The Hurt You Leave Behind

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This post is numbered fifty-one in a series of posts on the Vietnam War. See here for the previous post in the series and here to go back to the master post.

The second of the Seven Firefights in Vietnam is a considerably shorter action than the first. While the battle at Landing Zone X-Ray was fought over days, the bulk of the action in the second battle, “Convoy Ambush on Highway 1” was winding down after the first forty-five minutes or so. As the book reads, it sounds like an impossible combination of factors conspired to produce this battle. At least, it sounds impossible unless you consider this is one of hundreds of similar small-unit actions, the rest of which were not unique enough to be featured in Seven Firefights in Vietnam.

The book gives a quick but informative background to the battle. The 11th Armored Cavalry deployed to Vietnam in September, 1966. Their mission was a specific response to the insecurity of the highways in South Vietnam at the time. The so-called Blackhorse regiment were outfitted with up-armored M113s plus three companies of M-48 Patton tanks. They had also undergone specific anti-ambush training, practicing and preparing their reaction to ambushes while escorting convoys. The regiment immediately went to work, spreading itself thin while providing highway security and simultaneously building a base camp near the Đồng Nai provincial capital of Xuân Lộc. In early November, the U.S. Army received intelligence that the Viet Cong was targeting the lightly-defended but resource-rich base camp. In response, additional supplies and far-flung units were summoned home.

It seems like a good bit of dumb luck was involved in making sure that an extra-large convoy was headed toward the base at exactly the time the VC set up a complex ambush on that highway. No doubt the VC were aware that convoys moved to supply the base but it was only the intelligence of the VC movements that resulted in an extra-long convoy – more than eighty vehicles, by one estimate – passing through the ambush zone. The U.S. Army hadn’t planned for this super-convoy and weren’t entirely prepared for its scale. The escort commander, Lt. Neil L. Keltner, had but two platoons of the light-armor M113. He did find an additional vehicle, riding with the convoy itself, giving him a total of nine combat vehicles providing defensive combat capabilities. Although he couldn’t know it, these nine vehicles would be fighting in a 1.5 km ambush zone against two VC battalions and a regimental headquarters, all experienced guerrilla fighters.

From this point forward though, lady luck switched sides. As the convoy was beginning to move, a coded radio transmission was intercepted indicated that the 274th Regimental headquarters was in play and pinpointed its location to the stretch of Highway 1 where the convoy was about to move. Rapid reaction, within a minute of receiving the intelligence, launched a pair of helicopters for air support and provided warning to the convoy escorts, even though the size of the ambush was not fully appreciated. The result was that, instead of being surprised and trapped in the killing zone, much of the convoy raced through the ambush, guns ablaze at the roadside attackers. Perhaps even the paucity of information helped the Americans. It was assumed that the ambush forces were small in number and would be composed infantry small-arms – more of a harassment than a full-scale threat. Such an attack could be bypassed so, with the convoy prepared to run the gauntlet, as much of a third of the vehicles made it through the killing zone before the VC began to use their heavy weapons (recoiless rifles). The tail end of the convoy was able to halt before entering the killing zone. Furthermore, only minutes after the ambush began, a trio of F-100s were diverted from a scheduled mission and were over the battlefield ready to deliver more air support.

Given the size of the ambush and the scarcity of forces on the U.S. side, the Americans came out very well. Seven men did lose their lives and the Army lost four trucks and two M113s. Another eight soldiers were wounded.

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The Tour of Duty map provides an excellent picture of the ambush zone.

Opening up this scenario (Ambush at Xa Xuan Loc) in Squad Battles: Tour of Duty, I was immediately impressed with what I saw. The maps printed in Seven Firefights aren’t very clear in my copy, so what I saw in-game was a well-illustrated version of what I had just tried to imagine while reading. The M113s are represented one-for-one but, while there are lots and lots of trucks, the total length of the convoy is likely underrepresented. From that initial impression onward, however, my feelings for this one went downhill.

The scenario is six turns long, which means we are only looking at the initial reaction to the ambush. Engaged forces include only the vehicle-mounted weaponry on the M113s; there is no representation of infantry units or passengers. The scenario does include the arrival of the two Huey gunships although, when I played the scenario, the Hueys didn’t show up until turn six, meaning there was no chance to use them. I’m going to assume that the air support is tied to a randomly-varying delay as it would make little sense to include units that arrive on-map but are impossible to employ. Request for fixed-wing support is limited to the commander of the Armored Cavalry. In my first run-through, the command M113 was knocked out in between the time when he requested air support and when he could direct the strikes. That meant that my airstrikes were called off. More about this later.

The result was an American disaster. Huge vehicle losses, both in terms of the transports and the escorts. I lost my one infantry unit – the leader shown in the above screenshot. The lopsidedness of the victory, and the fact that the actual result was just as lopsided in the opposite direction, makes me wonder about how the modelling can be so far off. As with the battle at Ap Bau Bang, depicted in A Change of Tune, the M113s were actually very effective and rapidly moved up and down the column to break up the ambush. VC fire was effective, causing individual casualties as well as taking out two of the vehicles, but the M113s were able to prevail. Part of the reason, it is figured, is that the VC did not expect the vehicles to be as effective and deadly as they were. The insurgents were used to the transport version of the M113 and may have been surprised and neutralized by the better-equipped versions employed by the Blackhorse regiment.

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Mind the gaps. The Steel Panthers take is Steel Panthers -ugly, but from the get-go adds details that improve the experience.

Unhappy, as I was, with the Tour of Duty version, I tried the Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank scenario (Ambush on Highway 1) as well. In stark contrast, the initial impression of graphics and terrain representation in Steel Panthers is not favorable; and rarely is. The graphics are dated, the terrain bizarrely geometrical, and the scenario uses contrived terrain to fit the scenario’s parameters. For example, in both the above and below screenshots, you can see the use of “stream” hexes to represent the drainage ditches along Highway 1.

Also in contrast, the experience did improve as I got into it. Right away certain aspects of the battle, as described in Seven Firefights in Vietnam, translated themselves from the page to the gaming screen. As the convoy moved, it began to bunch up in some places and develop gaps in others. The convoy was described as containing “about every size and shape [vehicle] in the U.S. Army inventory,” making coordination difficult. Seven Firefights cites this as a factor in the battle.

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Frequent overflights by a spotter aircraft helped me identify where the enemy was hidden. Note also, though, that I have a lot of trucks on fire even though the scenario is just getting started.

Similarly, another key aspect of the battle’s outcome, shown in the above screenshot, was represented. Because command was alerted to the location of the ambush, Captain Robert Smith* was was in the air above the convoy even as the shooting started. Radio discussions between air support and intelligence meant that the air units had, in some cases, even better intelligence than Lt. Keltner commanding from the ground. Tellingly, Keltner lost the use of his radio for a portion of his battle and had to transfer his command to a new vehicle. During this time overhead observers were able to continue coordination of support.

In the end, the Steel Panthers version of the battle was also particularly bloody. I lost 23 convoy trucks and 4 of my M113s. Unlike the Tour of Duty version, Steel Panthers models the crews and passengers for the vehicles and I wound up losing 89 personnel to the enemy. This high number includes the drivers and passengers in the unarmored trucks and jeeps. The game ranked it a “draw,” which, for me at least, can soften a rough time during scenario play – I feel that while I could have done better, I also could have done far worse.

Massive losses aside, the experience of playing the scenario is actually a good one. When the scenario starts, you have this awful feeling of being overwhelmed. Trucks are blowing up left and right and the VC’s recoiless rifles can knock out an escort vehicle before you even have time to shoot back. However, matching the narrative of the battle, the M113s that survived had excellent mobility and could move about the column. When the Hueys arrive, the nature of the fight flipped. It becomes my turn to move around the map wiping out the enemy while they have little recourse. The Steel Panthers M113s use some kind of grenade launchers (modeled in the game as “Claymore Mines”) that makes them very effective when overrunning insurgent infantry.

So why the huge gap between historical results and game results that persists across the different platforms (despite the very different gameplay experience)? Well, one possibility is that I played the scenarios incorrectly. I won’t dismiss this entirely; if you’ve read my posts before you’ll know I can be pretty inept at beating some of these scenarios. However, in both games I found that in the opening turns my losses exceeded the historical losses. It doesn’t seem possible that I could have missed a tactical approach (whether obvious or obscure) that could have avoided that result. It is also possible that these scenarios were never intended to be historical simulations. Eliminating certain factors which, in real life, caused the Americans to have an overwhelming victory could serve the game by turning this historical encounter into a well-balanced, difficult-to-win scenario. It seems that, for players, solving that challenge is more fun than meticulously recreating the historical result. This, too, doesn’t quite explain everything. The order-of-battles, map, and positioning certainly seem to be historically based (within the limitations of these two games to do so).

Looking beyond those first two explations, this suggests that the modelling within these games are either a) more lethal than reality or, b) biased toward the insurgency, or possibly a mix of both. It does seem to be a pattern across a number of different scenarios. One possibility is that it is morale-based, as I alluded to above. I would imagine that the performance of guerrillas forces, particularly against U.S. and Free World Allied units, would have been hit and miss. Even if so, a scenario rule that said you had 50-50 chance of all VC being worthless might be accurate, but it would be a game-killer. So perhaps the reason is that, in game, the VC are always at the top of the potential whereas in real-life they were thrown off their game by morale factors. In this case, the fact they were surprised by the effectiveness of the M113s certainly blunted their attack.

A similar calculus applies to equipment. Communist equipment was not of the highest reliability. When reading The Boys of ’67, I recall several actions where the VC grenades were described as mostly harmless. They often did not explode and, even when they did, did so with reduced force. But while the odds may have been in your favor, that doesn’t mean you wanted to be sitting atop one when it went off. I wonder if the games might over-represent the effectiveness of the VC equipment, again necessary for good gameplay if not entirely historically accurate.

Another possible source of error when comparing game results to after-action-reports is one of definition. Consider, in this case, the board game origins of games such as these two. In many a cardboard game, the result of a combat action is often all-or-none. You roll the dice and either the target of the attack survives or is removed from the board (it might even say KIA in the combat table). But does that really mean “killed,” as in everybody dies? In a tactical game, removing a counter really means that unit is unavailable as a fighting force through the end of the scenario (perhaps on the order of another 20 minutes, give or take). That could mean killed or wounded, but it could also mean scattered, or out of ammunition, or cut off from command. Sometimes these other factors are more explicitly modeled but the fact is, if a counter is going to be non-functional for the remainder of the game for whatever reason, you might as well remove it from the board. In Seven Firefights in Vietnam, the author describes the harrowing effect of recoiless rifle hits, particularly on the armored M113s. In most cases, however, while damaging, they don’t result in “kills.” Steel Panthers provides an explosion sound effect and a smoking wreck when a vehicle gets removed from play, but that is certainly a simplification of the wide range of complex conditions that takes a vehicle out of a fight.

Another notable point from the Seven Firefights in Vietnam is that, while VC rockets are mentioned in the narrative, none of the killed vehicles are attributed to RPGs. In both Steel Panthers and Squad Battles, on the other hand, RPGs are very common to the communist forces and result in a large number of the casualties, particular to the softer vehicular targets. It makes me wonder whether, given the 1966 scenario date, the the RPGs are either over prevalent or over-powered.

Whatever the case, this is mostly me taking myself too seriously. Particularly the Steel Panthers version of this scenario is a decent representation of this battle. It provides a nice, and fun, companion to the chapter in Seven Firefights in Vietnam.

*With his overhead view, he is the one that provided both the estimate of the number of vehicles as well as the “every size and shape” quote.

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A More Perfect Union

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Constitution Day nearly passed me by. Fortunately, the Wall St. Journal published an editorial by Assistant Professor Adam Carrington of Hilsdale College.

He suggests that those who would invoke and defend the Constitution mostly focus on the Bill of Rights or on one of the later amendments. Instead, he suggests, we might find wisdom in the preamble; wisdom that would help us to answer the political questions that plague us today.

Alas, he does not show us those answers. But he does ask some good questions. We should be aware that “domestic tranquility,” “the blessings of Liberty,” and the sovereignty of “We the People” are truly at risk. It is a holiday worth our remembrance.

Nearby, the Journal’s editorial staff commentate on the renewed attack on Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s past life. They conclude that this is either an attempt to pressure Justice Kavanaugh into altering his positions when making decisions and/or question the very legitimacy of the institution.

Connecting these dots is left as an exercise for the reader.

It’s Showtime!

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Am I the only one that suspects that the purpose of Showtime, when it was added to the world of premium cable, was not quite as advertised? I think the point was to entertain the business traveler who wanted to watch a little porn in his hotel room after hours, but couldn’t be caught billing porn channels to his room, to then show up on his expense report. Showtime filled that need with a hard-R, soft-porn lineup – particularly in the later hours.

To this day, I still see Showtime’s bespoke content as focusing on this particular market and am often surprised when their productions have other positive qualities. I reflect on this as Californication leaves Netflix, probably never to return.

As I write this, we are on the cusp of the Great Streaming Wars that is certain to, once again, disrupt television as we know it. As shows are disappearing from Netflix, it may (for once) not be Netflix’s fault. Envious of Netflix’s market domination and the resultant irrational stock valuation, all and sundry studios are considering claiming their own stake in that gravy train* by creating their own cash cows made indispensable by exclusive, must-see content.

In Showtime’s case, they are piggy-backed on Amazon Prime. For another $11/ month on top of what you’re already paying Amazon, you can add the Showtime channel. Naturally, they’d be fools to let you get around this fee by letting you watch their shows on Netflix for nothing.

I may be a cynic, but I see this going nowhere good for us, the consumers. From the turn of the millennium, we have been luxuriating in a bath of incredibly good television. Driven by the competition for subscribers to the premium cable channels, viewing was democratized by Netflix. No longer do Sopranos and Game of Thrones addictions require a premium cable package with HBO added. Yet HBO (and others, including (now) Netflix) felt they should churn out high-end television as a means to get subscribers and build their brand. As they try to tighten control over the profits to be had from premium content, it is bound to restrict both access by consumers as well as the profits themselves – meaning less and lesser content for the future.

The Wall St. Journal has made a recurring argument that the consumers will be able to take advantage of the new way. Well, given the context, they’re really arguing that the shareholders will not see that value because consumers will alter their behavior. The Journal‘s view of the future is one with dozens of monthly subscriptions competing, each with exclusive content. Consumers can simply choose what they want to watch next and purchase only that monthly subscription and only for as long as they need. After finishing one show, they can cancel and move on to the next show on a different streaming package. Of course, this also destroys the value of a Netflix subscription to a cord-cutting consumer who just wanted a conveniently-available substitute for cable TV. You’ll be required to actively play a subscription game simply to view an ever-dwindling array of shows.

Anyway, let’s get back to Hank Moody.  Californication was, for some time, a buzz amongst those who had Showtime but not really a thing for those of us without. As the seasons piled up, the show became available through my own “channels” and I had read some positive things about it. However, was it really worth trying to grab a handful of soft porn while shielding the consumption thereof from those I’d rather not have witness it? Do I want to be that guy?

Finally, Californication came and went on Netflix with, as usual, the latter motivating me to watch it. I really wish I had started in on it earlier as, to me at least, this is one of those top shows that define this generation’s Golden Age of Television**. Yes, its very heavy on the nookie – don’t let your mother know you’re watching this – but nookie isn’t what defines the show. Or, maybe better put, it’s a story about sex, drugs, and alcohol as a coping mechanism and so the soft-porn scenes actually are integral to the story rather than gratuitous. Well, sometimes.

Californication falls into that particular genre of self-referential black comedy, which has really produced some good stuff. In one episode toward the end of Season 1, after Hank’s agent has read his long-awaited new novella, the agent also realizes that the story (and its under-age girl) is probably autobiographical because Hank “writes about what he knows.” It makes one wonder about the whole series. Is it, also, autobiographical, under-aged girl and all? Perhaps it’s a compilation of industry tales, not necessarily including those involved in the production.

Speaking of under-age, in a show synopsis I read somewhere that it is the story of a “30-something writer who blah-blah-blah.” I was taken aback when I read that. David Duchovny doesn’t look “thirty-something,” nor do I think he looked “thirty-something” in 2007 when the show started. He was 47 at the time and, at least to me, looked in his forties. Not that there is anything wrong with that – like many forty-somethings, I think he’d improved with age since the X-Files days. My first thought was that, since in the first episode he meets 16-year-old Mia (played by a then 22-year-old), the entire cast needed to be shifted about a decade to make the May-December gaps look right. However, I’ll note a fact. Creator/writer/producer Tom Kapinos was in his mid-to-late 30s when the show kicked off, and possibly in his early 30s when he started writing it down.

Whatever the case, I will have to keep up with this one, despite the fact that it has now vanished behind a streaming paywall. I do have to wonder how the writers can keep this up for seven seasons (!). If the characters don’t evolve, you can’t have dozens and dozens of the same episode over and over. But if they do evolve, do you lose what’s made the show work in the first place? I know, everyone’s seen this one but me – so don’t ruin it!

*Is there a contest for most mixed of metaphors? If so, I want a piece of it.

**I hereby declare the Golden Age of Television to run from January 10th, 1999 (first airing of The Sopranos) to December 1st, 2017 (when Netflix approved Stranger Things, Season 3).

If Wishes were Fishes

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It’s not that I don’t like Bruce Willis films. I do. I also enjoy a shoot-em-up action flick as much as the next guy. Still, a remake* of Death Wish just didn’t seem like something that had to be done. Perhaps it was the feeling that the original story was so specific to the 1970s (the novel came out in 1972 and the film in 1974). Perhaps it was just the feeling that Bronson’s version said everything that needed to be said on a subject that wasn’t all that deep to begin with.

Then the progressive, anti-gun political class lost their shit.

There’s no better way to get me watch something than to tell me I shouldn’t watch it. It took most of a year, but, having made it my mission to watch the Death Wish update for 2018, my mission is complete.

Director Eli Roth says he did not make it to be a pro-Gun movie. He blames a rush to judgement from viewers based on no more than the first trailer. His intent, he says, was simply to present a story without drawing conclusions for his audience. Furthermore, the questions he wanted debated were about crime (he cites an apparent lack of progress** between 1974 and today), family, and how far a man should go to protect his own. The focus on guns came about, in part, due to the film’s timing relative to the shooting, two years ago, at an outdoor Las Vegas concert and then the Florida school shooting four months later.

The Left did not buy his protestations, but perhaps I do. Roth’s pre-Death Wish background is in horror and he does not seem to have much of a political agenda. While his portrayal of guns in Death Wish is, perhaps, better than most, he makes a number of Hollywood gun mistakes. Perhaps most obvious to me is [spoiler alert here] that, in the climatic scene when Willis’ Kersey uses his “legal” guns to defend his home, he produces a fully-automatic machine-pistol built on a AR-15 action. It’s a product that would be nearly impossible to possess if you are not military/law-enforcement and kinda silly to have if you are (why cobble together an AR pistol when you can legally have a short-barrelled rife?). The legality of his weapons is a key plot point and this kind of barfs all over the logic. In another key plot point, Kersey’s lack of skill and experience as a shooter causes a tell-tale injury on his shooting hand, but this is a distortion of what can and does happen to many a novice semi-automatic pistol owner. Fact is, you’d really have to have some bizarro grip to tear up your hand like he does while shooting one-handed (as he clearly does in the scene).

That said, it is still a notch above most film industry takes on guns. That hand injury results from Kersey learning all he knows about guns and shooting by watching YouTube. It’s an all-too-accurate commentary on a particular subset of today’s gun culture (or even culture/YouTube in general) and may originate from someone who knows what he’s talking about. I was also amused by the fact that Kersey replaced his Glock 17 with a Springfield XD, but that may be a little to subtle a point to be intentional. Beyond that, firearm portrayal is reasonable and competent.

If this movie were watched without the context of Bronson’s Death Wish and the specific 2017/2018 political kerfuffle, I surely would have viewed it very differently. Kudos to Roth for setting off the PC crowd, though. Sometimes that’s all it takes to please me.

*This one doesn’t quite fall into the remake category I discussed earlier. I’ll grudgingly admit to being alive when Bronson’s Death Wish series of films came out, but (my parents, at least, felt) I was a little young to watch them. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I actually rented and watch the original.

**While Roth may be right about appearances, he is not right on the facts. Violent crime has trended significantly downward from the early 1970s through today.

We Can Remake It for You Wholesale

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I’ve lived long enough that the films I once watched new, when they were the latest and greatest available, are now being remade. I could probably start listing examples, but I am afraid the result would probably be more depressing than informative. Not long ago I talked about Blade Runner. Technically that was more sequel than remake, but the issues were similar. Today, I’ll move forward a half-a-dozen years and we’ll talk about another Philip K. Dick adaptation.

When Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall came out (1990), it was by almost any measure a big deal. In its time, it was one of the most expensive films ever made. It rivaled the record holder, Superman (1978), although not in inflation adjusted dollars, and was roughly on par with its contemporaries, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, and Rambo III. Star Schwarzenegger was then a huge box office draw. Female lead (well, sort-of) Sharon Stone wasn’t really yet, but she was about to become one (in part, due to the exposure she got in Total Recall). The supporting cast sported familiar faces from other popular late-80s action films. Total Recall was both popular and successful; one of the top money-makers of 1990, it earned well beyond its substantial investment. Of course, neither Verhoeven nor Schwartzenegger were (or are) particularly know for serious, or even good, filmmaking (I’m looking at you, Starship Troopers). It may have been a big budget blockbuster (blah blah blah), but we all expected campy, superficial fun.

The screenwriters had purchased the rights to the short story more than a decade before, but had difficulty selling their concept. Instructively, one attempt at getting it on the screen had the original writer (Ronald Shusett) arguing with David Cronenberg, who was brought on board by Dino De Laurentiis. As a dozen different rewrites by Cronenberg were unable to meet with his approval, according to Cronenberg, Shusett criticized, “You know what you’ve done? You’ve done the Philip K. Dick version.” When Cronenberg asked, “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?” he was told “No, no, we want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.” In the end it came to naught. De Laurentiis dumped the project when Dune turned out to be a disaster.

It was Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately pulled the concept through to fruition. He had been aware that De Laurentiis was working on the project, but was unable sell himself as the lead. When De Laurentiis dropped it, Schwarzenegger talked his Terminator 2 production company into picking the title up as well as giving him substantial control over the production. It was Schwarzenegger who brought in Verhoeven (impressed, as he was, with Verhoeven’s recent RoboCop). Thus history was made.

But could it be remade? In due time, the ebb and flow of the movie biz meant that the rights to Dick’s story came up, again, for grabs. This put a new, modernized production on the table. The result was the 2012 remake.

But why do it? OK, twenty years is kind of a long time and any good-but-twenty-year-old story might seem open to reinterpretation by-and-for a new generation. On the other hand, the technological and cultural shifts between 1990 and 2009 (when the new film went into production mode) just don’t seem, to me, to be that significant.

The obvious answer is, of course, “to make money.” Whatever creative reasons for redoing Total Recall ultimately would have to get approved and funded by a studio with their eye on the bottom line. In this, and we’ll just cut to the chase, it didn’t exactly succeed. The cost of production ran more than double that of the original, although such a monetary figure is considerably less remarkable in the 20-teens, where now a “big budget” is closer to $200 million. By contrast, the domestic box office, at under $60 million, was more like the cost of the original. Fortunately for the money-men, the international take was well beyond the U.S. take, making the overall venture profitable, but hardly the glowing success that the original was. Nevertheless, this may reinforce the idea that remakes and sequels are the way to go if you want to guarantee a return on your investment. Still, let’s think about the creative side.

Is the remake meant to be for fans of the original film who want to see the story updated? Is it meant for a younger generation that would never have seen the original? In some sense, it has to be both, because you need the numbers from both audiences to be successful, right?

One of the reasons I watched it (despite Netflix warning me that it wasn’t so hot) was because of a handful of positive viewer comments I had read. One in particular was written as a counter to all the negative reviews based, presumably, on unfavorable comparisons to the 1990 film. This reviewer said that the comparisons to the Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger version were off-base because this film was based on the original short story, not the 1990 film. In this, his comments seem to be taken directly from some Jessica Biel (the other leading lady – not Sharon Stone’s upgrade) pronouncements made on The Daily Show being interviewed by John Stewart*. The problem is, this explanation is not accurate.

Clearly, anyone working on a 2012 version of this film would have, as reference points, both the 1990 movie and the 1966 short story and so influences are going to come from wherever**. However, one of the main missing pieces – the fact that Mars gets nothing but a bare mention – comes not from the original short story, which is Mars based. In the interview with Biel, Jon Stewart (correctly) states that the short story takes place entirely on Earth. In fact, Dick’s original takes place entirely in either Doug Quail’s (he is Quail, not Quaid, in the book) apartment, the Rekal offices, or a police station. That said, the focus of Quail’s fantasy/memory is unequivocally a trip to Mars. Similarly Biel’s character doesn’t exist in the original story; she comes entirely from the 1990 movie. For that matter, so does the “action” that makes up the bulk of the new film.

It is that action that seems to be the primary raison d’être for the newer version. In the 20-teens, films are now dominated by CGI and, shall we say, Matrix-style combat sequences. Ironically, another viewer review comment that I focused on was that the science fiction of the new version was more realistic. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Those comic-book style combat sequences which fill the bulk of the film may start out stylish but they quickly end up becoming exhausting. Bullet fly, bodies tumble, but nobody really gets hurt. We see people that are constantly fighting, but the conflict has no meaning since it has no consequences***.

Beyond the superficial action, the fundamental premise is simply absurd from an science/engineering standpoint. The voyage to Mars has been replaced with a giant core-traversing earth elevator that allows a 17 minute transit from England to Australia. It’s so outrageous that we’re probably foolish to even try to analyze the details, but it seems they get every single thing about it wrong.

It may just be me, but this version seemed to be trying to make more of a “statement” in a try-hard fashion. The 1990 original, itself, had a bit of environmentalism and class-struggle politics built into it, but that probably didn’t skew the story for most viewers. In the remake, the philosophical assumptions that underlie the premise, like the math and science, seem wildly off. First of all, this marvel of technology – a machine that can allow near-instant commuter transportation between England and Australia, in the end, has no other meaning except that it is a tool for oppression. Likewise, the destruction of the majority of Earth in a chemical warfare episode is insurmountable by this incredible technology. Despite this, we see hero Colin Farrel traverse the dead zone with nothing more than a black facecloth. In the end, it all seems contrived to create, for story purposes, an artificial scarcity with in the small world of a film universe. That scarcity, unlike the preciousness of oxygen in the original, allows the manufactured resurrection of the WWII bugbears of nationalism and ethnic conflict projected onto the future.

Finally, after having now seen both versions, I elected to at last read the original story. It was published, in April 1966, as a short story in a magazine. Over the years, it has been included in anthologies. Fortunately, for me, it was released as a stand-alone ebook, presumably as a tie-in for the 2012 Total Recall film promotion.

It being a short story, it does not have, nor should it be expected to have, a lot of depth. The magazine submission origins emphasize something of a one-note composition; the story is all build up to the one big twist at the end. That’s OK, of course. The simplicity should only be a disappointment to those who sought out the “book” to find more depth behind the action-focused movies.

Most interesting to me is what the content of the various stories have to say about the contemporary society in which they were created. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale comes from a time when humanity was on the verge of escaping the bonds of Earth. We were about to go to the Moon; unmanned tests of the lunar mission vehicles were taking place and we were less than a year away from the deadly Apollo 1 mission. Space-wise, it was a time of eager optimism. After the Moon, the solar system and perhaps the galaxy was sure to open up to human exploration. But with these things still just over the horizon, the fantastic potential of alien life – around other stars, on Mars, or even on the Moon – had yet to be quelled. Thus, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is full of alien encounters and extra-terrestrial life.

By 1990, the Space Race had come and gone, but a new era of more modest exploration had begun. NASA was pushing its robotics missions to Mars which, while still a few years out, were also beginning to peek at us over the horizon. Talk about a renewed man space program and manned colonization of Mars was not entirely unheard in politics. While the fantasy of “little green men” on Mars was known to be just that, there remained (and still does, despite a lack of evidence so far from the completed Martian missions) the possibility of finding evidence of past life on Mars, perhaps during and earlier era of a warmer climate. Thus, the 1990 film cleverly combines a plausible view with wild, speculative fantasy about what a Martian colony might look like.

So what does the 2012 version say about us today? The post-apocalyptic setting contrasts with the reach-for-the-stars future of the originals. The political structure of oppression and genocide completely overwhelm any sense of wonder at the future tech (what was there besides fancy cell phones?). Even the extreme emphasis on cartoony action and violence – completely absent from the original story and considerably less prevalent in the original movie – surely makes a statement about how we view ourselves as a society today. Let’s leave that out, though, as a exercise for another time.

*Here I thought 1990 doesn’t seem that long ago. Since Total Recall became a mainstay of the home video rental market, Jon Stewart has come and gone as host of The Daily Show.

**Personally, I see an attempt to work in The Time Machine‘s construction of a bifurcated civilization which then attempt to dominate each other.

***This isn’t a problem with this movie in particular – the comic book world is taking over the film world and bringing with it “superhero” -style combat.

Valhalla, I am Coming

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So far, the closest I have come to feeling the stories of The Saxon Chronicles is the Viking Conquest conversion for Mount & Blade: Warband. I am almost ashamed to say it, but it is my story and I’m sticking to it. Viking Conquest is also, for me, a very addicting game; much like Patrician III and for pretty much the same reasons. The campaign games for both the original and the conversion are open ended worlds where one must build power over time. The necessary money can be made by trading between cities or by taking on quests (which often involves fighting). The grind gets very repetitive but for some reason it is difficult to stop.

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I watch in admiration as my warband delivers a beat down to some nasty highwaymen.

Mount & Blade was a long time being developed. After it finally came out, it was a long time before I broke down and bought it. Even after buying it, it took until now for me to even try the Viking Conquest version of the game.

The first beta versions of the game were released in 2004. At the time, the concept had me very excited. The idea was to create a realistic, first-person game of medieval combat; no magic or fabulous creatures – something historically plausible. A particular emphasis was to be placed on mounted combat. I recall, first, my thrill with the whole concept but then I lost track of it as development drew on. I may have even tried an early beta-build and couldn’t quite get the hang of it.

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Each town on the map has a detailed layout with residents wandering to and fro.

Eventually, the full release came out and the mixed reviews delayed my decision to buy. I really should have started on this article back then, because I don’t remember what my concerns were – only that I had them. Even at release, some of those free pre-release builds were still around, which made the price point for the release version seem even more expensive. Did the game look all that much better than the version that I had downloaded for free? The original game was released in 2008 and an upgraded version in 2010. One impression I had of that second release is that, once multiplayer was supported, this seemed to de-emphasize the single player experience. Some critics complained that single-player was under-developed. For myself, I was only interested in single-player.

More years slid by and eventually versions of the game got discounted to a point where I couldn’t say no. By then, another expansion had been released, called Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword (2011) as well as total-conversion mods for the Napoleonic Wars and the Viking Age. I think I bought the base game when it went on sale as a teaser for the DLCs and then a packaged version when that went on sale. Confusingly (for me) my licenses for the games are split between GOG and Steam so that I have to be sure to install from the right source, depending on what version I am after.

So now I had the full 2010 release of Mount & Blade: Warbands copy in hand and it was time to try it. The game has you take on the persona of a wandering warrior in a mythical medieval land. There is a tutorial to teach you the combat system (more on that later) before you begin your campaign. In the campaign portion, you can wander from town-to-town taking on quests, buying high and selling low, or just fighting people and taking their stuff. It is an open-ended environment you can use to build your own story as you collect wealth, followers, and status against a background of politics and warfare between kingdoms. On several fronts, the game didn’t completely thrill me, but these were all minor issues. The killer was the mouse configuration. While the assignment of the mouse buttons to in-game actions is configurable, the defaults for the game override your Windows settings. I played for a few hours (I can see the records in Steam) and then never went back.

Sometime after this experience, I had a chance to pick up the Viking and Napoleonic DLCs cheap. I think, at that time, the Napoleonic one was something I had read some good stuff about and I figured it was worth the price. The horrific trauma of the left-handed mouse problem had either softened with time or was forgotten. Yet, the opportunity to buy didn’t translate into an urge to play. It didn’t help that I would have had to delete my existing installation and reinstall from another source, one of those things that just makes me nervous.

And so it sat until I read that Viking Conquest had a historically-interesting representation of the Battle of Ashdown. I also know how to switch the mouse buttons in the hardware controller, so I was ready!

Viking Conquest moves from a mythical medieval land to the real England, Ireland, Scotland (plus the coastal area around the Low Countries) shortly after the Viking conquest of Northumbria. Beyond that, the premise is pretty much the same as the unmodified Mount & Blade. The campaign opens with you traveling with your mother to get her some medical attention. Before you arrive, you are ambushed at sea by a minor Viking warlord. In the attack, you to lose both your mother and all your worldly possessions. This sets you on a journey to avenge her death while trying to make your fortune in the England of around 870.

As I indicated at the outset, the gameplay is similar to many multi-faceted strategy games based on an open world and user-driven (somewhat) stories. You move from town to town so as to engage the key people you can locate. You need money, which you can obtain through trading or by performing quests. You can also attack other forces on the map and, upon defeating them, take their stuff. Depending on whom those forces were aligned with, it popularity among the factions on the map will shift with your actions. Thus you gradually make friends as well as enemies.

You have plenty of ways of spending that money. You can upgrade your own gear or recruit a body of armed men, which then allow you to engage ever the larger groups of warriors that are also wandering the map. You can also build your own fortune, buying land, wooing young women of nobility, and forming alliances with the powers that be. It is, as I said, reminiscent of other economic/empire building strategy games except that the lowest level interface is a first-person control of your own character.

That first-person system gets points for the attempt but, for me, the result is a little on the clumsy side. I’m not all that familiar with the genre the Mount & Blade developers were trying to improve upon – Elder Scrolls has been cited as an inspiration – so I don’t know how others might have done it the same or better. To me, the control scheme of holding down a mouse button and then moving the mouse (right button to parry or block, left to attack) has hints of the gesture system of Black & White. In other words, it seems to be one of those promising but dead-end concepts of early-aughts UI. While mouse-gesture-based combat would seem to be a way to immerse the player by focusing on movement rather than keyboards and control panels, this type of control is simultaneously imprecise and hell on the wrists. It makes me wonder how they’ve translated the control system to the gaming controllers for their console ports, but I’ll not dig that up right now.

One nice bit of depth to this gaming system is that while its a first-person interface, it does kind of feel like a fully-populated world. As you’re attributes develop, you can lead more and more men, very quickly bringing 100+ fellow soldiers with you into the fight. Unlike some first-person semi-strategic implementations, you’re not required to personally defeat the opposing hoards in hand-to-hand combat. In fact, you could easily win most fights by hanging back and watching your men take the lead. Besides simply your druthers as a player (isn’t the reason you’re playing so you can, you know, play?), there will be some advantages to actually leading your army and being out in front slaughtering enemy. I believe it will help with their morale to see you winning fights and the experience you gain in a fight will increase your leadership skills going forward.

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I’ve earned enough street cred that one of the Earls explains how to use group tactics in battle.

In addition to first-person control, you also have battle commands to order your followers. Like the first-person control system, I’ve so far found the command system a bit awkward to use. Also like that first-person control system, I’m not sure how I would do it better. In this case, it is similar to other first-person tactical command interfaces. Specifically, I have ARMA in mind. Function keys pop up submenus which allow to to give formation or movement instructions to your followers. The commands can be given to your force as a whole, or to the unit-types separately (horses can be held back while the spearmen are ordered to charge, for example).

While the interface is simplistic and a tad difficult, it also more closely approximates the level of control a warlord might have had over his troops much better than your typical RTS interface (or even, let’s say, a Field of Glory battle). Simulation-wise, it isn’t completely unrealistic but, in particular, it fails in approximating the earlier stages of a battle. In my gaming experience, battle lines close quickly after only a brief exchange of missiles and the shield infantry don’t stand for very long. However, my experience does not include two veteran shield walls facing each other, so the program may handle that better than I am anticipating.

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Historical chrome. I pay a visit to Hadrian’s Wall.

As I started off with, this game has been both the most immersive Viking experience I’ve so far found as well as the most compelling Viking gaming experience. Both of these results surprise me. Not only does one expect first-person games to be among the sloppiest at getting the history right, but given the generated-world substrate, it is surprising that it can still approximate a historical feeling. Of course, a good chunk of that is my own good will. I can be generous when I want to be, willing to project my own storytelling on top of what the game provides me. Generous I must be because there are plenty of shortcomings. Like plenty of other games, there is really no room to let up – if I’m not slaughtering a couple of bands of thieves per week, I’m not going to have enough money to pay my followers. (At least, in this case, I do have to let everyone sleep.) The greater world, also, seems to be hurtling forward way too fast. I have less than a year of in-game time behind me and yet I’ve seen nearly a dozen wars started and stopped throughout England and Scandinavia. It seems like the NPCs feel compelled to keep as busy as I do.

By way of contrast, what has become far less immersive than it was the last time I wrote about it is Vikings. Causing the show’s issues (especially Season 5, Part 2) to stand out is that its narrative has entered the same territory that is cover by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and, perhaps more significantly, by Bernard Cornwell’s historically-based embellishment of the existing sources. So while it was charming to have a semi-mythological person like Ragnar Lothbrok depart on various flights of fancy, it is considerably less charming when it is a relatively well-documented figure such as Alfred the Great. Pained, I watched Alfred’s (ahistorical) mother Judith kill his older brother, King Æthelred I, who, in the show, never became king because… oh, never mind.

Also the epic/hero treatment of battles is taken to further levels of unreality. We see Saxon England saved, not by Alfred’s leadership, but by the fact he is joined by Ubbe and Björn Ragnarsson to defeat attacks first from King Harald Finehair and then from Danes-by-way-of-Ireland. Note it is the physical presence of this handful of individuals (shieldmaidens Lagertha and Torvi also figure) that alters the winds of war; they have come from Norway as refugees, arriving alone in a single boat. Ironically, there is a scene where Björn announces his intention to dethrone his brother from the rulership of (again, entirely made up) Kattegat. He is reminded that he doesn’t have an army. Nobles supporting a King (or a pretender, for that matter) were of value because of the men and resources they brought with them, not for their skill with the sword in battle.

Then there is this weird religious thing going on. Old Norse, Christianity, Islam, atheism, and even Buddhism all vie for the souls of Floki and the sons of Ragnar. Religion is a critical facet in the transition of England from a backwater of the Roman Empire to the global Ruler of the Waves. It’s something that Cornwell handles so well in his series. This is just goofy.

I’ll keep playing Viking Conquest and finish watch season 5 of Vikings, but I do the latter under protest.

Mars Ain’t the Kind of Place to Raise your Kids

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I completely missed it when The Expanse began airing on SyFy.

The main reason is I don’t watch “live” TV anymore, so a new series showing up on cable just isn’t relevant to me. Secondarily, while SyFy occasionally puts out remarkable original content (Battlestar Galactica anyone?), the channel’s name on a project generally isn’t to be seen as a mark of quality. Eventually, the show did show up on Amazon, but its rather generic name and image (Julie Mao floating in space) did nothing to change my mind.

What did change my mind was a bit of misunderstanding. It was around the time I was reading Back Channel. In a Cold War related search I read a comment to the effect of “The Expanse is based on Twilight Struggle.” The actual quote had more depth and talked about developers being fans of the Twilight Struggle game. Shortly thereafter, someone I respected posted on Facebook a positive comment about The Expanse, so I decided, between those two bits of information, I must watch the show. As it turned out, the Twilight Struggle comments had nothing to do with the TV series; it was some pre-release/Kickstarter press about the boardgame The Expanse. But I didn’t know this at the time I watched my first episode.

The TV series had me from the very opening. While the credits didn’t win their own award, I found them both stunning and mood setting. The second big surprise was an actual approximation of orbital mechanics within the drama. That first episode demonstrated the trauma and expense of a “flip and burn” maneuver. Later, the intentions of distant ships were ascertained by the amount of deaccerlation burn they were undertaking. Elsewhere, trajectories are plotted relative to planetary motion.

I don’t recall another science-fictional depiction* of space ships thrusting backwards. I can’t say that the durations and other numbers for orbit transfers are accurate, but they at least seem plausible. In doing so, I can watch while suspending my disbelief in the more fantastical elements to focus on the story.

Similarly, the depiction of “artificial gravity” as the result from either acceleration or spin is shown early on and the “mag boots” introduced as a way to obviate ubiquitous floating in all of the space scenes. The weapons are plausibly futuristic without being the sci-fi fantasy of phasers and planet-killing super-lasers. They are realizations of the actual technology being developed today; railguns and guided missiles on spacecraft and modified versions of current handguns and rifles for the individual firearms.

I watched all the Amazon Prime had to offer me and only after realized that there was a series of books that was the basis for the television show. I’ve just now begun reading the first novel. Notably, my impression upon starting the book was also about the television series. I am even more thoroughly impressed by the the TV adaptation.

When someone announces plans to turn a great book into a movie (or series), it is always cause for trepidation. A film could absolutely destroy the source material (I’m looking at you, Starship Troopers). Even an honest but less-than-perfect transfer of media can cheapen the whole enterprise. For a project which is absolutely at the top of the game, say a Lord of the Rings or the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, there are compromises made** that may make it difficult for dedicated fans of a book to accept the movie versions.

Adding still more anguish to the psychological fire is what to do, as a consumer, when you’ve neither read the book or seen the movie. In most cases, a film treatment is a truncation of the underlying tale. So do you watch the movie first then augment that experience with the deeper book? Or do you go for the full-force of the literary work and save the film until afterward? Will that ruin what would otherwise be a perfectly fine movie, if left to stand alone***?

In this case, as I explained, I didn’t really have a choice. I hadn’t heard of the books when I watched the TV series, so I had no choice but to do my reading second. As a result, reading the book doesn’t allow me to observe an unfolding mystery; that already took place as  I watched the show. Instead, I particularly notice how the screenwriters translated the story from book to film. The story follows very closely. In fact, like I thought the first time I watched Game of Thrones, it felt nearly perfect. Of course, that’s not true (in either case).

For example, just in the opening episode, the Canterbury‘s Captain, McDowell, is portrayed as an incompetent drunk and Holden, as his Executive Officer, is shown to be really running the ship. Presumably this provides a lead-in to how the survivors of the Cant‘s destruction instantly follow Holden’s leadership. In the book, the Captain is shown as a competent and respectable figure, who launches Holden into his universe-changing adventures with some final orders. I also got very annoyed with the Rocinante‘s hovering over the moon Ganymede using attitude thrusters to fly. This artifact of the show’s realistic depiction of zero-g can’t also be used in light gravity. Not to dwell on such differences, but I don’t want to make the point that the TV show is a perfect retelling of the books’ stories. It’s not.

That said, for the most part the story is faithfully reconstructed on the screen. In fact, the changes I’ve found, so far, tend to be in service to the change in media. Scenes that are portrayed in words, particularly through the inner-thoughts of main characters Holden and Miller, must now be expressed in sound and image. Thus a change like having Holden held as a prisoner on the bridge of the Martian ship Donnager, rather than confined with his shipmates, seems to have been necessary to provide a visual of the battle for the TV viewer. In the book, we rely on Alex’s knowledge of outer-space battles to let us know what is going on, a scene that would have felt rather boring on TV.

It is telling that it takes several seasons of television to get through just the first book in the series. I know I’ve remarked on it before, but TV may be the best medium for the filming of a novel. It is one of the fatal flaws of many novel-to-cinema conversions that it is impossible to condense the experience of reading a good novel (much less a series of novels) into a 2-3 hour film. It takes me weeks, if not months, to get through most books. Although that’s not total reading time, it means I’m, mentally and emotionally, spending that much time with the characters as their story develops. It is difficult to create that in a theater****. In The Expanse, we can see just how long it can take for a book to be illustrated on the small screen.

The show did something that, to my mind, was incompletely realized. I noticed it, but didn’t dwell on it, when I saw it on TV. It became very obvious when reading the books. A key theme throughout the books is that the cultural differences between Belters and Inners are accompanied by significant physical differences. In an early TV episode, a captured OPA terrorist is shown on earth being “tortured,” which means mostly being subjected to the full effects of Earth’s gravity. In this short scene, the Belter is as described in the book – much taller and thinner than an earthman. In the episodes that follow, however, we have Belter actors (Naomi, for example) mixing with earthers and being physically indistinguishable from them.

Perhaps because of these “technical difficulties” or perhaps because TV is inherently a little lighter than the written word, the book seems to have a little more by way of social commentary. Racism, governance and rebellion, and the morality of killing all seem to take on a little more significance for the present time in the book. In fact, while the TV show had me thinking Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis, the book would not have done that. This, just perhaps, suggests that the show’s authors deliberately de-politicized the story a little so as not to impact their ratings with the current culture wars.

Which brings me to one last thought about the present time and the future. Although the precise dates in The Expanse are vague, fans have worked out that the story takes place about 230 years into the future. Yet, the styles, fashions, and even the bulk of the technology remains decidedly that of today. As unlikely as it is that the culture will remain largely static for more than two centuries forward, this is probably the smartest way to film “hard” science fiction. I contrast to Logan’s Run. The preference of the 60s and 70s was to project the current trends into the future and dream up a futuristic world. Today, the futuristic style of Logan’s Run has a silly, hippie vibe that makes it look the exact opposite of futuristic. Compare with the classical works of the Renaissance where Greek and Roman mythology, the lifetime of Christ, and any other works past/present/and future were painted as late-medieval culture. These images, despite the obvious anachronisms, persist as looking appropriate, even into the present. Fifty years from now, The Expanse will look archaic. At least it won’t also look silly.

As I watched the opening credits, the “realism” relative to current concepts of extraplanetary settlement gave me a hankering for games that dealt, also realistically, with Martian colonization. I haven’t yet been able to scratch that itch, but I’ll link here when I finally do.

*In film or television. I’m specifically remembering a similar scenario in one of the Ender’s Game prequels as well as an aerobraking maneuver in another book (Red Mars, maybe?).

**In Game of Thrones, the number of characters on screen are greatly reduced from what appear in the corresponding book scenes. It’s understandable and often wasn’t noticed, although completely eliminating a battle by having Tyrion knocked unconscious certain was. In Lord of the Rings, I have difficulty getting over The Eye™. Dammit, Jackson, there wasn’t literally “a giant eye;” it was a metaphor.

***In some cases, film conversions seem to put things in without context, specifically catering to fans of the book. I know I have a particularly film in mind when I say this, but as I write I can’t remember what it is. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was another film that seemed to show portions of the the story but failed to complete the whole, thus being only entirely comprehensible to prior readers of the book.

****Yet another shortcoming of Fellowship of the Rings, which I only pick on because it is one of the better film versions of a great novel that has been created, follows: By the time Aragorn is revealed to be the heir to the throne of Gondor, the Hobbits have all come to know him as Strider, the Ranger. So have we, the reader. In the film, though, it seems that no sooner do we meet this mysterious stranger than all about him is revealed. Emotionally, this can’t be reproduced on the screen without the passage of time. This is yet another reason why today’s film industry has become so dominated by sequels. Characters become familiar faces, already invested with emotional depth at the start of a serial film.

We’re Here Because We’re Here

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Putting in a third entry for my trifecta of Peter Jackson in so many weeks, I watched They Shall Not Grow Old. This comes with sky-high expectations. As of when I am writing this, it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and “universal acclaim” (91/100) on Metacritc. Newspaper reviews of the film, at least what I saw, were all extremely positive. The only “social media” comment I recall was telling people not to wait for the CD as the it was necessary to get the full effect from the big screen.

For anyone who missed the media barrage, the film was created using British Imperial War museum’s footage and oral history interviews combined with near state-of-the-art digital film technology to give the archived material a new depth. This isn’t Ted Turner’s colorization by any means; while hardly flawless, the digital restoration effort is truly impressive. Combining the visual restoration with the addition of studio-created sound really does enhance the emotional impact.

For anyone who saw the publication of French color photographs from 1917 that made the rounds a few years back, you may have anticipated that images take on a lot more “reality” when they are in color. A series of black-and-whites of guys with strange mustaches from a hundred years ago feels like something from another world. The color photos makes one feel a kinship to those young men. Yes, their clothes are a little different, but otherwise they look much like us. The effect goes double for moving pictures.

The style is to forgo the big-picture history lesson in favor a individually focused narrative. The narration is (mostly, all – I don’t recall if I heard any exceptions) WWI veterans, recorded in their own voices. The specifics of battles and maneuvers are deliberately left vague. It gives it a more serious as well as a fresh feel when compared to the standard History Channel fare, mismatching well-worn visuals with stock narration. Instead, it tells the chronological story of the soldier’s life, starting with induction, moving through life in the trenches, an assault on the German lines, and then the armistice and the return to civilian life. It is well done for sure, although I’m not sure it is “universal acclaim” done.

Likewise, it is technically excellent. As I said, the film restoration and colorization is good but the full reconstruction to color and sound is extraordinary. Going overboard in complimenting the production may be the price we as a society pay so that projects like this one actually can get done. I guess I can live with that.