-life follow it). And on top of that, the film and acting quality improved from the last film. It’s also the first film, despite what George Lucas rewriting history may want you to believe, to use episodic numbers. And rather than do an episode II, it went straight to episode V. I guess George Lucas did have some high ambition for these films. And from what I’ve gathered with behind the scenes stuff, though I can’t swear as to how solid of an idea this was at the time, Lucas did want to do a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy on top of this trilogy. More on those later (in a future post).
Anyway, so the high point of the last film was the assault on the Death Star. In my opinion, it was the best scene of the entire film, and the only other things that even approach that level of being memorable and noteworthy, the concept of lightsabers and the force aside, was the millennium falcon and going to lightspeed. This film starts out with it’s own high memorable moments pretty damn fast. First the abominable snowman shows up (I know that’s not what it’s actually called, for all you die hard Star Wars geeks who are super into this and can’t take a joke). But topping that, then comes the Battle of Hoth. The asteroid chase. The training on Dagoba. Being frozen in carbonite. Han and Leia’s developing relationship. The epic lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. This whole film is filled to the brim with awesomeness.
Regarding the development of the jedi and the force, this is hinted at with Luke demonstrating that telekinesis is possible when he strains to reach his lightsaber. This develops from his ability to reflexively react to something just before it happens, and to listen to a jedi ghost (though it’s also implied that this is possible with Vader force-choking a guy in the last film, but even that is developed even more indicating he doesn’t even need to be in the same room as the guy he wants to force-choke, just within a vicinity of a couple miles). We begin to see more of the full potential of the force. This is developed much further in Dagobah, where Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the force, not only enhancing the telekinetic ability, but showcasing how the Force can enhance one’s strength and endurance, and can even enhance one’s ability to see into the future, going beyond enhanced reflexes (though Yoda is quick to mention that the future is always in-flux, always uncertain, that what one sees is only one possibility, something also utilized in Frank Herbert’s Dune). And the ways of the Force are about much more than just power, like how martial arts are more than just about self-defense.
Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
Vader… Is the dark side stronger?
No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.
A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!
All of this also building on the theme of the last film about how even the smallest powers, the most ancient of forces, a small rebellion, can make the biggest of differences against a giant empire, against a great foe, against the most notorious and darkest of forces. And despite the war against the Empire, despite the violence needed on the part of the rebellion, the film carefully and brilliantly inserts an anti-war message into it, not necessarily indicating that war is always unnecessary, but that that one must only enter into it with great care (which also subtly takes a jab at the U.S. for the Vietnam War):
Wars not make one great.
A lesson that you could say Luke doesn’t take to heart, as he rushes into battle against Darth Vader, despite the warnings given by Yoda and ghost Obi-Wan, with consequences that leave him permanently scarred. And yet, things also don’t turn out as disastrous as Yoda and Obi-Wan believed they would for Luke. He still manages to come back out alive (though not in one piece), he is still the best hope for taking down Vader and the Empire, and you could argue he has become humbled from the experience. Well, maybe not the latter, as we see with his character during most of the next film (more on that later). The point being, even a master can be wrong, though their words of wisdom and advice should still not be ignored, as they have lived longer and have more experience and have learned more than the pupil could.
Back to Luke and Vader. So in the first film, Luke is a simple boy who is ambitious, courageous, and seeks adventure. Vader was just a simple 2-dimensional villain. This film changed all that, in a good way. Aside from showcasing Luke’s flaws, how his ambition can also lead him to be over-ambitious, it also shows how Luke and Vader are more than they appear. Hints of this are given at various points in the film, including the very beginning, during the text crawl. It states that Vader is obsessed with finding Luke. So at first one would think, “Just how 2-dimensional is this villain? Is he that pissed about Luke blowing up the Death Star? Not exactly that interesting of a motivation.” But then the twist comes, and it’s revealed Vader was chasing Luke for different reasons entirely. Because he has come to learn that Luke is his long-lost son. This revelation blew people away back in the day, and it’s also a very effective moment that develops both of these characters dramatically. It raises the stakes, and raises a number of questions and theories, including the ulterior motives for Obi-Wan and Yoda with why they trained Luke, why they choose him as the one to bring balance to the force. It also brings insight into the backstory as to how the Empire came to be, how Vader came to be, and so on. There is a lot to take in from this twist, both on the surface and below the surface, which is ultimately what makes it one of the greatest twists/reveals of all time in film history. It gave an even greater amount of depth to the franchise.
Which brings me to the duel between Vader and Luke. This isn’t just a lightsaber fight that is happening here. Vader isn’t setting out just to beat Luke, he is also trying to train him in his own way, in a far different way than Yoda was training Luke. While Yoda utilized no violence on Luke, and discouraged violence and anger, and promoted the message of being at peace and being calm in all things, Vader is getting Luke to act out aggressively and letting his emotions rule him. Telling Luke to use his anger and hatred to his advantage to win his battles. The battle is fought in stages, with Luke clearly not as skilled as Vader, yet he is also tapping into his power and potential (not to mention his youth and not being hindered by scars of the past like Vader is) to continue going head-to-head with him. But he is ultimately not strong or experienced enough, and Vader utilizes both skill and strength to best Luke. The first stage of the fight shows that Luke, while not as good as Vader, is still capable of fighting him off, even if Vader is holding back on him; it ends with Luke knocking Vader off a platform. The second stage showcases Vader’s power, and makes it clear Luke is not on Vader’s level, and ends with Luke getting bashed by flying objects and blown out the window (thus a much more violent knockdown off a platform compared to what Luke did to Vader). The last stage of the fight has Vader continually backing Luke up more and more until he’s cornered with no place to go. A corner that Vader has backed Luke up into just as much as Luke’s decisions have put him into. And it ends with Luke’s literal fall.
This film has more layers in it than the first film. It is also the film that made Star Wars the iconic franchise with the large fan-base it has had for decades afterwords. So many iconic moments, complimented with continued iconic music (that matches the strength of the music scores used in the previous film), it would bee very difficult to go through them all in detail in a single review; which is why I’m not even going to try. If you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films, you owe it to yourself to at least watch the first two. If you don’t enjoy them by then, you’ll likely not enjoy the franchise in general. Because The Empire Strikes Back is easily the high-point of the franchise. Unfortunately, it’s a point that the franchise wouldn’t be able to reach again to this day. But in all fairness, this is a very high bar that not many films have reached. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t entertainment to be had with the other films. Speaking of which…
Rated: 3 / 5
This is one of those films I’m conflicted with. A part of me wants to like it more than I do (currently, I do like it more than the first Star Wars film), but the critical part of me gets too irritated by the flaws and missed opportunities to ever allow me to enjoy it that much. But I’ve come to appreciate the film regardless of its flaws. Besides, it’s not as if it doesn’t have strengths.
The first act, for instance. Some people take issue with it for some reason because it doesn’t move the overall plot forward and is just one overlong rescue sequence. I say those people can take their opinions and shove them up their ass. The whole first act is probably the best part of the movie. No one cares about the middle act except for furries. And the last act, well, I’ll get to that in a minute, that deserves special attention.
Anyway, the first act. There’s a second reason for this existing besides getting Harrison Ford back into the franchise (and besides putting Leia in that famous slave costume). It’s also to highlight Luke Skywalker’s trained jedi abilities, and to showcase what a jedi is capable of. His mind control tricks, his telekinesis, his skills with a lightsaber, using the force to jump further than normal, etc. It highlights what the jedi were like before the dark times. At the same time, it also showcases that he’s not invincible, still capable of making mistakes, and still has the flaw of being overly ambitious. Him and his friends all planned for this rescue, but what would’ve happened if the whole thing backfired and they all got killed? Pretty sure the whole rebellion would be screwed at that point, because Luke, Leia, and Lando are all valuable members to the rebel alliance. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason they were able to do this rescue mission was because they were in high ranking positions within the alliance. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that. Either way, the whole rescue turned out to be a gamble, considering the few things that went wrong.
What’s more, it’s also a very dark atmosphere, and Luke himself is darkly clothed and acts rather deviously and over-confidently, indicating that he is falling to the dark side a bit despite Yoda’s teachings (one could guess that this is his father’s influence rubbing off on him). It gives the feel of our protagonists being deep within a dark seedy atmosphere, foreshadowing that they will be taking on the dark side, both Luke against Vader and the Emperor, and the others against the Empire (which I guess can be considered one and the same). And all that aside, the whole Jabba’s Palace and Rancor and Sarlac Pit thing is friggin’ awesome. I’m a sucker for that shit.
So with the first act out of the way, there is something I’ve noticed about this film compared to the first two. There’s a severe lack of great philosophical dialogue. The first film had some great lines that offered food for thought, such as, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” The second film was filled to the brim with more of that, especially by Yoda. But in this film, Yoda only repeats stuff said in the last film, and no one else really says anything all that enlightening. George Lucas wrote the first film and this one (he stayed out of Empire Strikes Back for a bit), so either his quality dropped or he listened too much to someone else. Lawrence Kashdan also helped with the screenplay, but he’s done some good stuff too during that time period. So I’m not sure what the hell happened. I guess they just slacked off or got too depressed from getting divorced or something. The best the film has to offer in this regard is this line ghost Obi-Wan says to Luke:
So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.
A certain point of view?
Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
So at least it offers the message of taking into account that one must learn to see things from multiple perspectives in order to gain a higher understanding of the universe. That being said, this message isn’t utilized well-enough in this film. That, and Obi-Wan comes off as a bit of an asshole with this line of reasoning. One of the several missed opportunities.
But then there’s a whole new level of cheesiness that none of the Star Wars films have reached until this moment. When the Emperor shows up. Holy Mother of Christ, this guy’s dialogue. Seriously, when’s the last time you’ve seen this movie and took a good listen to the Emperor? This is the type of dialogue that everyone and their mother associates with mustache-twirling villains of animated films of the 80s and earlier, and from the 50s and older, and all the old-school trashy sci-fi and fantasy films. I mean, just listen to this guy and the lines he spouts and the way he delivers these lines:
I was trying desperately not to laugh my ass off at this guy. This actor and the character he plays is pure gold. He is the most pure form of evil cartoony villainy in existence. But I’m positive that this was all intentional. Everyone knew what they were doing with this guy. I believe this goes back to the whole Buck Rogers influence, Lucas wanted a villain who acted this cheesy and this full of himself. Many will have very mixed opinions about this guy, as to whether he is great or terrible, and I could sympathize with either point of view. Either way, I found this character to be entertaining as hell; I’m just not sure if it’s for all the right reasons or all the wrong reasons.
Anyway, the other good stuff. The forest speed-chase, despite the outdated green-screen effects, still works to this day for one reason only. The lack of music and the focus on the sound effects. Those sound effects MAKE that scene. The echo of the speeder as it passes by the camera, the sounds it makes. It creates the tension a sequences like that needs. The sound effect crew needed a medal for that.
And then there’s the final fight between Luke and Vader. It’s so-so at first, not on the same level as the one from the previous film, but it still does a good job at telling a story, mainly that Luke has now surpassed Vader, but is conflicted with how to deal with him, struggling to find the best way to resolve all this. He knows he shouldn’t strike him down in hatred, but he doesn’t want to strike him down at all. And yet the hatred the Emperor instills in Luke is the only thing that makes him want to fight. Because the Emperor knows how to use his own emotions against him. Eventually, Vader figures out how to do that as well, but more effectively. And how could he not? He’s more personally involved with Luke after all. So Luke finally snaps and unleashes his hatred upon Vader, resulting in a more memorable lightsaber duel. The haunting music makes this sequence more powerful, further highlighting that Luke is on the wrong path, and may not be able to turn back from it. And as a result Luke bests Vader in combat, unleashing his anger and using his hatred to try and destroy him, as Vader indicated he should in the previous film. The one thing that stops Luke from going so far as to kill him and become more ruled by emotion and a slave to the Emperor as a result was seeing how his actions are a repeat of similar actions his father did in the past. Seeing that his father has a robotic arm, just like he does now, and being ruled by emotion will, ironically, make him more machine than man, losing more and more sense of humanity. Seeing this is ultimately what stops him. This also gives insight as to how Vader had turned down this path, ruled by his emotions, betrayed by his emotions, and having the dark side use his emotions against him, putting him down a path he believed there was no turning away from because of what he had done in his anger. And because, as Yoda indicated in Empire Strikes Back, he was focused more on the future than on the present.
The emotions are high in that fight sequence, but they reach an even higher point in the aftermath as Luke is trying to take Vader off the ship after Vader turns on the Emperor, and suffering fatal damage as a result (either to his body, or to the electronic breathing suit that helps keep him alive; same result). Seeing the emotion on Luke’s face when he sees his father’s true face for the first time (as does the audience), and what Vader says to him afterwards.
I’ll not leave you here. I’ve got to save you.
You already have, Luke.
Have to admit, I get a bit choked up each time I see this scene.
So that’s the final conflict with Luke and Vader getting resolved rather nicely. Then there’s the final way the trilogy shows the potential of the force. With Luke, we see mastery over telekinesis, using the lightsaber reflexively against lasers, and enhanced strength with jumping and kicking. But then there’s the Emperor himself, with the big reveal of the full power of the dark side being force-lightning. Now, as awesome as it looks, its impact is weakened considering how long it takes for him to try killing Luke with this power. The force-choke seems more effective than this. Another element in the film that could’ve been utilized more effectively, but wasn’t.
But anyway, all that aside, the downsides to the finale of this trilogy. First, the Ewoks. Yes, they’re cute and adorable and perfect for merchandising (which is why they went with them in the first place), but fuck these fucking furballs. They should’ve gone with the Wookies like they originally were going to do. At least those are menacing enough to take on stormtroopers more convincingly than furry midgets. You can’t convince me that these furry fucks can help take down an empire army, I don’t care how in-line that is with the theme of David taking down Goliath. I would like to see how they setup these log traps by themselves. I refuse to believe that an entire army of these things is capable of stacking a bunch of tree logs together, or lifting several of them up into a tree.
And like I said earlier, aside from the Emperor where this sort of thing works, the dialogue has gotten a downgrade. Hell, I think it’s worse than the first Star Wars movie. Though it does have one of the most memorable lines ever that is used as a meme and a comedy clip in every-other youtube video.
And then there’s the twist of Leia being Luke’s sister. Granted, they did put this to decent use by having Vader use this revelation as a weapon against Luke, but it comes off as shoehorned in. Like they were trying to keep up with the similar revelation in Empire Strikes Back. It just feels weak in hindsight. Nothing much really comes of this, and the new Star Wars trilogy doesn’t really build off of this in any significant way. They mine as well as have kept her unrelated to the family line in my opinion. But it does make one wonder, “If not Leia, then who is the other that Yoda spoke of in Empire Strikes Back?” I wouldn’t know. Maybe this twist could’ve worked if they did more with it. Maybe some spin-off books do more with it. As-is, it really doesn’t seem like anything special.
And lastly, there’s the ending itself. Now don’t get me wrong, the finale is fine for the most part, with an entertaining space battle, a decent action sequence in the forest (despite my gripes about the ewoks), and a good enough final confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. But the last moments of the film is just everyone dancing and celebrating with the ewoks in the forest (now I’m going to gripe about them again, fuck’em). Nothing is shown to establish just how big of a victory this was for the rebellion to show the fall of the empire, at least not in the original theatrical edition. Now granted, the special editions do show this sort of impact by having a crowd of people topple over a statue of the emperor, but you would think the last moment of the film would end on a more epic note. And no, the ghosts of the past making an appearance isn’t good enough for a final screen moment before the credits roll, as effective as that may be as a stand-alone scene (and the special editions manage to fuck that up, negating the praise I had for the broader scope). It’s unfortunate that the trilogy closes in that way, considering how strong of a note the previous two films closed out on.
So The Last Jedi is a mixed bag, with as much awesome stuff as it has bad stuff. The awesome stuff is enough to make me enjoy it more than the first film, but the bad stuff threatens to change my mind, depending on my mood. But hey, at least it’s not Godfather III or Alien 3 or Spiderman 3, or whatever other end to a trilogy there is that sucks. While not ending on as strong of a note as some fans wanted, it’s still decent enough. The pros outweigh the cons. But it’s the most frustrating of all Star Wars movies simply because of lost potential.
The Vietnam War. Probably the most controversial war America has ever gotten involved in that has people bickering about it to this day. Why did we go in there? Was it ever winnable? Should we have ever gone in there? What were our initial intentions, and how did they change? What were the intentions of each individual high-ranking official in a position of power to influence the war? Do we have that much of a right to judge those who were involved when we are incapable of experiencing what they have experienced?
So I became interested with Ken Burns in particular after seeing his incredibly well-done Civil War documentary series from 1990. Both that miniseries and this Vietnam one were done on PBS. So I ended up getting this at Best Buy as an impulse buy. And for the first 7 episodes, despite a few slow bits here and there with emotional reflections put on by veterans and family members of dead veterans, I thought it was pretty good solid stuff. Like the Civil War documentary miniseries, it covered a good amount of historical ground, with events going as far back as 1858 leading up to the war, to the retreat of the French only to be replaced by the U.S., the political plays and disasters done by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, stories of the soldiers on the battlefield including Vietnamese from both sides, and so on. I felt I was getting my money’s worth…
… at first. But the thing is, when it comes to documentaries as ambitious as this, especially with Ken Burns involved, and with the tagline on the poster, my expectations tend to be high. And when they are high, I make double sure about the quality. And when it comes to documentaries, I am much more picky than normal about biases and context. There were a few things that I found a tad questionable, in that it seemed like some detail was being left out. For instance, the protests and calls for ending the Vietnam War in the United States, with many people, especially college and high school students, protesting the war, but not much given for those who protested against the anti-war protesters. The Kent State incident, how it seemed like there was more to it than the documentary was letting on (similar to how some details of Abraham Lincoln’s surprise re-election during the Civil War were left unsaid in the Civil War documentary). The testimonies of some Vietnamese, but not as much from the Southern side. The portrayal of Ho Chi Min as a saint who had no ill intentions whatsoever.
The final straw that made me want to take a look outside of the box came when the whole Jane Fonda thing happened, where it showed how she was not only against the war, but seemed to hold a hatred for American troops yet had sympathy for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Yes, it did highlight her voiced opinions on the matter, and how some (if not all) veterans felt betrayed by her (and rightly so in my opinion). She also called the POWs liars for claiming they were mistreated by their captors. However, there was/is a rumor that she did more than that, that she shook the hands of some of the prisoners, and one of the prisoners handed her some small paper scraps with the POW’s social security numbers, indicating that they wanted her to take the papers back to their families in the U.S., to let them know they are alive. But she ended up giving the papers to the prison guard instead, who then severely beat the POWs. Now, from what I’ve researched, this rumor is false, but it was one of the things that made me want to take a closer look. Sometimes, what a documentary shows is all there is, and the rest is baseless conspiracy theories. Stuff I’ve been careful of ever since wising up about 9/11 truthers.
However, there is stuff the documentary did leave out, that did really happen. First, Ho Chi Minh. The documentary portrays him as a somewhat peaceful man who desired a united and independent Vietnam country, and even quoted the Declaration of Independence by the United States. It states that he admired the message of the U.S., of their desire for all countries to be free and independent. How he didn’t really want a war, but it was really more of the prime minister’s doing for instigating the conflict in Vietnam, Le Duan. It basically puts Ho Chi Minh in a similar light as Gandhi, yet he was also a rebel when he needed to be, helping the Vietnamese against the French armies. However, the documentary completely overlooks how repressive his regime came during the mid 1950s (after successfully driving out the French, but remaining in the North half of Vietnam, similar to how there’s a North Korea). How due to the state of that portion of the country, he asked for assistance from communist Russia and China, began agricultural reforms, and became more brutal and oppressive as a result (Source). How brutal and oppressive? How about being responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of his own people (perhaps even hundreds of thousands)? In a Soviet-style land-reform campaign (Source). The fact that this was left out is unforgivable for a documentary series like this, especially when its tagline claims to be going over multiple truths in the war, indicating that it will highlight many of the grey areas. Besides, whenever anyone is portrayed as purely angelic or as pure evil, I become skeptical. I believe they should be portrayed as they were, as human. And humans are flawed beings, with some good things about them, and some bad things.
Doing a little more research, I’ve also learned of incidents leading up to the first Indochina War (prior to the U.S. involvement). A good amount is covered, but a few significant events were left out. The miniseries did not cover France granting Cambodia independence in 1953 (Source), which at the very least portrays the French as less assholish and authoritarian-like when it came to their Asian involvement (though that doesn’t mean they should be left off the hook, it’s just better to have more facts like that to give more food for thought). Little to nothing is said of the Japanese involvement as well (and there-bye completely overlooking president Truman’s involvement in the war), which is something fascinating in of itself, that America would entrust Vietnam to the Japanese for a brief period of time within a decade after defeating them in WWII.
The documentary covers the riots and protests not just in the U.S., but also around the world; though it’s very frustrating to show the international riots yet give no mention as to what they were about or why they were happening; you know, for those of us not as well educated. International rioting aside, not enough detail is given regarding the U.S. protests when it came to the organized groups, like the Black Panthers or the Weather Underground. Since the documentary indicated it was going to show not just how the Vietnam War affected things culturally, but also how a wave of civil rights was going on at the same time within the country, you would think details like that would be a bit more important than another 5 minutes of some soldier reflecting on some emotional moment in his/her life (there’s more than enough of that as-is). Giving details as to what these organizations were, what their goals were, and some of the stuff they did. No mentions of blowing up buildings or shooting people, thus indicating these protesters did bad things outside of just trashing streets and destroying cars and damaging property (by breaking windows). Seemed too much in favor of the protesters. The film is very much on their side when it came to the anti-war portrayal. Hardly any time is given to vets and/or citizens who were against the anti-war protests, and thus not shedding any light on the perspectives of those who voted on certain gallup polls (which were mentioned) which was split on the protests, or mostly against them. If nothing else, I would go so far as to say there’s a hint of contempt for that majority who voted as such in those polls. The closest that I can remember regarding an alternate view is some woman saying something along the lines of, “I respect your right to protest, as that’s your free speech privilege. But if you come knocking at my door again, I’ll blow your head off.” And that’s it. Every other interview ranges from support of the protests, to “It’s amazing that this is happening.” That’s because virtually all the Vietnam vets that are interviewed for the documentary were a part of “Vietnam Veterans Against the War”. I sense bias.
Then there’s the Kent State shootings in May 4, 1970, where National Guardsmen opened fire on the students in the parking lot, killing 4, wounding 9. The documentary portrays it as a random act, letting the footage imply the guards turned and fired suddenly, as if alerted to something going on behind them. But other than the footage speaking for itself, the narrative seems more on the side of the protesters, implying that the National Guard was in the wrong, and that this was a sign of the government forces turning on civilians, calling into question the purpose of the government being for the people by the people, and asking what exactly were the soldiers in Vietnam fighting for if all this was going on. But the film never really goes into detail about the incident, such as how the National Guard felt they were in danger, becoming surrounded, cut off from escape by both the protesters and a fence, that several guardsmen had rocks thrown at them, and they felt firing was necessary because they felt they were threatened. The documentary also doesn’t mention that several of the guards fired into the air to scare off the campus protesters, while others actually fired into a group in the parking lot, thus indicating there was confusion amidst the chaos (Source). But the documentary did bring up an interesting point about how the burning of the ROTC building at Kent State by protesters, combined with the fact that the National Guard were anything but anti-military, implied that this created enough tension as-is, making a disaster like this borderline inevitable if the protesting continued on. Still, would’ve been nice to have more detail and grey area shown, which wouldn’t have been difficult if more narration was provided over the footage.
The documentary also doesn’t mention the Hmungs, among others, who also fought alongside U.S. troops to combat the North Vietnamese. It also doesn’t mention the atrocities committed against the Montagnards, Hmung, and Nungs after the war ended.
Richard Nixon is definitely portrayed as a worse individual than JFK and LBJ, despite the bad/stupid shit LBJ did (JFK though, if anything, was slightly overdone with his role in sinking the U.S. further into the war; yes, he did the stuff shown in the documentary, but it’s left unsaid some of the other things he did trying to prevent the U.S. from sinking so far into it). Look, the bottom line is that all politicians are assholes, they all lie, but they also try to do some good things too, even if that’s ultimately secondary to staying in power. This is more of a nitpick than anything else compared to all the other faults in the documentary, but it’s clear that Burns and/or Novick has it in for Nixon, going a bit beyond just stating facts when it comes to showing his faults (and very little of his successes, and even then underplaying them).
The infamous footage/photo of that guy getting shot point-blank in the head and dying, it highlights the reaction, viewing it as a terrible thing, yet fails to mention why the guy was getting executed. It was because he killed the wife and 6 children of a police officer. No single truth in war, remember the tagline!?!?
While the miniseries does show the instance of that Vietnamese girl getting burned by napalm in that famous photo, and stating that she lived and later moved to Canada, it failed to mention that she moved to Canada to escape from the Communist regime of Vietnam, because they wouldn’t let her attend school or get a real job because they were more interested in using her as a propaganda piece.
There isn’t enough information given regarding the disparity of U.S. troops, as in how they acted. Not all U.S. troops acted as despicably as those in the My Lai Massacre, not all U.S. troops treated the Vietnamese like shit. There was a decent number of troops that acted as respectful as one would expect and hope, especially back in the day when we had this naive belief that we could do no wrong. On that note, and I believe I’m repeating myself a bit here, the documentary doesn’t really mention much of anything regarding how similar atrocities were done by the North Vietnamese (or the Viet Cong).
There is no mention of the role opium played. The only indication of opium is that a decent number of U.S. troops got addicted to it. There was more to it than that (something hinted at in the more recent TV show Quarry). That opium was utilized in Vietnam by U.S. forces (I would assume the CIA) to help finance not just the Vietnam war, but also the Korean war. And this financing eventually led to its spread into the United States (it wasn’t just the Colombians helping Americans getting hooked on that shit).
And lastly, the documentary doesn’t cover anywhere near the level of atrocities committed by the Communist regime after the war in Vietnam (or hell, even during the war; there’s more focus on the atrocities committed by the U.S. troops and by South Vietnam). The only implication we get is that they got a hold of classified information regarding those who helped the U.S., and thus created a “blood list,” a list of those for the Communists to hunt down and kill. It doesn’t mention anything beyond that implication, just that the war ended, China invaded briefly, and they suffered from trying out Socialism for 10 years with disastrous results before recovering and turning into a decent country.
This documentary is selective in its focus, lies by leaving out important details, and without a doubt has a bias extreme enough to cause a very tiny alarm in my head to ring at me when I saw that it was made by PBS. “But the Civil War documentary was also made by PBS,” I said to myself. “But that was 1990, not 2017,” I should have responded to myself. A lot can change in 27 years. The details it leaves out are focuses in a few specific areas, and the fact that they are focused in what is left out confirms my suspicions. It leaves out much of the atrocities the Communists wrought upon the Vietnamese (it’s mentioned to a small extent, infinitesimal compared to how much is focused regarding the amount of atrocities committed by the South Vietnamese and the Americans to the Viet Cong and civilians). It leaves out much of how North Vietnam and the Viet Cong were still able to function so well and in an organized matter despite the losses they were taking (such as by being supplied by the Chinese and Soviets). Most importantly, most of the Vietnamese that are interviewed are of Viet Cong or North Vietnam origin. The only bits dedicated to the South are of how corrupt their government has become, how poor their military conditions were, how much they disliked the Americans, and so on. Nothing is ever really mentioned of the “victories” the U.S. and South Vietnam achieved during the war (such as the Battle of Dong Ha Bridge); it paints a grim picture of constant ambushes and inability to hold taken ground without showing hardly any evidence to the contrary (aside from coverage of the battle portrayed in the film We Were Soldiers, and holding out against the Tet Offensive), plenty of which does exist.
This documentary is a glorified rehash of the defeatist zeitgeist of the 1970s. It paints the picture far too heavily on the traditional, “America fucked up by getting involved,” narrative without clearly displaying the fact that other countries were clearly involved as well. In essence, it was a sort of proxy war between the U.S. and the Communists, a proxy war we lost thanks in part to having no clear strategy other than body count, bad intelligence, bad military decisions made by politicians and due to pressure from anti-war protesters. That doesn’t in any way take away from the blunders and atrocities and levels of hypocrisy done by U.S. soldiers/generals/politicians, but it does show that this was a picture far less simple than the documentary lets on. On top of all that, the documentary from the very beginning is clearly on the side of the message that states that Vietnam was a war the U.S. had no chance of winning, a message many disagree with; it never even considers the alternative that there may have been a way to win the war, even when there are some books written on that very idea. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were right, but concluding from the start that the war was unwinnable leaves their opinions out of the picture, opinions that I believe are worth pondering. The fact that it is dedicated to its very core towards keeping the picture so simple is a shame.
To quote an Amazon.com review of the film:
A veteran is quoted at the end of the film saying, “We have learned a lesson…that we just can’t impose our will on others.” While that daffy aphorism sums up the documentary, in real life the opposite is true. Alexander imposed his will upon the Persian empire. Rome indelibly imposed its will upon Carthage. After the Civil War, the Federal government imposed its will upon the Confederacy. Following World War II, we imposed our will upon Nazi Germany and bushido Japan. In 1975, the North Vietnamese Stalinist government imposed its will upon the South Vietnamese. — Joshua Welte
If they really wanted to do a good job covering as much as possible with the war, it needed more focus. Part of that focus should have included what life was like for various Vietnamese in the North and South, before, during, and after the war. How their lives changed, what hopes they had at various times, if America was affecting those hopes in a positive or negative way, how they viewed Ho Chi Min and Russia and China.
There is more that is left unsaid with the documentary that should’ve been covered at least for the sake of trying to be fair and balanced, but I’ll leave that for those who want to research further into the subject.
Now, with that being said, all those bits of historical facts that are absent from this documentary series isn’t enough for me to completely hate it. There’s still plenty of good stuff to be had here. Like showing how Nixon secretly went behind many people’s backs to prevent a peace meeting between the North and South Vietnam from happening so that he would have a better chance at winning the election, something LBJ was aware of, and could prove it, but wouldn’t do it because he had acquired this information illegally. The documentary also goes into nice detail (albeit briefly, but justifiably so) of Vietnam’s history with the French leading up to the 1960s-70s war (though leaving out the bits with the Japanese). Despite the bias, I currently agree that this was a war America should never have gotten into, as it did much more harm than good (though some still debate to this day if it was winnable or not; though I wouldn’t deny that any chance of victory for the South was fucked from the start due to political corruption and dumb political decisions from both the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. government), it just didn’t need to be so biased and anti-war to get that message across. And it has a decent epilogue regarding the Vietnam Memorial (and how it came to be), and how our relations with Vietnam have improved since then, as we learn to make peace with the past. Regarding that last sentence though, it showed Bill Clinton going to Vietnam to instigate peace, and it showed Barack Obama doing the same, but skipped over George W. Bush making the visit during his term in 2006 (Democratic bias much?). So it is worth watching, but with a large grain of salt and with a critical eye. Don’t be fooled in to thinking this documentary gives enough perspective to be considered satisfactory.
While there is enough information in it to make it worthwhile despite the bias, I just can’t in good conscience give it more than a 2.5 / 5 score, considering the flaws. That being said, I’m going to search for another Vietnam documentary series that is less biased than this, and has more in-depth information. A few films aside, this search has led me to an old 1982 documentary series titled Vietnam – A Television History. Now while it has gotten a DVD re-release courtesy of American Experience, it has a serious problem. From what I’ve gathered, it trims down on the fucking interviews! It censors the original version and throws in more advertisements! And I fucking hate censorship! So now I have to track down a fucking VHS collection of the goddamn thing, watch it that way, likely download it onto my computer through Pinnacle/Dazzle (and I’m all ears for a better alternative than that software), and then put it in a safe storage space online somewhere so that it doesn’t get lost through the ravages of time. The censored American Experience (there’s an ironic name for a company in this context if I ever heard one) version can currently be viewed on youtube, but I’m sure as shit not watching it that way.
PS: For a fascinating yet gut-wrenching case study that gets right down to the horrors of war, atrocities committed by Americans at My Lai and how the effects carried on after the war, I know of two things I can recommend watching. It will show soldiers who have regret, and will make you wonder if they can be forgiven, when they can’t forgive themselves, and have instilled a permanent hatred amongst their victims. It is raw and powerful stuff, and I recommend watching them in this order: My Lai (by American Experience; yes, I’m recommending a documentary done by them after bashing them for censoring a previously made documentary), and Four Hours in My Lai (hosted by a show called First Tuesday). Back-to-back, it becomes more clear as to how decent American citizens can devolve from being decent soldiers to being capable of committing some of the most atrocious acts imaginable.
Edit: Ok, so Ken Burns is definitely a leftist, as made clear with a speech made at the 2016 Stanford Commencement Address, which is hypocritical of him giving the context of the rest of the speech, not to mention flat-out lying with some of his statements. A pity too, because he makes some really great statements in the speech. Guess it sums up some of the pros and cons of his more recent documentaries in a nutshell.
Rated: Either 2/5 or 5/5, depending on how you look at it.
Saying that this film was released in 1981 is a bit deceiving, considering it took nearly a decade to actually finish shooting it, on a 12 million dollar budget. That aside, this movies is pure insanity. You know those horror stories about what it was like behind the scenes making that film Apocalypse Now? That’s practically the equivalent to what it was like for this movie, except rather than heart attacks and losing their minds (their minds were gone by the time the project got started, because only insane people would think this was a good idea) , they got mauled by lions and tigers and panthers and elephants (all of the above combined added up to 100+ animals on set/location).
So, you’re probably wondering what the hell this movie is? Well, in terms of plot description, it’s about some hillbilly (who is also the director of the film, Noel Marshall) who lives with an insane number of lions at his house in the middle of nowhere in the African continent. He has convinced his family to come over and visit him to see what its like, failing to inform them about all the lions living on the property. He goes to the airport to act as their escort, while getting in accidents along the way that sink his boat and crash a car, and arrives so late that the family arrived at the house well before he arrived at the airport. So now they have to try to survive against all the wildlife until their husband/dad can make it back.
So, you would think this is ripe for thriller/horror material, and a warning against the dangers of trying to tame lions and stuff. But strangely enough, the movie tries to be lighthearted about all this most of the time. It tries to play much of the stuff going on for laughs, even though you just know it’s downright terrifying stuff. The first time I watched this film, I was on the edge of my seat throughout most of the runtime, just wondering when something was going to go wrong, when someone was going to get mauled, when actors break character and run for their lives. I mean, it’s impossible not to feel the tension from virtually everyone (except for that insane director) that is on-screen, the worried looks in their eyes with each passing second, with lions being anywhere from several yards away to not even a millimeter away; as in lions made contact with pretty much everyone at multiple times throughout the film.
Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t see anyone get badly hurt or anything on-screen.
Ok, that’s a lie, we see a few people get hurt on screen, but they’re minor characters. It’s knowing about the behind-the-scenes stories that are more fascinating than the film itself. And yes, behind the scenes, the injuries were a shitload worse than they are in the movie itself. Everyone on set got injured, including the cameramen and other technicians. Well, almost everyone. The black guy who acted as a friend to Noel Marshall’s character managed to get out of the entire production unscathed. Because he was the smart one, he knew to stay away from these lions, and you could tell from his mannerisms in the movie. The worst of the injuries probably happened to poor Melanie Griffith, daughter of Tippi Hedren (yes, THAT Tippi Hedren, from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds; guess it wasn’t enough that she had to be traumatized by seagulls in her last film, now she had to move on to lions and elephants), and daughter of Noel Marshall (and to add to the trauma, Tippi was married to this psycho director, but divorced him after the film was released). Melanie Griffith got her face clawed/chewed so bad she not only almost lost an eye, but also needed reconstructive surgery.
Oh, but it gets better. Guess what the theme to the film is. The moral lesson. Seriously, take a guess, I’ll wait.
Made your guess? Good. If you thought the theme was about how nature can’t be controlled, that the wild will always stay wild, then you’re thinking too much along the lines of common sense. We’re dealing with insane people with a budget here. The theme of the film is about how animals and people can live together in harmony so long as they understand one another. The moment I figured out that’s the message the film was pushing, unironically and in all seriousness and with honest intentions, that was the moment I fell on the floor laughing my ass off. I mean, for crying out loud, they didn’t consider rewriting the theme just a tad during that entire decade of filming when all this stuff was going down? Not even when the 70+ cast/crew members got injured and/or hospitalized? Paul Verhoeven must’ve been shaking his head somewhere in the world going all, “How stupid can people be? They’re making my job of inserting satire into my films impossible damnit!” This is peak irony. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film more misguided than this, not under these extreme circumstances, not by a longshot.
And, to be honest, there’s not much else to say about this film. The first 30 minutes introduces the dad at the house, going to the airport, and the family arriving at the house. The rest of the film is a glorified Scooby-Doo chase that lasts for the next hour. It gets monotonous, which would normally make something like this extremely boring, but it’s very difficult to get bored watching something so batshit insane, where there were virtually no stunt-doubles because only the actors and actresses and some animal trainers who raised the lions themselves would dare get that close to them (not even stuntmen or stuntwomen are this insane). Although it is worth noting that Melanie Griffith originally didn’t want to do the film, so a friend of hers named Patricia Nedd played her part for a few scenes, until Melanie changed her mind and went back into the part. I’m unsure of the details as to what scenes Patricia was in.
There’s a German cut of the film, which I haven’t seen, which has an additional scene in the film where a lion clamps onto Noel Marshall’s leg and pulls him down, and Marshall let’s out a horrendous scream. A part of me wants to see that bit, but a larger part of me doesn’t feel like tracking down a German VHS tape and shelling out money for it.
On a last note, how the idea for the film came to be. Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall found out about an abandoned house that a game warden used to live in, in the middle of Africa , which became populated by a pride of lions. Guess they decided that was a wonderful enough idea to make a movie about living in a house with a bunch of lions.
Anyway, do I recommend the movie? Hell yeah I do! This has to be seen to be believed. Currently available for free on youtube as of this writing. Now don’t get me wrong, just because I recommend it doesn’t mean it’s a good film. Far from it. The acting is mediocre at best, the pacing off, the dialogue so bad and out of place it becomes funny, and not really much of a plot. But it makes up for all that that with, well, pretty much everything else I’ve brought up in this review. Plus it becomes a bit fascinating seeing the lion interactions. For instance, I’ve learned that lions hate the water, but tigers seem to love it.