Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Three Great Movies That Don't Exist: Part II

In the first of this three part look at nascent dream-movies that I want to see, I talked about Guillermo del Toro's planned adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains Of Madness. You can find that here. This time we leave the Antarctic wastes behind for the even colder and more hostile setting of interstellar space.

The Forever War

In 1967, having just completed a degree in physics and astronomy, a young man from Oklahoma named Joe was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to the conflict in Vietnam, where he served from 1968-'69 as a combat engineer with the 4th Division. He saw action amongst the verdant hills of the central highlands, witnessed the atrocities of war first hand, and was ultimately severely wounded himself. That man was Joe Haldeman (pictured) and just a few years after returning home, his first novel - The Forever War - was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best SF novel of 1976.

The Forever War is one of my favourite novels. I've re-read it more than any other book and I know that I'll return to it again. It's unusual and special in the way that it rises above the limitations of it's genre (the space opera) to be a poignant anti-war story. For me The Forever War is the antithesis of Robert Heinlein's work of fascistic military propaganda, Starship Troopers. Heinlein's story of nationalistic duty and blood sacrifice (without which one isn't even granted the right of suffrage) is, unsurprisingly, the vision of a man who served as an officer in the Navy but never had any experience of combat (he served in peacetime). In stark contrast, Haldeman's novel, a heartbreaking and thoughtful expose of the real face of war, is the work of a veteran who had just lived through the terror and shameful waste of Vietnam.

In light of our current conflicts, Haldeman's story of a millennium-long war, started for dubious reasons and ruthlessly perpetuated regardless of the cost, is more relevant now than ever. In 2008, New York Times journalist Dexter Filkins even named his own non-fiction book about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq The Forever War.

With the exception of Brian De Palma's flawed (but effective) Redacted, I've found all of the movies about this current war to be either jingoistic or toothless. The only other war film in recent years that has moved me is Waltz With Bashir. Where is the Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket of the last decade? I think that, handled in the right way, Ridley Scott's in-development adaptation of The Forever War could be a great allegorical anti-war film for this generation.

Scott is an odd director, probably one of the most wildly uneven working today. With Alien and Blade Runner he created two of the most powerful works of art to ever grace the screen. Neither of those SF monoliths have lost an iota of their potency, and for me they just continue to grow in stature as time goes on. But then he's made movies like White Squall and A Good Year which are, you know, fucking awful. But despite his habit of choosing some horrible material, I think he's still a talented storyteller with a gifted eye for detail and the ability to create some very striking imagery. The Forever War is an epic and Ridley has proven that he can do epic in Gladiator. It's a visceral war story and he's impressed in that genre too with Black Hawk Down. That he can do hard SF better than anybody is indisputable.

At 73 Sir Ridley isn't a young director anymore, and he's notorious for juggling multiple projects, many of which never come to fruition. However, The Forever War is a genuine passion project for him, one for which he famously sought the rights for 25 years. So, hopefully, before the cigar-chugging Englishman shoots his last frames, we'll finally see his vision of "attack ships on fire" and "c-beams glittering in the dark" in his film of the tragic 1,000 year campaign of one Private William Mandella.


  1. I interviewed Joe Haldeman recently and asked him about The Forever War and winning the Grand Master award. He told me, with his usual wry sense of humor, that he doesn’t feel old enough. (If you're interested, you can read my Joe Haldeman interview for free at SciFiBookshelf.com )

  2. Great stuff, I chanced upon this site from your comment on From This Swamp. I've linked to you over at www.illogicalcontraption.blogspot.com, come over and check it out.

  3. Thanks Shelby, I've been lurking over at the Contraption for a while now. Awesome blog. The LHC will kill us all!