Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Interrogative: Sign O the Times?

The Marines get ready for action in Generation Kill

Last night I finished watching the HBO mini series Generation Kill. Kill is about a set of Marine recon teams riding Hum Vees through the desert during the Iraq War. A controversial topic for HBO to tackle, though less controversial than when Fox tried it a few years ago and was lambasted for cashing in on current events. Its been awhile since I've watched a series this closely, but I had time so I figured why not?

After watching the series of about seven installments, tracing this group of Marines from their pre-war camp in Kuwait to the eventual end of the official part of the war in Baghdad, I came away feeling sad. Which is how I think the creators of the show wanted me to feel. Wisely, the show avoids hitting people over the head with its messaging and mostly hints at the more extreme negative aspects of what followed (for example, there is an incident of prisoner abuse but its not graphic and the prisoner himself is not hurt in the end).

What Generation Kill does well is make you spend a lot of time with fictional troops on a ground level. In Kill, the troops are mainly depicted as a group of young kids who love the fact that they are trained to be killing machines and can't wait to exercise their training. At the same time, they are under stocked (they have to buy their own batteries and given incorrect gun oils for desert action), misdirected (they receive incorrect travel orders and are given green battle fatigues) and immature (rampant racism and sexism). Their commanding officers force the Marines into hazardous situations in more of an effort to get battle glory than win any strategic objective. With this setting, the Marines struggle to get their kill shots while addressing the dead with a mix of remorse and cruel humor. At the same time, they're asked to be ambassadors to the masses of Iraqi people though they have no diplomatic training. The Marines start the series as young guns begging for action and become steadily disillusioned as time goes on.

What Generation Kill doesn't do well is create truly memorable characters. It took me about four installments before I started to figure out who was who and I never really did care for any specific character. There's also some change in tone for characterizations as the ground troops are given rounded humanistic treatments but their commanding officers are depicted as either total lunkheads or Full Metal Jacket nut jobs. The acting is fine all the way around but no breakout performances. The Iraqi people are not portrayed very positively, they are either opponents to be killed, innocent victims or needy survivors. The Kill show does give a sympathetic eye to their plight but they are viewed with some detachment.

Even with the War now being unpopular, it takes some creative courage to tackle a current theme like this so HBO and their producers do deserve some credit. They have succeeded in creating a thought provoking and interesting piece of entertainment. But Generation Kill falls short of completely involving me in the characters, so ultimately I can only say it was pretty good. Like on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say a 6. Time for me to go Oscar Mike (they kept saying this before leaving some place in the show).

Generation Kill trailer


admin said...

Not involving you in the characters was sort of the point though, they're nameless, faceless grunts sent to do our country's bidding. Having said that, I found myself getting to know the characters and though they did rely on using stereotypes to advance the characters, it's OK since they only had seven episodes to introduce a huge amount of characters AND tell a story.

Mr. Mike said...

Good point about the nameless, faceless grunts part. For me, the approach they took didn't quite work (in terms of characterization) but I do agree they had a limited format to work with.