Jun 18, 2014

Olympus Has Fallen

My wife is on nights at the hospital, so that means it is time for another round of “David Catches Up on Movies!” Last time, I watched some sci-fi films that I had managed to miss. This time, I am just grabbing anything that piques my interest.  I was too tired on Monday night to watch a movie.  Our movie this time is the Gerard Butler terrorist action flick "Olympus Has Fallen."

One of the most terrifying books that I ever read also ranks as one of my favorites.  I have never been a person who likes horror or thriller novels or movies.  I have never read a Stephen King book, and the only movies of his I have seen were Shawshank Redemption and Running Man.  So there aren't a lot of books that scare me.  They end up being things rooted in real life - that I can picture happening in a horrific manner.  This book was called Under Siege.  No, it was not the basis of the Stephen Seagal warship movie.  It was a novel by Stephen Coonts (not Dean Koontz, horror writer).  Coonts was another author during the rise of the techno-thriller.  You had Tom Clancy (as I discussed in my last post) and Michael Crichton.  They were the top of the chain.  Then you had some other authors in that realm - Coonts, old school Dan Brown (before The DaVinci Code), Larry Bond, and Harold Coyle.

Stephen Coonts wasn't a bad author.  His books were hardly as good as the best Clancy or Crichton books.  But they were exciting and entertaining.  The main character was Jake Grafton.  He was a fighter pilot, and we first met him in Vietnam during Flight of the Intruder.  That was turned into a disappointing movie, which killed the Grafton series.  Coonts wrestled with the same protagonist problem as Clancy - namely, character promotion.  Grafton went from fighter pilot to government official during the books.  Other characters had to move to the front of the action.  Those people were not always that interesting, unfortunately.

Under Siege, though, was really good.  It centered on a wide-scale terrorist attack on the US Government.  Keep in mind, this was pre 9/11.  The world was a completely different place then.  The USofA was untouchable.  We were still portrayed as the "good guys" in films.  Everyone didn't assume there was always some conspiracy at play, so the movies and books reflected that.  The fall of the Soviet Union made it a little more difficult to have a quick, go-to villain.  But there were mysterious Islamic extremists that made for a handy bad guy.

The thing about Coonts' set up was that it was so, well, believable.  The main antagonist got a list of government officials to kill.  He got paid for each one that he successfully took out.  The goal was to cause massive instability and panic in the country by causing upheaval in the government.  He started by trying to assassinate President George Bush (the First).  He knew that if he attacked someone else first, the security around the President would just clamp down.  So he fired a missile at the Marine One helicopter from a park.  Then he drove to the Senate Majority Leader's house and shot him on his front step.  The next day, he gunned down the Supreme Court Chief Justice on a freeway, driving to work.  Then he took shots at several cabinet members with a sniper rifle, killing a couple.  Everything happened in such quick succession that the country just freaked out.  The DC area turned to bedlam.  Martial law, riots, mob justice.  It was terrifying.  I actually had to put it down a couple of times because it was too realistic.

I bring this up because I was reminded of the book's premise as I watched Olympus Has Fallen.  I am hardly saying this movie was realistic. I'm sure a Washington insider could find fifty plot holes in ten minutes. But the setup was, I thought, brilliant. 

The opening scenes with Gerard Butler, President Harvey Dent and his family, and the surefire tragedy to come were decent. I guess they were important to show how close Butler's Secret Service agent was to the First Family before the family tragedy. But, as far as other characters go, it was kind of pointless. I didn't get connected to the majority of Secret Service guys because they all looked the same. Seriously. They all looked like they had played linebacker at a Big Ten school and gone into government work. I honestly couldn't remember which ones were in both the opening scene and the later scenes. The only one who stood out was Dylan McDermott Mulrooney. He didn't do much, but I knew he was too big of a name to be cannon fodder. 

The movie really picked up when the terrorist plan kicked into gear. It was thirteen minutes of insanity. I know it was thirteen minutes because the main bad guy says to the President Dent, "Standard deployment time for the emergency teams is fifteen minutes. We took the White House in thirteen."  The plan was brilliant. Of course, it must have taken a massive amount of planning and financial resources to make it work. But that is neither here not there. If you start looking for logic in action movies.... Let's just say that's a fool's errand. 

It started with the South Korean delegation arriving for a crucial meeting with President Harvey Dent. They arrive with a legit security detail headed up by, hey!, Dermott McDylan Mulrooney. Told you he was coming into play. There is a crowd of Koreans outside the White House showing their support or protesting or whatever crowds do. A nondescript C130 cargo plane zooms from Chesapeake, Virginia (thanks handy info labels!) towards DC. Air command finally realize that this plane isn't supposed to be there and they scramble jets to take it down. Oops. Hidden doors on the side open to show mini guns that take out the planes. This causes a chain reaction. The President and His Cabinet are hustled down into the bunker below the White House. Being the nice guy he is, El Presidente also brings the Korean Prime Minister and his detail, against protocol, naturally. More jets are scrambled. The C130 starts firing all kinds of guns, missile deterrents, missiles all over the place. The jets are crashing. Crowds are getting strafed. Chaos. The plane finally crashes through the Washington Monument and onto the White House lawn. Explosion. Fire. Chaos. 

The crowd outside the White House aren't what they seem. They are armed terrorists. They start firing all over the place, taking out Secret Service and military personnel. Suicide bombers blow themselves up at the gate. Two garbage trucks come hurdling down Pennsylvania Avenue. They blow up their tires so they can't be moved. More gunmen are hidden inside. An armored car comes along and blows the gate open. The gunmen all stream in and shoot all the security personnel. It is horrific. The editing gives it a relentless feel. There is wave after wave of attacks, each successive one to nullify the next safety protocol. Whether or not it was plausible, it felt possible. It brought that same feeling of horror from the book I mentioned. 

Peppered through this we see how Gerard Butler manages to get into the White House to do his Die Hard John MacLaine impersonation. The rest of the movie is Butler trying to save the President, idiotic military and government officials making idiotic decisions, the North Korean terrorist trying to access the US Cerberus system to blow up all American nukes, and lots and lots of murder.

This is where things get a bit uncomfortable to me.  And it is probably why I didn't watch this movie when it was out in the theaters.  I find it very difficult to just overlook wanton violence any more.  There was a time when I had no qualms about watching a movie with people getting massacred all over the place.  I've seen more than my share of violent action movies.  Trust me, that was my main movie preference for many years.  I remember going with a group of friends to see Saving Private Ryan.  That is the most violent movie I have ever seen.  There have been stories for years about how the only reason the movie got an R rating instead of NC-17 was because it was made by Stephen Spielberg.  Some of the girls who went with us felt ill and left, or sat with their eyes closed in the theater.  It was horrific, but I was okay.  Things change, though.  I have never seen Saving Private Ryan again.  I used to watch Schindler's List every year.  I can't even remember when I last watched it.  It is hard for me to swallow that level of atrocity any more.

When I say that, people will often respond with, "You do realize they are fictional, right?  This is just a movie."  Not always, they aren't.  Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List weren't fictional.  On screen, it is a representation, but it was based on truly horrific things that really happened.  But even when a movie is fictional, like Olympus Has Fallen, it is hard for me to disconnect.  I watch movies in a different way than a lot of people.  I think about them and dissect them.  I try to dive in and relate to what is going on.  It probably comes from the way I read books.  So when I see a jet in a movie crash into a neighborhood, I don't think, "Oh cool.  That jet just blew up."  I remember in Orlando a few years ago when a small plane crashed into a house in Sanford and killed the kids who lived there.  That family didn't think it was cool.

That is the problem I have with this type of film (and I include disaster flicks in this genre).  It just isn't that entertaining for me.  I don't enjoy watching cities get wiped out like in Independence Day any more.  It is too hard for me to forget the images of real planes crashing into real buildings and real people running for their lives when those real buildings fell into real streets.  How can anyone who lived through 9/11 NOT think about those things?  How can you not think of the horrific school shootings?  Or the Fort Hood shooting?  Those things aren't cool.  I have a hard time disconnecting my feelings about that just because it is on screen.  I am a father of three kids.  I can't turn that off in a theater.  Sure, I try when there is a movie I want to see.  But I still cringed when New York got obliterated in The Avengers or when DC got messed up in X Men 17 this summer.  But there is a level of violence, of brutality, that just crosses a line for me.  I remember feeling that during Dark Knight Rises.  I love Batman and I loved the Nolan trilogy.  However, the horrific brutality in the third one just made it hard to appreciate the film as much as I wanted to.  As bad as this sounds, it wasn't just killing someone.  It was battering them and really hurting them first.  That is something I just can't get behind.

So, when it comes to Olympus Has Fallen, I can appreciate the creativity of some parts of the movie.  The execution of the attack on the White House was impressive.  Gerard Butler did a fine job saving the President.  I appreciated that the movie didn't feel it necessary to have a "US Government is really behind this" subplot.  I get tired of those.  The big lesson I got from the film, though, is that I guess I'm not really in a place any more to enjoy films like this.  There are a bunch of movies that I have wanted to see - even ones I planned on watching in the next few days.  (Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty, to name a couple.)  It feels like visiting a city I used to live in and discovering that I don't like being there anymore.  I moved for a reason, I suppose.

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