IT takes a long time to make a Hollywood movie, so nobody knew the latest big-budget war epic, "Flight of the Intruder," would open in theaters at almost the same moment when real war broke out in the Persian Gulf region. The timing was coincidental, but it raises important questions about the nature of today's war films.
Movies about war have a long and respectable history. In the hands of a great filmmaker such as Howard Hawks, for instance, pictures like "The Dawn Patrol" and "Air Force" effectively used World Wars I and II as the framework for explorations of character and team activity.
Movies about war can take many forms, however. During the 1970s, a new breed of pictures like Francis Ford Coppola's brooding "Apocalypse Now" and Michael Cimino's explosive "The Deer Hunter" raised philosophical questions about combat and patriotism, probing them with clear sincerity and varying degrees of insight.
Then the '80s took a big step backward with movies like "Rambo: First Blood Part II," refighting the Vietnam war in terms of macho attitudes and personal vengeance.
Unfortunately, this is the tradition that "Flight of the Intruder" comes out of. It doesn't want to make us think about issues. Instead it wants to glamorize war, turning it into a colorful series of heroic acts and high-technology triumphs, with no concern for humanizing the adversary or depicting the agonies wrought by weapons of mass destruction. Much television coverage of the Persian Gulf war is doing the same thing, making the simplifications of "Flight of the Intruder" even more regrettable.
The movie focuses on two American fliers. When some of their buddies are killed over Vietnam, they get upset. Why aren't we allowed to fight this war the right way, they ask, and bomb the stuffing out of everyone in sight? …