In a time of conflict, innocence was lost.
Although December looks like a war movie, it is really a coming-of-age drama using the attack on Pearl Harbor as a launching point. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the film has some serious flaws that prevent it from being the compelling and provocative character study that it wants to be.
Facts of the Case
Just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, five friends in an American boarding school come to terms with the possibility of going to war. Tim (Brian Krause, Charmed) being a strong athlete and leader, is raring to go and serve his country in battle. None of the other boys are as sure as he is. Tim's best friend, Kipp (Wil Wheaton, Stand By Me, Star Trek: The Next Generation), has already begun to question the idea of war. As each boy decides for himself whether or not to enlist, their convictions are challenged, their friendships are shaken…and they do a whole lot of talking.
December is a film that may have been doomed to failure. Five young actors arguing in a school dorm for an hour and a half whether or not to go to war must have been a hard sell for studio executives. There are so many places a film like this can stumble. The script has to be intricately fashioned to be both believable and interesting. Each performance has to be appealing and complex.
Writer-director Gabe Torres's script, for the most part, is decent. Toward the end of the film especially, each character deals with important moral challenges. The choice these boys have to make is not an easy one, and the script gives them time to struggle through their problems and fears. The script also manages to bring up some important issues to ponder. The boys talk about what it means to be patriotic; they question the propaganda of the American war effort; they struggle with the censorship of anti-war materials. Unfortunately, in the end, their decisions have nothing to do with these issues but rather individual concerns in their own lives. For a film that raises so many important issues, it seems completely unwilling to take a stand on any of them.
The other big failing of the script is in the establishment of the characters. It would be harder to come up with a more stereotypical list than this:
• Gung-ho jock who pushes everyone around: Check.
By the end of the movie, I really did care for each of these characters. Through the course of the night, they have conversations that betray things about them that are not immediately apparent. All of this happens too late, though, and too much of my sympathy for the characters had dwindled by that point.
The performances range from quite good to pretty bad. The best performance comes from Wil Wheaton. He is a long way from his deep and complex role in Stand by Me, but he puts in a solid performance. The worst performance comes from Brian Krause, who spends most of the film with the Emot-o-meter™ turned all the way up to 11. The other three actors offer a range of good and bad moments. All of the actors try their best, but they get trapped in the bland, stereotypical exchanges in the script.
The presentation of the film by Columbia is far less ambitious than the production itself. The video transfer is grainy and soft. To make matters worse, it is only available in full screen. Some of it is clearly open matte, which means there are framing problems with extra space above and below the characters on the screen. Other scenes are clearly cropped at the sides. It's not the worst video transfer I have seen, but it really is ugly.
The sound fares only slightly better. The music and dialogue are well mixed, and the surrounds are put to good use for a film with so much dialogue. Unfortunately, there are times that you can hear the microphones clipping when the characters yell (which is about half the film).
There are no extras on the disc, other than a few trailers. This is not a surprising thing for a movie this old, but it would have been nice to have a few interviews reflecting on the film or providing some historical context.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
December means so well and tries so hard that I feel bad giving it such a negative review. The second half, if thought of as a coming-of-age story, is actually quite solid. Unfortunately, the script is so typical and the acting so shaky that the good moments are quickly forgotten.
Everything about December has been done better elsewhere, many times. Fans of coming-of-age dramas may want to give it a rent, but those expecting a war movie are advised to stay away. I can't recommend this as a purchase for anyone.
Everyone involved with the making of December deserves a reprimand, but they were young and it was a long time ago, so they are free to move on to bigger and better things. Columbia gets a stiff fine for a truly mediocre disc and a full screen video transfer. Adjourned.
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