The Thin Red Line Quiz: War at Its Worst

By: John Miller

"The Thin Red Line" is a war movie that portrays soldiers during which conflict?

"The Thin Red Line" is all about U.S. soldiers during World War II. Like the real war, this movie is often stark and harrowing and sometimes downright depressing.

The 1998 movie is based on which work of art?

The late 90s film is based on the book by James Jones. Jones was famous for his World War II novel "From Here to Eternity," which was also adapted for the big screen.

The story begins with a character named Pvt. Witt. Who plays the role?

Jim Caviezel gets the nod as Pvt. Witt. Caviezel is probably best known for his role as Jesus in 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," a movie that's even bloodier than "The Thin Red Line."

Pvt. Witt is deployed to the South Pacific during World War II. What does he do?

Witt despises the war and the Army. He goes AWOL and takes up a new life with the simpler (and more peaceful) natives in the area.

At the beginning of the movie, what happens to Pvt. Witt?

Witt's life on the run comes to an end. He's arrested and thrown into a hold on a military ship.

This is a very famous 90s war film. Who directed "The Thin Red Line"?

Terrence Malick served as director. He's known for movies like "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven." This was Malick's first movie following a 20-year hiatus.

This movie features an amazing array of big stars. Who is NOT in the film?

There is no Nicholas Cage. The movie stars Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and so many other major celebrities that we can't possibly list all of them here.

What does "the thin red line" refer to, anyway?

It comes from a line in a James Jones book. "The thin red line" is the line between life and death and between sanity and madness.

Witt is apprehended and put aboard a ship that's heading towards which World War II battle?

Witt and his fellow soldiers are aboard a ship destined for the Battle of Guadalcanal. It becomes one of the first major battles of the Pacific theater.

Who plays the 1st Sgt. Welsh?

It's Sean Penn who gets the part of 1st Sgt. Welsh, who is also aboard the ship that's headed to battle. He's the soldier who captures the AWOL man, Pvt. Witt.

The men land on Guadalcanal. What are their first moments like?

The troops hit the beach, but there's no Japanese opposition. The enemy has slipped into the forest, expecting the Americans to leave the area once they've conducted a short raid. But the U.S. troops decide to stay and dig in.

As the soldiers move inland, they encounter what?

The men slog inland and face a Japanese machine gun bunker. The bunker seems nearly impregnable and even approaching it is borderline suicidal.

This was the second film adaptation of James Jones' book.

There was indeed a previous adaptation and it was released in 1964. It starred Keir Dullea, Jack Warden and James Philbrook.

Pvt. Witt spends the duration of the battle locked in a jail cell.

Witt is sent to the island to serve as a stretcher-bearer. But as the battle becomes more intense, he's allowed to grab a gun and join in the fight.

Nick Nolte plays the part of Lt. Colonel Tall, who orders the men to do what?

Tall is the unreasonable officer with callous disregard for the lives of his men. He orders the men to commit to a frontal assault on the machine gun bunker. Fortunately, another officer defies Tall's ignorant order.

This film was loaded with big stars. How much did it cost to create "The Thin Red Line"?

20th Century Fox gambled on "The Thin Red Line." It was a big-budget film with an approximate budget of $52 million.

This big-budget movie flopped in theaters.

Studio executives were surely wringing their hands as they awaited the first box office numbers. They lucked out -- the movie grossed around $100 million.

Witt is picked as part of a team meant to destroy the bunker. How do the men attack?

It's impossible to attack the bunker in a frontal assault. Witt and the other men perform a flanking maneuver, hoping to catch the Japanese by surprise.

What happens during the flanking maneuver?

The U.S. troops flank the bunker and kill the Japanese troops. For their valor, they are given a week of rest away from the island. But then, of course, they have to return to the nightmarish combat zone.

Most critics liked the movie, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

The movie was solid enough to earn seven Oscar nominations, including major categories like Best Director and Best Picture.

The film earned seven Oscar nominations, but how many trophies did it take home on awards night?

Ouch, that stings like a sniper's bullet. "The Thin Red Line" lost out in every single category at the Oscars.

During his time on the islands, Pvt. Witt stumbles into the natives he once knew. How do they treat him?

Witt is happy to see the natives. But the war has made them wary of outsiders. They want nothing to do with the foreigner.

Sony Pictures intended to make this film but then gave up on the project. Why?

Sony didn't think the movie would make any money, primarily since its projected budget was so high. Fox Pictures wound up pitching in a huge chunk of money to finish the project.

By some accounts, the first version of the epic movie was about how long?

Terrence Malick clearly had a lot of footage that he really liked -- the first version was around five hours long. The final version is nearly three hours long.

After a break from combat, Witt is sent inland with other troops. What happens to them?

The soldiers encounter a Japanese counterattack. They are nearly surrounded and out of reach of reinforcements.

The movie is set in the South Pacific. Where was it filmed?

Most of the shooting took place in Australia and the Solomon Islands. The tropical scenes are very true to life.

Which other big star filmed scenes for this movie that weren't featured in the final version?

There were so many stars that the director didn't know what to do with all of them. Scenes with Pullman and Mortensen were cut, along with scenes featuring Gary Oldman, Martin Sheen, Jason Patric and Mickey Rourke.

Tom Sizemore was picked to be in this movie, but he declined so that he could be a part of which film?

Sizemore could have had a big role in "The Thin Red Line" but he opted for "Saving Private Ryan" instead. The latter film -- which was an incredible success -- changed the way Hollywood made war movies.

Which actor did NOT meet with the director for a part in the film?

Tom Cruise was never really in consideration. But gobs of other huge names met with the director, including Depp, Costner, Ethan Hawke, Brad Pitt, and yes, Nicolas Cage.

What happens to Pvt. Witt at the end of the movie?

Witt finds himself in the thick of battle once again. And during one vital scene, he's gunned down by enemy soldiers. So much for the glory of war.

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About This Quiz

Not all war movies are exercises in patriotic glory. Some show the uglier side of human conflict. How much do you know about 1998's "The Thin Red Line"?

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