Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Follow Up: Flags of our Fathers vs. The Prestige

Last October, two of my most anticipated films of 2006 were released on the same day...The Prestige and Flags of Our Fathers.

In a post I pondered and asked which film would be viewed as the better film, the higher box office grosser, the more critically acclaimed, and the most award winning, and entertaining.

Now that a year has passed since there release I wanted to revisit this post. It's interesting, because even in the comments different commenters were excited about one or the other coming out.

Now it's time to answer those questions.

Box Office:
Flags of Our Fathers box office was disappointing relative to its $90 million production budget. It ended up grossing $33.6 million in the United States, and $32.3 million in World markets.

The Prestige with a $40 million production budget brought in $53 million in the US, and $56.5 million abroad.

winner: Prestige

With Flags of our Fathers, a good handful of little nominations here and there (art directors guild, BFCA, etc.). The film also received two academy award nominations for sound editing and sound mixing.

With The Prestige, also many little nominations (online film critics society, teen choice, empire awards, art directors guild) The film also received two academy award nominations for cinematography and art direction.

winner: tie

According to rottentomatoes, Flags scored a 73% (78% cream of the crop) in terms of critic ratings.

With the same rating scale, The Prestige scored a 75%, but top critics were not nearly as amused as the cream of the crop critics rankings place it at a 56%.

winner: Flags of our Fathers, by the nose of the critics.

The People:
Obviously, more people saw The Prestige in the theaters, and 85,000+ people have voted on giving the film a ranking of 8.4 out out of 10...currently placing it as the #88 all time movie according to voters and it's algorithm.

With Flags of our Fathers, only 21,000+ have registered a vote for the film...showing much fewer people have probably seen this film. It's ranking among viewers is 7.3 out of 10, and is not ranked in the top 250.

winner: The Prestige

My Choice:
While, I'd have to say I enjoyed The Prestige more and am more likely to recommend it or rewatch it, I also appreciate the work of Eastwood's companion films of Flags of our Fathers along with Letters from Iwo Jima. I think Flags is an important story about heroes, because these iconic war heroes in the movie weren't really heroes at all, it was what they represented not who they were or what they did. Now, that's an interesting film theme.

To me the winner of "best" between these two, as shown in my top 10 from last year is The Prestige.


Anonymous said...

Flags didn't cost $90 million though. The budget was $50-55 million with Letters costing just $15 million by comparison. Variety reported the cost of both movies together as 'under $70 million.' I can't work out where that $90 million figure came from. As for the rest, well, Flags was one of the best films of last year (arguably surpassed by Letters which was THE Best Film of 2006). It was a thematically ambitious, structurally bold look at the gulf between combat glory & combat reality & deserves credit for being a WW2 movie that trod its own path rather than going down the same familiar route as battlefield spectacles like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, Tae Guk Gi, Band of Brothers, etc, etc.

That the actual structure of the film was used in an impressionistic manner (to replicate the soldiers feelings of disorientation & alienation) was a marvellous touch I thought.

And Flags' relationship with Letters is endlessly fascinating. It's not the scenes that crossover (fascinating though those are, especially the distant glimpse of the American flag atop Suribachi in Letters) as the themes, the way that both movies examine what the ideologies of each country demanded of their troops. In America it's the absolute elevation of the Hero for a public that can't otherwise comprehend the mass slaughter going on & a Government that (quite fairly) needs the citizenry to dig deep so it can prosecute the war to a victorious finish. Whereas the secret & all too human wishes of the doomed Japanese troops in Letters clash spectacularly with a perverted, faschistic culture that demanded their 'honorable' death over survival.

At the same time both movies feel extremely intimate - Flags despite it's wide ranging scale - never once loses its focus on the three men & Letters stays so firmly with a handful of characters that one experiences the truly exhilarating feel of a master director so in control of his material that he feels no need to assault you with bombastic CG sequences or lengthy 'in your face' battle scenes. Amazingly, their absence doesn't matter, so strong are the films, so potent the ideas & emotions evoked.

Another point of comparison - the use of time, or rather its non use. In Letters there's just no way of knowing how much time has passed for the characters, much less how long the battle has raged (& one suspects this is exactly what it must have felt like for any soldier in battle. Time must surely hang suspended). And in Flags events from the past replay endlessly in the minds of the men months, years & decades after the events have happened. Again, the normal passage of time is fractured.

I think they may well represent Eastwood's greatest achievement.

RC said...

@anon...whew! what a comment. I wish you weren't anon so i could respond to you more directly.

I can tell that you liked Flags of Our Fathers TONS! Interesting thoughts for sure. As far as the 90 million figure, i got that from box office mojo.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting revisit for sure. Personally, I skipped "Flags of Our Fathers" completely and opted to see the "Prestige" (though I liked "The Illusionist" better) but I did watch and love "Letters from Iwo Jima" which has more votes but has made only 1/2 the amount of boxoffice of "Flags of Our Fathers". I'm not sure if that's an indication that it wasn't seen as widely but if I can assume that, it's rather sad because it's an amazing film.

Lorna said...

I didn't see Flags of our Fathers or Letters because I found the title of the first to be offputting and jingoistic. I kind of regret it and may change my mind if I find soemoen who'd like to watch them with me. I'd hate not to be able to talk about for the Prestige, I looked forward to it for months, saw the Illusionist first and decided one (the Illusionist, at least) was enough. I'll have to rethink that too.

Anonymous said...

THE PRESTIGE did not have any scenes involving symbolic strawberry sauce. (Red? Blood? Get it?)


weepingsam said...

I admit that I skipped Flags of Our Fathers when it came out, and only saw Letters from Iwo Jima late and a bit reluctantly - then I saw the two of them in a double feature and was completely sold. Letters got more praise, but I think Flags might have been the better of the two - though together, they do make an outstanding war film. Outstanding anti-war film, as well, doing as good a job of deglamorizing war as almost anything - boredom and terror and bad dreams when it ends...

On a different note: I don't know how much blood there was in The Prestige, but there was plenty of violence, dismemberment and death. Put to much less substantial use than the war films did....

Anonymous said...

"@anon...whew! what a comment. I wish you weren't anon so i could respond to you more directly."

Does it matter? As Bruce Willis said in Pulp Fiction, "This is America, honey, names don't mean s**t" Besides, I thought Anon was kind of catchy!

"I can tell that you liked Flags of Our Fathers TONS!"

Well, I think it's that rare beast - an intellectual war film that is also emotionally authentic in the way it portrays what war does to men. The film suggests that the experience is literally incomprehensible to those who didn't go (hence the publics need to project their own hopes onto a photo of an event that to the men pictured was completely insignificant) & that's a view you can find expressed time & time again in the war literature written by veterans.

I was also fascinated by the way the combat footage was shot. Eastwood wisely avoids any amping up of the battle scenes with flashy camerawork or excessive gore (in fact both Flags & Letters must rank as two of the least graphic war movies of the last decade) whilst depicting the astonishing scale of a battlefleet trying to give thousands of men a foothold on Iwo's black sand beach.

But what really impressed me was the way the non-linear story structure allowed Eastwood to reflect the impressionistic horror of the battlefield as the veterans remembered it. I was stunned at the ingenuity of that & it expressed the core of the film which is the effect of war on survivors (& In Flags the men carry the additional weight of being 'heroes' to everyone). These guys are in effect trapped with their memories. One foot in the present & one foot on that ghastly island, a film loop that won't stop repeating in their minds, watching their friends die around them again & again & again. If that sounds like a more bracing, complex & thoughtful portrait of war than the recent string of bloodsoaked battlefield flag wavers, well, who am I to disagree?

is that so wrong? said...

I recently just saw The Prestige and have been trying to find a way to shoehorn it into a blog post. I loved it, mostly because it was so unabashedly dark.... and I'm totally ernamored with Christopher Nolan's directorial style.

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