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Armadillo

Column: The Word on DVDs   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 22 November 11   |   Author: Justin Hook   |   3 years ago

     [Madman]

Much like Restrepo, this Danish doco follows a young unit through Afghanistan. Much like Restrepo, this doco shows a bunch of young conscripts bumbling through a foreign country, seemingly forever under fire and finding themselves in the middle of a local scandal revolving around the death of a cow. The value and importance of simple things like livestock – and tradability thereof – seem to elude these guys. And much like Restrepo both films show the occupying forces trying to subdue the local population with little understanding of the sheer outright horror and death they are inflicting.

Both the Danish and US forces are at pains to point out how they are looking for adventure, a touch of ‘boy’s own adventure’ type larkery; one prescient scene in Armadillo shows a couple of wide-eyed soldiers whooping slaughtering pixelated enemies on their PS3. On the job training I think they call it. Is it any wonder they have trouble connecting with those on the other side of the barrel. It’s all one big computer game for them.

What is clear from both of these docos is that Afghanis are perplexed that the occupiers don’t get it – they put locals in an invidious position: collaborate and the Taliban will kill them, help the Taliban and the Allied forces kill them or lock them up. War is tragedy on an enormous scale; every day the subjects of these docos go back to protected barracks.

In fairness, Armadillo does attempt to storyline the larger picture – the soldiers’ role in Afghanistan, where they are, provides more context. It is the better for it. But both are hobbled by the rules of access – these aren’t the stories of the victims (deliberately so) and in their own different ways they lionise the troops that occupy Afghanistan. This one is more warts and all, and they are some tremendously ugly warts.

Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy: [Universal]

Jurassic Park was, in many ways, a dinosaur. Obviously it all started with a small mad white-haired scientist bringing that extinct species back to life on a tropical island with delightful/disastrous results. But it was also a big budget blockbuster, and when it was first released – 1993 – popcorn epics were falling well out of favour; Pulp Fiction was just around the corner, landing a significant blow against the blockbuster for a while. Sure Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and their ilk would continue to ply their gaudy, noisy trade – but Steven Spielberg was always more than a big, bam, slam director.

Widely credited with inventing the summer blockbuster genre with 1975’s robo-shark slasher Jaws, Spielberg always tried to infuse something else into his pictures – heart and a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Sometimes cloying and ham-fisted (Empire of the Sun) but sometimes reasonably successful (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The Jurassic Park trilogy veers wildly between all points in Spielberg’s career: the first is terrific, unashamedly fun, crippled somewhat by clunky dialogue but rescued by some still impressive, yet embryonic, CGI. Lost World is a not so good but not overly terrible sequel afflicted by weak, copybook baddie characters. The third sits firmly in the middle. For all intents these films are chase films – with massive lizards instead of cars.

This set collects all three films in hi-def and is an absolute treat as well as a completist’s dream. There’s a trove of special features, most of which were produced for this collection. Just like the films, Jeff Goldblum is the star attraction – his scuzzy, stream of conscious delivery is quixotically appealing as ever and Sam Neill is hilariously frank (“The real acting was not laughing”). When Spielberg hits the target the results are always enjoyable, so leave your brain at the door and revel.

Restrepo: [Madman]

The genesis of the phrase ‘hearts and minds’ – when referencing military campaigns that aim to win over the local population – is difficult to trace. Some place it as far back as the early 1800s. Lyndon Johnson used it during the Vietnam War and George W. Bush was fond of it in the early stages of the Iraq invasion. Bureaucrats and brass think a little bit of glad-handing, chai-sharing and ear-badgering will somehow repair the collateral damage of war – innocent civilians filled with bullet holes, villages destroyed, families displaced, entire ancient cultures uprooted… you get the picture.

Basically a public relations mechanism it has entered the vernacular as shorthand for military propaganda. So you can’t help but recoil when it’s rolled out regularly in Restrepo – a gritty, first hand POV doco focusing on Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon’s running battles with the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in 2007. It’s a constant reminder that despite the best intents of the grunts (and sometimes the worst) war is more or less about killing people, usually people the aggressors don’t know or understand.

Restrepo is a good war doco – but it’s deliberately and defiantly the view of the American solider and therefore, incomplete. Author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington take us excruciatingly close to the action, but it would be a major failure if we didn’t feel in awe of the situation.

The larger contextual map of what they are doing in Afghanistan and how it fits into the entire campaign is unexplored, to say nothing of any internal analysis of if they should be there. To do so would make this a very different, albeit nuanced, doco.

But it’s possible. One of the greatest war docos ever made managed to juggle these competing strands. It was released in 1974 and called – you guessed it – Hearts and Minds.

 

 





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