Monday, October 02, 2006

"The Guardian"...A Review.

Major Mike

I have to be pulled into a “cold water” movie by a twenty mule team.

On January 29, 1991, as Dash-2 of a six plane from South Carolina to Spain, the worst imaginable thing happened to my pilot and me. In less time than it takes to clear your throat, our F/A-18D was engulfed in fire. The hose had broken on the tanker, pouring fuel down both our intakes. We had both red fire lights illuminated and smoke was pouring into the cockpit. We were 400 miles due east of McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey with a 120 knot headwind component, or 400 miles due south of Naval Air Station Brunswick with a 120 knot left crosswind component. In seconds we were headed north.

Over the boom operator’s screams of “Hornet on fire,” I got out a few radio calls…

“Dual fire lights.” “Smoke in the cockpit.” “Squawking emergency.” “Divert Brunswick.”

My pilot and I exchanged a few Intercom (ICS) calls…

“Get away from this guy.” “Left turn, three-six-zero Brunswick” “Smoke in the back (cockpit).” “We need to think about getting out of this thing…..”

Hanging pause…the pre-flight weather brief included water temperature…37 degrees F. We would be good for 5 minutes in the water without our “poopy suits (dry suits),” and 15 minutes with them…we had ours on, but 15 minutes didn’t seem like much of a lifetime. We stared at the water below as we continued to struggle with the orange glow that our Hornet had evolved into.

Radar into surface search mode…looking for ships to eject next to, in case we went in, we might actually get picked up before turning into human Good Humor bars. Then from the front…

“I got it.” “Right fire light out.” “Left engine is coming off.” “Left fire light out.”

At this point, an instantaneous explosion seemed a better option than freezing to death in the Atlantic Ocean at night, so I was all for riding it out. Only an hour and twenty minutes til we get to Brunswick…that is IF, we could hold altitude…we weren’t having any luck.

We had started our ordeal at 27,000 feet and with the right throttle fully forward to military power (100% rpm without afterburner), we were not getting a grip on the cold night air…25,000…20,000…15,000…and still we could not get the jet to hold altitude. We were flying level, but the thrust available in the right engine could not sustain any of the altitudes we had seen thus far…10,000…we were quickly running out of room, and I was frantically scanning the radar for a ship near our path. 9,000 feet we finally grabbed enough air to hold altitude. Only fifty minutes to go, and we would avoid being popsicles. The longest fifty minutes of my life, but we eventually made it…not without some further trials, but those can wait for a different time.

Thank god for the beer machine in the BOQ lobby…three for me, three for my pilot…tasted pretty good at 0630 after our flight physicals…didn’t help me sleep like I thought it would. Thoughts of the vastness and chill of the North Atlantic easily overpowerd the beers and kept me awake until I showered and dressed at 0930. Cold water and me would not go well together from then on.

I skipped “Titanic” when it was in the theaters, and turn it off right after it hits the iceberg if it is playing in the house. I had to be pulled into the “Perfect Storm” by my wife and daughter…each manning an arm…my hands were freezing when we left the theater. I had the similar experience when I read the book. I don’t like cold water. I don’t like movies about people in cold water…I did not want to see “The Guardian.”

Although by movie’s end, my finger temp was a brisk 50 degrees F, this movie was worth the price of admission and more. I am not going to give you a Hollywoodesque thrashing of this movie…I’ll save that for those who don’t get it like Lisa Schwarzbaum, who trashes everything about this movie in her CNN review. Yeah, it is a bit cliché, but that is not the point.

The viewer should take a couple of things away from this movie…first, thousands of our sons and daughters are enduring the rigors of aggressive training to make us safe at night…whether in the military, the Coast Guard, or in our police and fire academies. This movie is captivating because of the hardships these trainees endure, just to get to the point where they can then go out and risk their lives to save others…that is the point…not how artistically this movie is made.

Just like “TopGun,” this movie is not meant to finitely document the lives of Coastie rescue swimmers, but to give the viewer the sense of the seriousness of their business, and the dangers involved in simply showing up to work everyday. Anyone who watched the first five minutes of “TopGun” was treated to the “feel” of what deck ops is like on a carrier. The first thirty minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” replicates better than any film, the dangers, rigors, and abject brutality of ground combat. This movie is the equal of those in getting its simple message across…this is a tough business, conducted by determined, well trained professionals, and their story needs to be told…simple as that.

Sorry Lisa didn’t really get that. Sorry that she thinks all of those “clichés” detract from that message, but considering how cold my hands got, it wasn’t too hard to get the point.

And lastly, for all those who “support our troops”…How about skipping your next sailing/surfing/ocean kayaking for kicks during the next hurricane/typhoon? For you fishing skippers…how about you make sure you, your boats, and your crew are ship shape, and worthy of the risks that a Coastie may have to take when your negligence becomes life threatening. Same to all you shipping lines…take care of your equipment, train your crews and sail professionally…your profits are not worth the life of one rescue swimmer.

It is not a fair trade, regardless of how motivated they are to do their duty, for one Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer to be put in jeopardy, because of laziness, ineptitude, abject stupidity, profit margins, getting “the big catch,” or getting one’s kicks. In a perfect world, brave men would not be called on time and again to save the stupid, but it seems that there are thousands of selfless heroes ready to pull knuckleheads out of the water night and day.

This is their movie. They deserve it, and far more, from the nation they serve.

Lisa should stick reviewing avant-garde cine, for it seems in her review, her contempt is not truly directed at the movie, but at a genre of films that have helped celebrate the quiet heroism that is so routine in our services. A heroism that might "seem" cliche to those who have come to expect others to do their serious bidding, but it is a heroism that is highly respected by those who understand what it takes to make heroic sacrifice seem the norm.

Skip the reviews...see the movie.


dueler88 said...

excellent review, mike.

the problem with "heroism" is that it really is too simple to define - so simple, in fact, that the average intelligentsia type can't see it. simple things must somehow always become complicated - full of nuance and dependent upon fickle impressions. in their mind, there is equal "heroism" in a veteran coastie diver and a single mom in tha hood.

i appreciate an avant-garde movie/book/artwork as much as anybody. but sometimes things really are just that simple. life. death. love. heroism. sacrifice.

perhaps the intelligentsia should stop "thinking" for awhile in order to fully understand the profundities of life.

Mr.Atos said...

I’m one of those who enjoys just about any movie, that does not fundamentally insult my sensibilities (ahem, Tarantino). That is why I rarely listen to critics. Michael Medved is about the only one that I rely on to tell me if a movie will likely be insulting. In that case I managed to miss it. Most cultural critics of our age, are mere cynics. Cynicism, I suspect is the emotional prosthesis for those who lack any thoughtful degree of imagination. Some years back, when the Blair Witch Project hit the screens, I sat in awe of its production. The movie was the finest effort to date (and until The Ring) in the genre of theatrical horror. And it worked specifically via the imagination. Yet even as I watched the movie, frozen with terror, there were some in the theatre laughing. My buddy turned to me and said,” that person has never been in the woods.” Afterward, we discussed his point and it was a good one. Anyone who has ventured beyond the realm of the familiar, can understand the discomfort associated with fear and confusion. Anyone who had spent 3 days 80 miles from rescue, would empathize with the sense of fear. It is a degree of thoughtful consideration of one’s world that makes life both rich, in a sense, and also provides one with a necessary degree of personal precaution. Just as you, Mike, were forced to weigh the gravity of punching from the plane into ice cold water, so too does the ability to analyze a situation seriously, allow us to make sound choices regarding survival… in the absence of instinct. Instinct alone would have made you punch out. And you would likely have perished.

There was a book I read many years ago about a kid, Chris McCandless (I think), who decided to venture around the country alone with no money or supplies. He roamed at whim with seemingly no fear, knowledge, or preparation. Several times he tempted fate. But, these events only further isolated him from a healthy degree of fear and precaution necessary for the continuation of life. Ultimately he hitchhiked to Alaska’s Denali NP, hiked deep into the wilderness with a 10lb bag of rice and a 22 rifle… and starved to death in a gutted out school bus less than 10 miles from rescue.

That is the currency of modern culture… the dividend of progressive thinking. Cynicism circumvents thoughtful consideration, making life bland, bitter and dangerous.

Steve said...

Well said. I wouldn't add a thing.