From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Movie reviews: ‘Ice Age,’ ‘We Were Soldiers’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 11, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

On a recent Saturday evening with good friends from Missoula including three children, ages 13. 10 and 7, I saw the new film Ice Age at Cheney’s Twenty-Four Frames Cinema. By the 7:45 p.m. showing we were among the over 200 viewers who had come to see the film at a relatively small theater.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ice Age from beginning to end.

The colorful squirrel, Scrat, who is well-known from previews, begins the movie with his attempt to hide his acorn in the ice. His adventures are hilarious. The story of the squirrel and the acorn leads eventually to large groups of prehistoric animals heading south as a long winter descends upon them.

A large woolly mammoth by the name of Manfred (voiced by Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond) decides to go to the opposite way into the dangerous snow and ice. An unlikely antagonist follows along. He is a sloth named Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo).

A group of saber-toothed tigers attack a village of Cro-Magnon men and woman in retaliation for some of their number being attacked by the humans. The head tiger desires the baby of an Inuit-like couple. There is an attack on the camp of the humans which leads to the mother of the child running into the wilderness near a large waterfall. She saves the child and passes the babe on to Manfred and Sid, who happen to be walking by the area of the river below the falls. The film centers on Manfred and Sid. They in turn are joined by a saber-tooth tiger named Diego (voiced by Denis Leary), who we know has evil intentions at first.

The three animals, with baby often riding on the head of Manfred, make a journey north in search of the father of the child. In the process of their quest they have one incredible adventure after another in the tradition of Lord of the Rings.

The Inuit father wears a stole around his neck with what could be religious figures. It is a stole similar to the religious garment worn by ministers and priests today.

My favorite character in Ice Age is Manfred. Ray Romano makes himself threatening but totally lovable as he is willing to be part of a fairly motley crew with a strong desire to save a human who may grow up to be a hunter of animals. John Leguizamo of the film Moulin Rouge and many Broadway appearances makes Sid and his bugged-out eyes irrepressible. Diego the tiger, who we grow to love, is vocally played with a dark side by television’s break- the-rules cop of The Job.

The visuals are powerful and beautiful. This is one time Disney has been out-Disneyed by Twentieth-Century-Fox. Director Chris Wedge brings new twists to the traditional quest film.

The family group I was with on a recent Saturday night came out of the theater laughing and with spirits lifted. We were all asking each other who our favorite character was. Ice Age, excluding small children, is great family entertainment.

Ice Age is rated PG for mild peril. The American Bishops’ Film Board rates Ice Age as A-I — for general patronage.

*****

Several weeks ago, visiting friends in Clarkston after seeing Gonzaga lose to Wyoming on television, I agreed to see the new Mel Gibson film, We Were Soldiers. After Black Hawk Down (IR 3/21/02) I am still numb from the violence films are able to portray today. And the second half of We Were Soldiers is as violent as any film.

We Were Soldiers is based on the life of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who led new American recruits into one of the major early battles of the Vietnam War. It is not dark and cynical as many earlier films of the Vietnam period. It has a certain innocence of troops caught against great numbers of the enemy waging battle for the first time.

The first hour of the movie lets us get to know Moore (Mel Gibson), his wife (Madeleine Stowe) and some of the men under Moore’s command. Sam Elliot plays the part of the sergeant major who has been through World War II and the Korean War with such crusty aplomb that he almost steals the film. We see the men train and wives meet together to form a sense of community at Fort Benning.

The men who belong to the 1st Battalion of the Army’s Seventh Cavalry are helicoptered into what becomes the battle of la Drang in late 1965. The battle is between 450 Americans and 2,000 regulars of the North Vietnamese Army. Both sides seek to fight to the death in one of the earliest major battle of Americans meeting the North Vietnamese regulars.

Moore is presented as an heroic figure who cared deeply about his men. He was deeply religious man. In one scene he is confronted with a large number of his men who have died. He recites from memory Psalm 130, which years ago was a major part of Roman Catholic funerals under the Latin name, “De Profundis.”

We also are presented with the North Vietnamese being real people who had loved ones and were soldiers doing their assigned task. The enemy is not presented as monstrously evil as in many World War II films.

We Were Soldiers is filled with feeling and sentiment. A taxi pulls up to Mrs. Moore’s Fort Benning home. For a moment she believes the telegram is going to tell her that her husband has died in battle. The taxi driver is lost and asks Mrs. Moore for help finding an address. She tells the driver to bring all the telegrams to her and she will take them to the wives on base.

Mel Gibson does a fine job as the heroic Moore. He is convincing in his concern for his men and his willingness to be with them no matter what the danger. Sam Elliot stands out as Gibson’s tough sidekick who uses a pistol when everyone else is using M-16s. His droll humor is a highlight of the film.

We Were Soldiers is not a great film but it is a good film. The violence of the battle for la Drang Valley is comparable to that of Black Hawk Down. The main difference is that the enemy appear as people, rather than video game Pac Men.

The positive side of being a soldier in the midst of the tragedy of war is shown with dignity. The pain and suffering which soldiers have gone through is shown as starkly and horrifically as possible on film.

We Were Soldiers is rated R because of sustained sequences of graphic war violence and harsh language. The Catholic Bishops’ Review Board rates We Were Soldiers A-IV — adults, with reservations.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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