THE THIN RED LINE
Although the filmmakers brought some Melanesians from the Solomon Islands to the Queensland location to add some important realism, they felt from the start that this was not enough to depict the special traits of these people and their country
Although the filmmakers brought some Melanesians from the Solomon
Islands to the Queensland location to add some important realism,
they felt from the start that this was not enough to depict the
special traits of these people and their country. So, to ensure
authenticity, bring out the cultural wealth of the natives, and
best convey the story's themes, it had been decided in pre-production
to shoot some critical scenes in the most remote and least accessible
parts of Guadalcanal.
The story of Guadalcanal's Melanesian inhabitants and the war's
effects on them is one that has not been told in other World War
II stories. This culture was as foreign to arriving soldiers as,
of course, the soldiers were to the Melanesians. And the gentleness
of the Melanesian people and their way of life provided a stark,
often chilling contrast to the scale of wartime destruction surrounding
them. "We thought that this contrast was an important element
of our film, and to bring that out we had to shoot at least a
portion of the film on Guadalcanal, among the Melanesians,"
The filmmakers found the Melanesians to be very hospitable and
generous hosts. But, not surprisingly, their customs took some
time getting used to. Says Fisk: "They live in clans and
think in committee, so it was difficult to negotiate use of the
land because so many family members had to be involved."
The work and research on Guadalcanal had begun long before principal
photography. During pre-production, Malick, Hill, Fisk and Toll
undertook several surveys of the island, with the assistance of
a locally-based French anthropologist who helped put the filmmakers
in contact with the Melanesians.
During these early visits, the filmmakers were particularly excited
to discover that Guadalcanal had changed very little in the over-fifty
years since the battle had been fought (Much of the island, in
fact, looks just as it did when Captain Cook traveled there hundreds
of years ago. Part of the unfortunate reason for the small degree
of change was the fact that the Solomon Islands has the world's
highest rate of endemic malaria; this in turn resulted in very
little trade or tourism). The battlegrounds and trenches lay untouched
- C-rations, World War II shrapnel and grenades still littered
the area. The filmmakers found this all inspirational, furthering
their determination to shoot at least part of the film there.
Later on, the filmmakers put together what they called an "anthropological
unit," comprised of a documentary cameraman and his team
of three or four. This unit traveled to Guadalcanal, where they
stayed in two of the outlying villages. "They brought back
wonderful photography that we could never have gotten any other
way," says Grant Hill. The unit's work ended up sprinkled
throughout the film, providing key footage of the Melanesians
and their culture.
Filming with the actors took place in an actual Melanesian village,
but a move to another Guadalcanal locale necessitated the construction
of a new village, which Fisk based on his own extensive anthropological
research from the era. The natives helped the art department construct
the village, and even lived in it for a period while it was being
While the Melanesians enjoyed the new village going up around
them, the speed in which it was being built was somewhat of a
shock. "The normal house in<
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