There have been so many different takes on war films over the years, it’s hard to believe there’s a story left to tell. Filled with an impressive cast, “The Thin Red Line” takes a different approach, showcasing just what goes through a soldiers mind on a field of war. It tries to become too big of an epic and it shows, just don’t let that stop you from appreciating what’s here.
The Japanese are fighting for control of the Pacific, holding a firm grip on the island of Guadalcanal. US troops are sent in full force to clear the island of any resistance and to take hold of an important airfield. Seen through the eyes and the thoughts of the young soldiers, the fight carries on as a very human side to the war is shown.
There’s one very pressing problem with “The Thin Red Line.” There are far too many characters. Even director Terrance Malick knew it. When cutting this film down from over 6 hours (it’s down to just below three, still a bit too long, dragging in spots), he deleted numerous people. In the end, there are still too many. You can’t identify with any of them, as they all seem to mesh together on screen, lumped together in one group battling for a slice of land. Even some of the big name actors, whose names are plastered on the cover (like George Clooney), get just a few minutes of a screen time.
Everything else about this movie works. The way the story is told is not usually through dialogue between characters, but with their actions and their thoughts. It tries to expose just what goes through a soldiers mind during such a traumatic experience, though there will never be a film that could really hammer that point home like actually being there.
The numerous unforgettable images, whether they be the sheer brutality of war or of gorgeous wildlife, aided by a fantastic soundtrack (also trimmed from the 6 hour version) are almost always unforgettable. Action fanatics should get enough to get them through, the direction is impeccable every time a gun is fired.
With repeated viewings, “The Thin Red Line” really comes together. One viewing is really not enough to take it all in. Unfortunately, getting through this film twice is tough. It’s horribly depressing, at times hard to even watch. Still, as far as films go, they don’t come much better. (**** out of *****)
Only available in 2.35:1 widescreen to preserve this movie as it should be, this is a decent transfer. Colors are surprisingly bright, the wildlife shots coming through especially clean. Grain is noticeable, though it very well could be intentional for a gritty look. Compression is well controlled in this sharp transfer. The biggest problem is awful, awful edge enhancement. It seems prevalent throughout the movie, more than a few times becoming distracting. (***)
There’s a special edition of this movie out there with a DTS track. Reviewed here is the initial release, coming with a 5.1 mix. As it is with just about any modern war movie, “Thin Red Line” sounds amazing. Separation is really solid in the stereo channels, picking up excellent movement. The rears are used in subtle ways, notably the wind whipping through the tall grass. During the battle scenes, they’re used quite a bit, but sort of just come together as one. There’s little difference. Of course, the bass is incredible, especially when the cannons start going off. (****)
The only extra on any edition of this film are 11 music tracks from natives of the island. It can also be bought separately if desired. It’s a nice feature, but the film deserves far more. The liner notes inside the case offer up most of the casts history. (*)
So, is this movie better than “Saving Private Ryan,” which came out in the same year? It’s impossible to answer. The films are so wildly different in tone, pace, and direction, it’s one or the other depending on what you look for in war films. If you want something a little different, then this isn’t a bad choice.