1917: An evocative, attractive failure of a movie

When 1917 came out, I figured that I would hate it because it would be chock full of historical inaccuracies.  This is a particular bugbear of mine, and my family knows full well that asking me to watch a "war movie" is asking for trouble.

I typically pick nits as if they were precious pearls, relishing each one as I find it.

In the case of 1917, the look and feel of the film is spot-on.  Sam Mendes (or his consultants) did a great job, but in fact it's assumed that British filmmakers can knock it out of the park regarding the Great War.

The problem with the film is that its premise is stupid and its execution deeply flawed.

But other than that it's pretty to look at and has some nice scenes with cool music.

Okay, let's look at the premise.  The film centers around the need for a pair of British troops to convey urgent orders from headquarters to stop a doomed attack.  Fair enough.  A similar plot device was used in the much, much better Gallipoli nigh on 30 years ago.

The difference is that for some inexplicable reason, the messengers must cross enemy territory to convey this message to friendly troops on the other side of a salient.

To anyone who knows anything about World War I, normal command arrangements or basic logic, this is nonsense on stilts.  The "Second Devons" who need the message are not cut off or surrounded, they're simply on the other side of a wide patch of (formerly) German controlled territory. 

The problem can literally be solved with a phone call.

What's that?  The phone lines have been cut?  Well gosh, then have a messenger run down a friendly trench from the higher HQ telling them not to attack.

You see, contra the myth that the trenches were permanent, long-term dwellings of troops ala the 4077th in M*A*S*H (I mean the TV show, not the movie), in fact there was constant movement within the lines.  A battalion would rotate in, spend a couple of weeks on patrol, covering the front, and leave when new troops arrived.

Whole divisions rotated back and forth, up and down the front in this manner, and all the while the troops needed food, ammunition, water, blankets, etc.  To be sure, a heavy bombardment might wreck the connecting trenches and leave the front line troops temporarily cut off, but both sides would immediately strive to restore their lines of communication (which is why these trenches were called "communications trenches").

Thus Colin Firth didn't need to send two messengers across enemy territory to stop a useless attack, he simply could have his staff pick up the Fuller Phone and tell Benedict Cumberbatch not to attack.  If he was being a jerk, he'd order him back to the rear.

If the phone line was cut, it would be quickly repaired (this being a high priority thing) and in the meantime, messengers would stream forward with the latest crates of food, ammunition and water.

I hate to belabor the point here, but it is a seriously stupid premise, like one of those horror movies where the entire film would end if any of the characters had a room temperature IQ.

Okay, the premise is dumb, but what of the execution?

Mendes made a big deal of making the film look like it was one continuous take.  For some things, I think that could work, but it fails utterly here.  Perhaps it's because its a trench system, but it feels a lot like watching someone play Call of Duty: The Somme or something.  The effort to keep the action going, makes it feel contrived and labored, and even with the wildly improbable events, Mendes still had to do a fade to black and skip ahead.

I'm going to avoid the temptation to give specific spoilers, but will simply note that Flanders - where the film takes place - is not noted for the quality of its white-water rafting.

In fact, Belgium - being a flat, swampy country - has crap for waterfalls.  I actually looked it up.

This is like having a character scramble to the top of the 10,000-foot mountains of central Ohio.

Anyway, if you don't know anything about World War I, Belgian geography, or how the military actually works, you might enjoy the movie.  I didn't find it painfully stupid, but I'm not in a hurry to ever watch it again - unless I'm drunk and making fun of it.


Behind the curve on Bleeding Fool

The publication of Long Live Death left me a bit distracted, so I forgot to link to my two latest posts over at Bleeding Fool.

Those who remember my fondness for North and South will be amused to see that I've broached the topic over there - albeit in a shorter, funnier format.

Going back almost a month ago, I did a fun nostalgic romp on Zardoz.  Embrace the strangeness while you still can!

Apologies to anyone who missed out, now you can catch up!

Riding out the quarantine with Cowboy Bebop

After a lengthy hiatus, I've got a new article up over at

Cowboy Bebop was something I heard about, but never watched.  Largely this was a result of my distrust of anime.  I'd seen some of it in college and it was just odd.

After a couple of films it seemed that it was obsessed with demon rape and schoolgirls.  I not only wasn't interested, I distrusted men who were.

In any event, while Cowboy Bebop does feature some weirdness, as well as obligatory scantily-clad women, it's a far cry from the weird stuff I saw back in the day.  Check out the article if you want to learn more.

In other news, I'm not writing much, but I am thinking about writing, which is the vital first step.  I write entirely for pleasure, and while I'd love to make more money, the pay isn't good enough for me to force things.  Since I already published my required book this year, I'm in no hurry to come up with another one.

Mark Hamill and the death of fandom

My latest column is up over at Bleeding Fool.  The response has been sharply divided, which is not unexpected, but discouraging.

It seems everything in political now.  I try to keep this blog away from such things, but unless people are willing to stand up on principle - even for people they might disagree with politically - things are only going to get worse.

Reflections on Magnum P.I.

For the last few weeks I've been taking a leisurely stroll down memory lane and watching one of my favorite TV shows, Magnum P.I.

The length of the run and episodic nature precludes binge-watching, but it's nice to take in an episode or two each evening.  It was the last show I could watch before bed time growing up, so there's the same continuity.

As to the show itself, some parts have aged well while others haven't.  The first season was a bit rough, but in season 2 they seem to have found a nice rhythm.  The characters are fun, though Higgins' back story seems to change with every episode, which is part of the charm.  As a kid, I didn't know enough to tell that half the time he sounded like he was making it all up.

It's clearly a thing.

I'm also enjoying seeing people who went on to bigger shows doing guest spots that I totally forgot about. 

But perhaps the biggest thing that has stuck with me is the patriotic paranoia of Magnum and his pals.  They're proud Americans, served their nation, but know that the people in charge are often absolute crooks and don't trust them. 

That's as it should be.  I don't like to bring politics into the blog, but I've noticed a lot of "how dare you accuse US employees/agents/officials of wrong doing!" going on of late.  When I was growing up, everyone had a healthy distrust of power.   We still should.

Thus, in the show, the CIA is a bunch of snakit's oes, the FBI isn't to be trusted and a bunch of the military are utter idiots.  Yet for all that, it's still very pro-American and pro-military.  Serving with honor is a thing, and "the brass" are the ones that screw it up.

And yes, the 'mystery' in each episode isn't exactly hard to figure out, but that's not why you watch.  It's to enjoy the quirks and twists along the way.

Plus, the cast is great.  But you know that.


My Battlestar Galactica piece is up

As promised, my latest and greatest is live at

It's interesting that people who disagree with me are falling right into the Social Justice Warrior mode of calling me a sexist.

Interestingly, no one's addressed my point about the black characters being made either white or Asian.

Anyhow, I'm working on a response that will more fully address the core issue, which is that creativity isn't necessarily a zero-sum game.

To make up a new character, you have to eliminate an old one.

Battlestar Galactica revisited

My next article for will take a look at the two versions of Battlestar Galactica.  I'm still putting the finishing touches on it and I just realized that the original series went off the air almost exactly 30 years ago.

Geez, I'm old.

As part of my research, I've been re-watching it, so I may come back to the topic from time to time, since I'm going to go through it at a leisurely pace, rather than binge-watching.

I'll have more to say in the article, but I have to say that even with the limitations of the special effects, it's pretty good and far from being a Star Wars clone, it uses some concepts that later Star Wars movies will borrow.  Even stuff that I've long thought of as a cheesy sop to the audience (the little kid and his robot dog), make more sense as an author, since they allow the writers to have more space to be creative.

Plus, children would be an issue when looking at a refugee fleet.  Everyone hated Wesley Crusher because he was insufferable but also because warships shouldn't have nurseries.  

But it makes sense on the Galactica, which is now the capital of a floating city.  And the plot line of broken and rebuilding families is an important one.  In fact, having watched the pilot/movie, I have to say it's a lot darker than I remember.

In the first 30 minutes or Adama loses his wife, younger son, and civilization.  Pretty rough and they don't soft-pedal it, either.   Yet it was still viewed a highly kid-appropriate.  I guess we were tougher back then.

Anyhow, I'll post a notice here when I finish and it goes live.