In 1998, it seems director Steven Spielberg claimed such a profound stake in the World War II movie that the genre died out as a result. Yes, we've had some movies about World War II since Spielberg released "Saving Private Ryan" almost 15 years ago, but all that followed were pale comparisons or copies of the "Ryan" cinematographic style. The same could be said for Spielberg's take on World War I in "War Horse", despite World War I seldom being depicted in recent films.
What of all other war films, though, and their impact in the cinema? Are we done now depicting the wars of long past, if even explorations of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Other than "Zero Dark Thirty" and other upcoming movies exploring the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, films that celebrate the war veteran are becoming scarce on the studio bill. And that might seem surprising when it seemed we were heading for a renaissance of military films when "Act of Valor" released earlier this year.
The above-mentioned film had the potential to change the war film forever with its crossover of using real, non-actor Navy SEALs in the cast. Yet it was a box office failure, mainly because there were no big name stars attached to make it compelling for the average viewer. "Zero Dark Thirty" will prove this coming January that any movie about Navy SEALs has to be done with A-list actors to make these men more than just caricatured soldiers with unknown backgrounds.
Movies about the less elite soldier, however, are sliding away from movie houses. If Showtime's "Homeland" wasn't such a strong part of TV, it's the type of so-called war movie we'd be seeing more of in the theater. Nobody has to tell us that the real war we're fighting is right here on our own turf in consistently weeding out terrorists who may or may not be true blue Americans.
Regardless, the real loss to the recent war movie is the explorations of post-traumatic stress disorder. We've seen many movies cover this before, of course, despite the problem increasing in complexity since America's troops have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Consider this slight to be based on a lack of needed movies covering the complexities and new permutations of battle-weary mental illness arising since the Iraq war began a decade ago.
Perhaps we can also attribute a lack of the average soldier movie on how severely aware we've become of the hellacious terror foot soldiers experience on the battlefield. Steven Spielberg has arguably provided such knowledge more than any other director or producer in history. You can say that to a point where it places all other war movies into the dangerous category of having nothing more to say.
If that's true, then should the war movie look to the future of possible wars to get a foothold on what future war will look like? The fantasy war genre may be a dying breed based on the re-shooting delay of the new sequel "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." But what would happen if we depicted the realities of a potential war in Iran or another depiction of World War III?
A movie in that vein may have to tap a Tom Clancy novel. Or, it could come down to depicting another bloody war on the ground where it looks like D-Day all over again. In such a film, we'll know that the veterans of tomorrow will understand the veterans of today and yesterday.