Thursday 3 January 2013

Great escape, but not a great movie

Christmas in England was synonymous with, well, many things - dismal weather, short days making the decorative lights that much more welcome and effective, a free drink at the pub on Christmas morning, and later Zulu on TV to digest the turkey by. I have heard, though, that The Great Escape has become the new Zulu, though not here; so we rented it to watch tonight for the first time, for me, since it first came out and we saw it as a family with my father, for whom it was part of his personal history.

Having visited Stalag Luft III last year and seen what is left of the prison camp at the museum there, as well as reading all about it for the story I wrote, it was a fascinating - if frustrating - watch. Of course, liberties were taken for story-telling purposes, I accept that; but it was a shame the compass-making wasn't shown, and that so much of the men's extraordinary inventiveness was purely background detail; plus that more of the real drama of the actual escape - the cave-ins, for example - didn't feature.

It was annoying too that some important things were wrong that should have been right: in the movie, Harry's entrance was in the shower sump - but that was Dick, which was never discovered; Harry was under a stove, which in the movie was where Tom began, instead of in a hallway. Also, the spoil from the tunnels was bright yellow sand, much more treacherous to dig and more difficult to dispose of discreetly than the brown dirt in the movie. And of course, no Americans took part in the actual escape, as they'd been moved to their own compound by the time it took place.

All the post-escape part of the story was, while diverting, pure "Hollywood ballyhoo" as Dad described it; and I do wonder why the order to murder 50 of the escapers was ascribed to "a higher authority" rather than to Hitler specifically - what, sparing his feelings, were they? Altogether, I'm glad the movie was made, and allowed the public to know something of the event - but it's time for a re-make, one that's more accurate and instead of making up stuff, values the drama of the real-life stories. Peter Jackson, are you twiddling your thumbs now The Hobbit is finished? How about it?

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