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The Art of War

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For almost three years now, the US government has been fanning paranoid fear about terrorism around the globe (remember, if they do it, it's called 'pre-emptive defence').

In the early days of the War on Terrorism, Washington and Hollywood engaged in a way they never had before. US government officials (notably Bush spin doctor Karl Rove) toured the big end of Hollywood 'advising' on how to make films more patriotic and how they could help combat America's favourite new evil.

White House powerbrokers slavishly rubbed shoulders with movie producers and executives, paving the way for the movies to recruit the world to America's oil drive... sorry, defence initiative.

Most people who heard about it thought 'Only in America', secure in the knowledge that the studios' prime concern would be to uphold the values of creative expression and commitment to the craft of cinema (and grab shitloads of dosh, though not necessarily in that order).

But consider what you've been seeing at the movies lately; did that politicking have any effect on the scripts that were getting the green light? There are just so many movies about wars at the moment.

It's true, war's been on the silver screen as long as it's been on the newsreels before the movie. A resoundingly proud narrator told of tales of courage, sacrifice and glory at the front against the filthy/cheating/black hordes it was our Christian duty to fight.

So forget the Meg Ryan rom-com or live action comic strip hero; what's hot at the movies right now is battle. Big ones, and lots of them.

But don't try to get just any old war movie made in this geopolitical climate. Oliver Stone would have been the most unpopular man in Washington post- Platoon. And just look how much trouble Gregor Jordan had getting Buffalo Soldiers released, considering it told the same subversive, anti-US military story as the classic (and much funnier) Bill Murray comedy Stripes over 20 years ago.

No, the sort of war stories that are making box offices ker-ching across the western world right now are the big-screen, CG equivalent of those old World War 2-era newsreels; proud, passionate, rousing, full of sacrifice, nobility and camaraderie, like the stories on 1940's radio about the glory of our brave boys at war.

The futility of war is distinctly out of fashion right now. Battle is something glorious and noble, not a bunch of middle class peasants fulfilling the colonial aims of rich fatcats.

Just look at some of the moments we've enjoyed (or endured) in the last twelve months. The Matrix series morphed from an ultra-cool Brave New World with karate and black leather into a science fiction Saving Private Ryan, Mifune screaming from the seat of his APU "If we're going to die, we give 'em hell before we do!" before the entire corps raise their robotic arms in a jubilant cheer.

Making sure his hair was perfectly disheveled in every scene of The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise led his new brothers to certain death under the onslaught of technology accompanied by such a swelling soundtrack and reverent slo-mo it was almost Chariots of Fire all over again.

Currently in theatres is Troy, where director Wolfgang Peterson treats us to the sight of an ocean full of Greek ships (it looks like there's more of them than in the combined navies of the world today, let alone thousands of years ago). Achilles (Brad Pitt) stands proudly on the bow of the lead ship, thrusting his sword into the air in anticipation of battle. The trailer then shows a shot of two enormous armies coming together with a crash of flesh and steel.

And there's King Arthur, featuring more of the same, the only difference being ancient Roman England instead of ancient Greece – but at least they all spoke perfectly understandable American English in those days.

(On this point, Peter Jackson is as much to blame as the US government's 'make patriotic movies' delegation. You can almost imagine studio execs seeing how audiences responded to the battles at Pellenor and Helm's Deep and slathering as they searched scripts on their system for the words 'two huge armies meet on the battlefield'.)

Troy not only gives us a return to war's glory days, the reason for the war is even more ridiculous than oil; it's about a king who couldn't handle a knock back from his hot young wife. I mean, if you think your wife or girlfriend would choose you over Orlando Bloom if she had the chance, you're stupid enough to be President of the US.

So stay wary. As millions the world over marched in the streets against the invasion of Iraq, tens of millions more are being conditioned by a string of movies telling us how magnificent a good battle is.

Has the American government infiltrated Hollywood to the extent McCarthy thought the Commies had infiltrated Washington? Is it all brainwashing to make us forget that war is a bad thing? You decide.

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