Want to escape CNN's round-the- clock war coverage? Don't head
for the theater.
Faster than Lee Marvin could say "Dirty Dozen," Hollywood is
rounding up its good-looking troops, rallying the editing rooms, and
launching a war-time celluloid offensive.
With few American soldiers killed in the war so far, movie
executives are letting fly a bevy of war-themed releases, beginning
with today's "Behind Enemy Lines," a flag-waving tale of a US pilot
That movie, which Fox rushed into release after positive test
screenings, is Hollywood's opening salvo. The true test of
audiences' appetite for mock warfare during wartime comes next
month, with "Black Hawk Down," based on a real US tragedy involving
In the past, Americans have tended to shy away from dark
depictions of war when real soldiers are in danger.
"The question is: Will people go to the box office for $7.50 and
$10 for popcorn when they can get the same thing on CNN for $14
bucks a month?" asks Jim Grimshaw, a former Army Ranger who acts
opposite Mel Gibson in this spring's Vietnam-era tale "We Were
But moviegoers' initial response has so far been as positive -
and patriotic - as Hollywood executives could wish. "It was a very
violent movie, but I think ... people will respond to its
patriotism," says Eleanor, a retiree who attended a sneak preview of
"Behind Enemy Lines." "It's a very positive piece of Americana."
To be sure, war movies have never gone out of vogue. From "Stalag
17" to "U-571," Tinseltown retellings of American derring-do are
legendary - and in some cases, legendarily profitable. In fact, many
of the current releases were inspired by the tremendous success of
"Saving Private Ryan."
But more recent war films have painted a far more complex,
ambiguous picture of America's wartime experiences, including
"Platoon," "Deer Hunter," and the more recent "Three Kings," an
acclaimed 1999 film that questioned US motives in the Gulf War.
But that was before Sept. 11. Now, moviegoers may prefer "Top
Gun" to "Apocalypse Now." "The general pattern is that during the
time people feel that we are at war, they don't want to see war
films," says Howard Suber, professor emeritus at the UCLA School of
Film, Theater, and Television.
During past wars, "homefront" movies like "Mrs. Miniver," an
Oscar-winning yarn about a London mother holding her family together
during the Blitz, tended to succeed commercially. (The biggest box-
office draw during World War II? Abbott and Costello.)
Even John Wayne had trouble getting the right tone down. …