World War II has been a very steady moneymaker for the movie industry, and that’s especially true during its second renaissance following Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” 15 years ago. While the aforementioned film managed to make all the previous John Wayne World War II films look like playing in a sandbox, it didn’t necessarily take away the popularity of the war films from earlier eras. Many of them still stand alone as products of their eras, even if they couldn’t bring the bloody realism. But much of that can be forgiven now because they probably would have had it not been for the production code of the time.
“Private Ryan” undeniably changed everything for any war film that followed. While World War II movies have continued since 1998, you can’t name too many considered classic. Only the TV miniseries brands of “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” through the lens of Tom Hanks and Spielberg continue to bring what people expect in films about World War II. Yet, what happens when someone decides to bring something different to the battles of our most patriotic war?
George Clooney thankfully has deep respect for earlier eras and understands the sentiment through his family connections in the Clooney line. However, did he make a misstep in taking on “The Monuments Men” when World War II stories are less inclined to do big box office? Originally, the thought was this adaptation about the rescue of valuable artwork from Nazi Germany would be a major Oscar contender. Now with reports that it needs some re-editing and won’t be out until February of 2014, what does it say about the future of the World War II movie?
Reports are the film didn’t quite find its tone, despite some refutations later in the press. All told, it does raise a serious question about the marketability of World War II films in the future. Did “Private Ryan” set a precedent where all films about World War II have to be graphic battle movies? “The Monuments Men” harkens back closer to “The Dirty Dozen” where there was once a careful mix of humor and drama.
The only difference is that “Dozen” didn’t have graphic violence like people expect in a war movie today. You can see the type of painted corner “Private Ryan” created for every movie that followed it.
Because Clooney is directing “The Monuments Men”, you can expect him to come up with something to make it workable. Regardless, it could be his biggest movie challenge ever when so many will go in expecting some kind of comedy while also expecting graphic war scenes. The marketing seed was already long ago planted that a war movie with a different plot couldn’t be done without having copious amounts of blood.
While such a thought might show the limited scope of studio executives, finding the balance between tragedy and comedy seems to be moving closer together. World War II, however, is still sacred to many and a place where you probably can’t do humor well without looking tasteless.
It may be why, if “Monuments Men” gets ignored at the Oscars, World War II stories for the big screen might be deemed played out. Spielberg essentially usurped the genre and where HBO will be the only place to see the most prestigious World War II movies ever made.