Burying Private Ryan

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WHEN Peter Bardazzi, a film professor, took his students at the Fashion Institute of Technology to see “Flags of Our Fathers” last Sunday, they were surrounded in the theater by gray- and white-haired people who seemed genuinely touched by the movie’s depiction of the marines who took Iwo Jima. But the young men and women with Mr. Bardazzi, he said, found it tough to sit through.

One, Shirlyn Wong, 23, said she had barely learned about Hiroshima growing up, let alone about the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, and World War II just didn’t seem all that relevant now. Iraq is where it’s at, she said, and the images of carnage that she’s drawn to are the videos popping up on YouTube, despite what she and her friends see as the best efforts of the government and news media to suppress them.

“As soon as you hear something on CNN about a beheading, or a sniper video, the first thing we do is check on the Internet for it,” Ms. Wong said.

It’s been a long eight years since “Saving Private Ryan.” And the underwhelming turnout for “Flags of Our Fathers” so far — it made just $10.2 million its opening weekend, a third of the gross for “Ryan” — may drive home something that Clint Eastwood, the director, and Steven Spielberg, his producer, could not have guessed when they set out to make it: the phenomenon that took hold in 1998 with Mr. Spielberg’s re-enactment of D-Day in “Ryan” and the publication of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” may be, like that “last good war” itself, a thing of the past.

Demographics have a lot to do with this. Hundreds if not thousands of World War II veterans die each week, and those living aren’t so quick to rush to theaters. Indeed, the mortality of that generation was what drove a small army of writers like Hampton Sides, author of “Ghost Soldiers” (2001), about survivors of the Bataan death march, to get going before their sources all died, said Mr. Sides’s publisher, Bill Thomas of Doubleday.

Movies will always be made about World War II, just as there will always be westerns. But the dozens of projects in development include precious few intended mainly to honor the men who fought. Two in the works are about the same all-black 761st tank battalion.

But Douglas Brinkley, the historian and author, said “Flags” had missed its moment by at least five years. “This movie doesn’t fit into the zeitgeist of our times,” he said. A decade or two ago, “writers and filmmakers were honoring World War II veterans. Those mining that field in 2006 seem to be capitalizing on them.”...

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