Spinning Soon to a Theater Near You

Lord of the Rings samurai

If you want to know the mind of the general public, you can do worse than go to the movies. Better yet, just watch the previews. They will tell you what the major studios think the American public wants to see.

War, not surprisingly, is a big topic in our upcoming winter entertainment. Whether the films portray conflicts that are historical (Master and Commander, The Alamo, The Last Samurai) or imaginary (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Matrix: Revolutions), they suggest that battles hold out the promise of big bucks.

On the surface, the preoccupation with war might seem strange given the increasing ambivalence and dissension surrounding the United States’ military involvement in Iraq. Aren’t movies and television supposed to provide an escape from the troubles and cares of the "real" world?

A closer look at the content of some of these trailers may help explain the appeal of the films they advertise – or at least what the studios think we might find appealing about them.

The first, most obvious similarity that all the conflicts in these films have in common is that the heroes, the ones who represent us, are heavy underdogs.

"Our enemy has more than twice our guns, more than twice our numbers," intones Captain Aubery (Russell Crowe) in the Master and Commander trailer. In both the Lord of the Rings trailer and the The Matrix: Revolutions, those involved in the formal, military conflict are convinced that they are hopelessly outmatched, yet determined to give their lives fighting to the end.

The Alamo trailer solemnly informs us that the Texans fighting in the fort were not soldiers, they were "husbands," "lawyers," "fathers" and "legends" who had to fight against "one of the most powerful armies ever assembled." The Last Samurai trailer begins with the main character, Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), as a part of a military army but ends with him charging on horseback, wielding a sword, against the guns that he used to use.

Another theme that most of these films have in common is that the main characters are fighting defensively rather than aggressively. Gondor is being besieged in The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King; Zion is being invaded by an army of machines in The Matrix: Revolutions. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie are trying to save their homeland of Texas from Santa Anna