The war film is a film genre concerned with warfare, usually about naval, air or land battles, sometimes focusing instead on prisoners of war, covert operations, military training or other related subjects. Sometimes they focus on daily military or civilian life in wartime without depicting battles. Their stories may be fiction, based on history, docudrama or occasionally biographical. War films have a huge impact on society, influencing people to believe that account of what happened if it is based on real life events. I will be assessing two war films Jarhead and Platoon.The first Jarhead was made in 2005, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Jake Gyllenhaal playing Anthony Swofford, it is based on Swoffords 2003 Gulf war memoir- Jarhead a marines chronicle of the gulf war and other battles.
Platoon is an award winning 1986 Vietnam War film written and directed by Oliver Stone and the story is loosely based on Stone’s experiences as an Army combat infantryman in Vietnam and was written by him upon his return as a counter to the vision of the war portrayed in John Wayne’s The Green Berets.Platoon’s impact was both criticized and liked. The film however portrayed the Americans as violent and sometimes sick. Jarhead was credited for its unique portrayal of Gulf War Marines who battled more boredom and a sense of isolation rather than enemy combatants.Anthony Swoff Swofford is sent to the 1st gulf war to fight but tackles boredom and isolation rather than enemy combatants. Jarhead was based on the memoirs of the real-life Anthony Swofford, who did serve as a sniper in the 1991 Gulf War; the title comes from military slang for a Marine enlistee.
There are a lot of signs used in Jarheads opening scenes. The film starts off with the main character ‘Swoff’ non diagetic narrating on a blank screen showing that this film will be in his perspective in 1st person. His voice is calm and gives the impression of something loud or big is going to happen to clash with his calmness.
It then shows a close up shot of ‘Swoff’ using hard light. He looks to his right indicating someone is there. In the back round you here a loud, harsh voice also indicating this will not be a calm film but a harsh, loud film.
It cuts to a long shot showing the whole hall and all the troops wearing their combat gear and with military hair cuts; the lighting used is artificial coming from the lights in the ceiling. A series of close ups between the drill instructor and Swoff are then shown using hard light. It then shows a long shot of Swoff doing press-ups. They then use non diagetic sound with Swoff narrating. He also states that joining the marines might have been a bad decision.It then cuts to Swoff and the drill instructor. They still use close ups to capture the hate and power of the drill instructor and the pain and anguish of Swoff.
They are using diagetic sound, the voices of the characters. The D.I grabs Swoff and pushes him down, using a high angle shot, to show the D.I’s position in power. After arguing with the D.I Swoff gets his head banged against the blackboard, this is a sign to show that the character is not going to have an easy time and that that was only the beginning of the suffering. They use a rack focusing shot and freeze it to show the pain on Swoffs face and for the opening of a new scene and the use of a non diagetic sound, back round music.They chose Don’t Worry Be Happy-Performed by Bobby McFerrin.
This is an upbeat song and shows the contrast of what is happening to what the song states. It then goes on to show the busses carrying the new troops in a long shot and natural light. Narration is used again while showing close ups of Swoff and long shots of the whole of the bus indicating that if he does go through a lot of pain and hardship, he is not alone. It then shows a picture of his girlfriend who he will miss. He gets off the bus using close up shots and the sunlight seeping in, in the back round shows the use of natural light.
Also he looks nervously at some older soldiers using the low angle shot and natural light, who have been there longer showing that he is scared and nervous.The characters are shown through the dialogue and their actions and facial emotion. We are shown that they have something to do with the army in the first shots as they are wearing military uniform. We are also told that Swoffs father served in Vietnam, giving us a clue to when this is set as Swoff is about 20 years old. We are also told through Swoffs narration that he joined the marines. It then has a caption at the bottom of the screen showing that it is 1989 and in Camp Pendleton, which is located in southern California. You cannot predict the ending from the start of the movie, which for me is a good thing.
Although the opening narration where he says that a man who goes to war and fires a rifle will always have the feeling of that rifle, clearly states that if he is talking about himself he does go to war and does survive.A gritty and emotional look at the lives of a platoon of American soldiers as they patrol, fight and die in the jungles of Vietnam as seen through the perspective of a young recruit. Two veteran sergeants clash when one of them precipitates a massacre of villagers.
Platoons opening scenes also show a lot of signs, such as the opening scene when it is all foggy and hectic showing signs of confusion. Then it goes onto a plane with its door opening showing fresh recruits and implying that they are entering a whole new world. The camera focuses on one soldier indicating that he is the main character. He is then shown body bags of dead soldiers; this obviously shows danger and the fear in these new recruits.
He then walks past older soldiers and looks nervously at them. A camera shows the top of the forest these soldiers are in indicating how closed in they are. They are in near darkness and it is quiet which can mean danger! The signs used in Jarhead are quite different as Platoon is more depressing and dark. Although in Jarhead and Platoon the main character looks nervously at older soldiers, which shows they both were nervous.This film starts off looking like it is going to be in 3rd person, but then later has the main character narrating which tells us that it is in 1st person which is the same as Jarhead.
The sound codes on the opening scenes of Platoon are quite different to Jarhead as no dialogue can be heard till later on. The non diagetic sound used in this opening is the musical score Adagio For Strings-Barber by The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. This is a very sad and calm piece of music which is very different to Jarheads Don’t worry be happy song which is very upbeat and positive whereas the song in Platoon is quite negative. There is also diagetic sounds such as the planes, cars and helicopter.
The lighting used in Platoon is mostly natural light to add to the realism, especially when the light shines through the huge trees almost covering the sun. This is quite different to Jarheads Hard light use on close ups. Also the camera shots are a lot different.
Where in Jarhead there are a lot of close ups showing the emotion on the face, Platoon focuses on long shots of the whole airfield and an ariel shot which shows the tops of the trees in the forest. This certainly shows the vast land which the troops were made to fight. The costumes and props in this film are a lot like Jarheads as they both are military uniforms.
Of course Jarheads uniforms are updated and they were fighting a different type of war in a whole different time and place. Platoons guns were older as it was set in 1967 and Jarhead was set in 1989. Also in Jarhead all the marines had the same shaven haircuts, but in Platoon everyone had a different hair style.
In Platoon we are just thrown into a war film, it does not actually say that they are in Vietnam or what year it is. This is very different to Jarhead where you are actually told what the year was and where they were. We also aren’t told what type of soldier he is or how he got there until later in the film. I don’t think you can predict the ending of the film based on the start as it reveals very little although it does show body bags coming back from the war, indicating that that might be a fate for him. This again is quite different to Jarhead as he reveals at the beginning narration that after a war a man never forgets his rifle implying that he survives.
In conclusion, I think that both films have successfully shown the codes and conventions of the war genre. When thinking of war movies, you often think of bombs, explosions, blood, and gore. What people usually fail to acknowledge, however, is the other conflict that is going on – the conflict that does not involve gunfire and grenades. This is a mental war that goes on in the heads of every soldier on the battlefield. It doesn’t matter which war is being fought, where the location is, or even what time period you’re in. Both these films show a mentally challenging war and don’t really focus on the physical warfare. This maybe because America actually lost these wars, The Vietnam war and the 1st Gulf war and they consider them their worst defeats in history.As these films were made by Americans, their portrayal as suffering and surviving may be an excuse on why they lost, as America are very proud of the wars they have won.
Both films showed narrative as at the beginning of Platoon, Chris Taylor, the main character arrived as a rookie. He was treated bad by some other troops with more experience and was new to war. The Disequilibrium, the actual fighting in the war, the loss of friends, the constant struggle really showed. The new equilibrium was that he survives and goes home like before, but with the knowledge and experience he gained he is a new man, a hero.
In Jarhead, the main character is a rookie and new to war. He was treated badly by some other troops but kept on. The Disequilibrium was that the actual boredom of the war and that they could never kill was a huge problem; he started to lose himself and showed that by turning on friends. At the end, the new equilibrium is put in place as he returns home, a hero but with the mental scars that wounded him.I think that Jarhead is not just a simple copy of platoon. It is very similar in some ways but different in a lot more. The wars which are being fought in both films, they lost which adds to the similarity, but they are different films because of the characters in them.
You do not find that the characters in Jarhead are like the characters in Platoon. But both characters do at first say maybe it was a mistake to join and both start as rookies. But after that the films are very different although they do both focus on the mental warfare rather than the physical.
I can see how some people might think that Jarhead is just a copy but I see it as two very different independent movies.