There’s reason to be grateful – or at least relieved – by a couple semi-related recent news items: Disney has dropped its bid to trademark “SEAL Team 6,” the name of the Navy unit that killed Osama bin Laden, and “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow has signed on to make Hollywood’s first major film about the May 1st operation.
So the public is spared the possibility of the momentous event being reduced to T-shirts and video games by the Mouse House, and chances are reasonably good we’ll get a quality movie from a filmmaker whose intense portrait of U.S. soldiers in Iraq won six Academy Awards.
But it’s still a little disconcerting the end of the near-decade-long search for bin Laden spurred a movie deal less than a month after the SEAL team took him out. The deal is emblematic of an era when major events too often undergo quickie, fictionalized makeovers, as if that’s the only way audiences can neatly process what they’ve already seen and read in the news.
Not all attention-grabbing stories destined for fast-turnaround reworkings carry big implications. The first flick about the 33 trapped Chilean miners, a tale with a thankfully happy ending, began shooting five days after the last man was pulled from the ground. We’re amused, even if Buckingham Palace may not be, that a TV movie about the recent Royal Wedding – the fluffy spectacle that captured much of the world and media’s imagination two days before bin Laden’s demise – is being filmed in Romania for an August airing.
“The Hurt Locker,” it’s worth noting, was released in 2009, six years after the war in Iraq began. Bigelow began developing her new film about the hunt for bin Laden in 2008, which we’ll take as a good sign. But bin Laden’s death clearly helped her seal a deal with Sony Pictures, and will loom large in the film, expected to be released late next year.
There’s a danger – and huge responsibility – facing any filmmaker who sets out to tackle history as it’s made and as the impact is just being understood.
At lot more is at stake than some Mickey Mouse merchandising deal: Bigelow’s Bin Laden movie, in a sense, could become an indelible part of the history she’s portraying on the screen. As to whether she succeeds, perhaps the answer is linked to the story at heart of her film: It may be too soon to tell.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.