The Shadow Army

Ruminations on a phantom version of Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line
by Michael Atkinson   posted Oct 27, 2008

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i don't know how relevant blade runner is in the feitshization of director cuts. one can just as easily go well past the original cut of heaven's gate (first celebrated on the late, lamented channel z) all the way back at least to welles' long memos/entreaties in defense of his visions for the magnificent ambersons and touch of evil, respectively. still, the blade runner director's cut example would be one i'd love to see applied to a the thin red line director's cut -- i.e., ditch the voiceovers! no question, this is a fascinating film by one of the great living american directors, and certainly one of the most lyrical war films ever made. still, interiority be damned if it has to be cinematically manifested via disembodied voices spouting some of the most vacuously grandiose "poetic" language ever commited to audio reproduction. "why can't we reach out, touch the glory?" i don't know, ben chaplin, but if i have to hear more inapposite, gratuitously exalted hooey whenever you think about miranda otto back home, i'll surely be more inclined to reach out and touch something else (both hands over my mouth, the upside of your head, &c;.). personally, i'd give long, wordless, hauntingly soundtracked passages a run for their interiority money over wack narration every time. briefly: a.) i hope we may yet see malick's five-hour-long cut, and that this cut restores mickey rourke's excised sniper, and excises john savage's showboating, improvisational "railing against war" (as nick nolte described to charlie rose malick's instructions to savage for his scenes); b.) per that haunting soundtrack, a tip of the hat to jeff rona, who composed the gorgeous droning electronic portions of the soundtrack which are generally attributed to hans zimmer; a.) per tips of hats, nolte and penn should have shared the oscar that year for best actor. the forever under-appreciated elias koteas should have at least been nominated for a supporting oscar, but, here as elsewhere, didn't showboat enough to qualify. in the words of jimmy kimmel to greg giraldo at the flavor flav roast, once more you killed, and once more it won't make any difference at all.
james keepnews   posted 30.10.08

You may be interested in these comments from Ben Chaplin, I interviewed him for Time Out London when it came out: “The Thin Red Line wasn’t like a normal job, it was a massive life experience. The script was a brilliant adaptation of the book, but the script’s not really in the film. It was very dialogue-dense, and he just tossed it away. […] “Bill Pullman’s not in the film. Mickey Rourke is not in the film. Adrian Brody… Adrian was very philosophical about it. He found the experience to be more important than the end result. And he got some great roles off the strength of having done it. You move on. I can’t speak for him, but it must be devastating, I find it hard what’s not there, that I did, and I’m one of the lucky ones. We were a servant to Terry’s vision, that’s why we were there, and we all knew that might happen. Which was an unpleasant feeling, I must say. It was scary to think all this might be for nothing on a personal level. It’s a bit like what happens in theatre sometimes, you have moments you know noone will ever see again, or a night that no-one saw… but that’s the beauty of it too, that it’s just that moment. Same with “Thin Red Line”, it was just a moment and no-one’s ever going to see it – including me. The important thing is that it happened. Terry’s going on and on about a five-hour version, so maybe it will come out one day…”
TC   posted 28.10.08

A lot of this "director's cut" issue is something I blame on the whole "Blade Runner" debacle. It may be heresy to say this, but I found that, as originally released, "Blade Runner" was an underrated genre piece; a science fiction film that was at heart really a neo-noir. The hard rain falling on the scummy big city, with an amoral detective on a questionable pursuit, a beautiful femme fatale lurking on the edges that may be key to the puzzle, and the flat monotonal narration that reminded me of Chandler all contributed to this. Then we get wind of a "director's cut" that is closer to Scott's auteurial intention. Now an underrated classic transforms into a film that falls far short of its potential. Silly touches like the "unicorn shot", and the implication of Ford's Deckard being a replicant like his quarry, make a lot less sense to me than the supposed flaws of the theatrical release. Here, too, I agree with you that "The Thin Red Line" has a rare beauty seldom seen in war movies. Its pacifist overtones, and outlook on nature as the ultimate victim of war would probably blend into the background of a traditional narrative film. Instead, like a tone poem, the original release evokes the soldiers' feelings of homesickness and reverence for spiritual respites in times of conflict. I made my peace with "Blade Runner" after its recent release was mindful of including all versions of the film. Then I could at least justify it as educational on some level. Here's hoping if the rumor regarding Malick's film is true, that its original Academy-Award-nominated release is not ignored.
Tony Dayoub   posted 28.10.08


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Courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Woody Harrelson and Elias Koteas in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line
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The Thin Red Line screenplay


Michael Atkinson is the author/editor of six books, including Ghosts in the Machine: Speculating on the Dark Heart of Pop Cinema (Limelight Eds., 2000), Flickipedia (Chicago Review Press, 2007), Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood (SUNY Press, 2008), and the novels from St. Martin's Press Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat.

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Author's Website: Zero for Conduct