Pure Spectacle at AWM
Perhaps it is me, but pure spectacle seems to lack entertainment value, at least, it does now that I am old and boring. This came to mind because of a recent trip to the Australian War Memorial. Now, AWM does a pretty good job of striking the baclance benwteen the sacrifices and appalling sadness of war and the ‘cool machinery’ like Spitfires and Me 262s.
A case in point is ‘the biplane movie‘ as we call it. In the ANZAC gallery, up one end, is the World War I aerial warfare gallery. It possesses an SE5a, an Avro 504 and an amongst other rare and unusual artefacts. And a few years ago they launched their movie about fighting above the trenches. Through the wonder of modern CGI film-making (Weta, I believe) we witness Sopwith Camels and Fokkers and RE8s battling it out over France and/or Belgium. We see the brave young men plummet, parachuteless, out of their burning planes. It’s really kinetic, using a curved split screen that forces the viewers to turn their heads to follow the action. As an accompaniment to the static displays it works brilliantly.
It’s not a feature film and should not be judged as one, but it does act as a jumping off point for some thoughts, because even the very first time I saw it I found that I was quite happy for it to end after the 15 or so minutes that it runs.
The lack of story, I think. At first while watching I was sitting there thinking, Wow! It really is time for a Hollywood special effects extravaganza about dog-fighting in WWI. It would absolutely shake you by the throat in IMAX, and would be so inherently life-and-death, because the pilots did not get parachutes (brass was afraid they might not fight hard enough, I read somewhere — another reason to be glad our military leaders are less of an elite drawn from the nobility than they used to be). Ten minutes later I was still impressed. I still felt like I’d been drawn into that world better than ever before. There was still the moment to moment excitement. But watching the swarm of buzzing biplanes dodging and weaving around (at a density I suspect was not exactly realistic) wore out surprisingly quickly. Soon technical admiration was the dominant feeling.
War makes me angry. So many people get hurt to salve men’s egos. War needs the story as well as the spectacle.
So I still think there’s a great movie to be made there; it’s a genre that could (profitably?) be revisited using today’s technology, to really bring out the intensity and the wind whistling in the wires of the planes.
But as always the primacy of story remains, especially when amongst the cool machinery we need to remind ourselves of the terrible truth.