War is so exciting. And so damn pretty too. All that running about. All those explosions. The movie camera is in love with war.
Can you imagine a director approaching a battle scene and thinking- now I've got to make this really grungey and boring and dull?
Look at Kubrick. He hates war, but he's in love with the rituals of the military. That was a real drill sergeant he employed for the first half of Full Metal Jacket.
Saving Private Ryan? Get real. It's in love with the "greatest generation" and the two battle sequences are among the most exciting rides in the history of cinema.
And don't get me started on Apocalypse Now. If there was ever a hymn to the joys of having too much testosterone, this is it. Watch out girlie-men, here come the dudes!
And Peckinpah. Did you ever see Cross of Iron? Our hero walks out on his girlfriend to get back to the men he loves. Shagging is for wimps, real men get their highs from balletic, slow-motion violence.
Even honourable, humanist movies like Le Grand Illusion and All Quiet on the Western Front get a little soppy about the camaraderie of the trenches and the mess hall.
Bergman's Shame is as close as it gets. Here's the civilian's eye view. War is chaotic and stupid and it reduces "civilized" human beings to the level of beasts. Even so we get hooked into a story of quest and survival. This is Bergman at his most conventional and conventionally entertaining.
War, I'm told by those who've been in it, is mostly boredom and dread. A guy who was in the first Gulf War told me about sitting in the turret of his tank and watching day dawn over the desert after a night without sleep and thinking, there's got to be a better game than this. Could the movies give us that sequence? I don't think they could. They'd transmute it into something else. The waiting would turn into Hitchcockian suspense and we'd be thinking, OK, OK, I can sit this out because sooner or later I'm going to be rewarded with some really big bangs.