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The Flare Path Screening Room

Films for discerning simmers and wargamers

For the last couple of weeks the Flare Path Reading Room has sounded more like a shipyard than a library. The 'KEEP MUM' and 'SHUT YOUR CAKEHOLE' signs have had no effect whatsoever on the hammer swingers and drill wielders next-door. This morning, thank goodness, silence returned. The adjoining and fully soundproofed Flare Path Screening Room is complete!

Well, I say 'complete'.

One of the splendid things about being a simmer and a wargamer is the independence. As a breed, we don't need to rely on devs and modders to enrich our entertainments. We can do our own embellishing via books (see the aforementioned Reading Room) museums (stay tuned for The Flare Path Museum Gazetteer) and the moving images known to members of my generation as 'flicks' or 'talkies'.

Our digital diversions are generally better at modelling machines than men. They seldom show much interest in exposition or any flair for tuition. Pair the dessicated misanthropist, the negligent narrator or the incompetent pedagogue with the right movie or documentary and the improvement can be marked.

Films, like books, can heighten appreciation, inject humanity, and sharpen skills. They have the power to alter how we play and how we think about success and failure. When separation is unavoidable or passion is fading, they can be relied upon to fan the flickering flame of interest. I'm convinced that all great sims and wargames have cinematic soul mates and, with your help, I'd like to set about proving it.

See those empty shelves in the projection booth? By this time next week, assuming you're willing to lend a hand, they should be crowded with feature films, documentaries, and TV series achingly relevant to particular sims and wargames. If there's a film you believe deserves to be represented in the Screening Room collection then it would be awfully decent of you to post a thoughtful paragraph or two about it in the comments section. Mr Cotton, the screening room technician, will periodically peruse the recommendations, pasting all but the silliest and most cynical (no sly self-promotion please, devs) suggestions into the body of this article.

The mini reviews/recommendations will be bylined, and arranged alphabetically according to their linked games. To ensure an interesting spread of opinions, Mr Cotton has asked that individual contributors furnish no more that two recommendations each, and compress enthusiasm into no more than 300 words per recommendation. Single sentences of praise are welcome, but Mr C reserves the right to reject the truly skeletal/vague (On its own “Saving Private Ryan is a great accompaniment to all WW2 games” may not cut it). As with the Reading Room list, what we're after here is perfectly matched pairs - films that could/should have been included in the Collector's Editions of the games in question.

Please don't hold back just because someone else has already spotlighted the movie you had in mind. If “The Angry Liberators” (Audie Murphy, 1947) or 'G For George' (George Formby, 1940) end-up with two or three recommendations rather than one, that's fine with FP.

I'll get the ball-turret rolling with a couple of recommendations of my own.

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  • Armoured Commander

film: Fury
recommender: Rev_Sudasana
also relevant to: Panzer Elite SE, Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy

"Fury inspired me to draw from the Patton’s Best well and create Armoured Commander. Equal parts survival and suffering, brings home the experience of a tank crew and the grim task facing those at the end of the war."


  • B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty Eighth

film: Twelve O'Clock High
recommender: Tim Stone
also relevant to: B-17 Flying Fortress (1992)

"My childhood playground was a staff college operated by the NCB, the state-owned company that ran Britain's coal mines from 1946 to 1987. All of the trainee managers that attended the college were made to watch Twelve O'Clock High, presumably because the tutors felt there were parallels between leading a demoralised/doomed B-17 squadron in WW2 and leading a demoralised/doomed nationalised industry in the late Seventies UK.

A tale of management under pressure rather than martial heroism, Henry King's platitude and jingoism free war drama stars Gregory Peck as Brigadier General Frank Savage, a USAAF troubleshooter tasked with turning round an 'unlucky' UK-based Bomber Group in 1942. Although the majority of the movie takes place in the cramped Nissen huts of RAF Archbury, the grim realities of aerial warfare are never far away. Screenwriters Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. - both USAAF veterans - are primarily interested in what happens to the minds of young men who are asked to dice with death on a daily basis, but through snippets of dialogue they also make sure the audience is under no illusions about the physical dangers faced by those same young men.

When Twelve O'Clock High does venture outside and upstairs, its occasional realism liberties (Spitfires stand in for Fw 190s during several attack sequences) are rendered insignificant by impressive footage of genuine B-17s en-masse that would be impossible to replicate today. The scene in which a real Fort belly-lands at Archbury is one of the most memorable in WW2 cinema. After watching machines like Leper Colony and Piccadilly Lily lumber into the air, and getting to know the men whose fates are inextricably linked with them, don't be surprised if you find yourself making for the cockpit of a Wayward Design or A2A Flying Fortress."

killbilly: "Twelve O’Clock High has a scene that I think is a model for economy in storytelling. It’s when Savage is coming to Archbury to take command, and his driver pulls up in sight of the base. Savage gets out from the front seat, lights a cigarette, leans in and offers one to his driver: “Smoke, Ernie?”

He takes a few puffs, then says “All right, Sergeant.” The driver opens the back door, and Savage gets in. The contrast is subtle, but Savage exits the car as the sort of man who addresses his driver on a first name basis, and returns to it as the sort who addresses him by his rank, because that’s the sort of man he will have to be to turn the 918th around."


  • Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front

film: Fortress of War (2010)
recommender: JFS
also relevant to: Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin

"The first of four campaigns of the core game depicts the beginning of Unternehmen Barbarossa - the German summer blitzkrieg against surprised and badly organised Russian defenders, who nonetheless hold out as tenaciously as possible. I think the atmosphere of both the first (German) and second (Soviet) campaign mirrors the movie nicely. The Soviet defender’s desperation is more than palpable (second campaign), as is the feeling that while being driven back by the sheer power of the invaders. The Red Army was not a pushover in 1941 (I certainly felt that way when playing as the Wehrmacht in the first campaign)."


  • Battle of Britain II: Wings of Victory

film: Battle of Britain
recommender: Electricfox
also relevant to: IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, IL-2 Sturmovik

"The obvious choice, a well made film which looks at the action in the air and on the ground. Sure, there are some visual oddities, but the grand scale and the soundtrack of the film will take you there. It’s a perfect introduction and overview of the Battle of Britain, from the initial early raids into Southern England, to the massed Big Wings of the Blitz."


  • Chuck Yeager's Air Combat

film: Empire of the Sun
recommender: corinoco
also relevant to:  IL-2 Sturmovik, CFS2

"When I first saw EOTS the scene when the Mustangs shoot up the airbase accompanied by a dreamy orchestral number made me want to go out and buy an aircraft sim where I could do just that. In those days you could choose from many different sims, and the one I chose was CYAC. It had a P51, and you could strafe things, like a train. The combat in it was pretty good for the early 386 era, I recall, and the mission builder was fun too."


  • Civil War Battles (John Tiller Software/HPS)

film: The Red Badge of Courage
recommender: Shiloh
also relevant to: Scourge of War: Gettysburg, Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, Ultimate General: Gettysburg

"Based on the book of the same name and starring real-life WW2 hero Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming (“The Youth”) and famed US Army cartoonist Bill Mauldin (“Tom Wilson”), this is a fantastic exploration of fear and coming to terms with it. The Union soldiers (officers and men) are to a man well-characterised and I can’t personally think of a better Civil War film to grace the library shelves."


  • Close Combat series

film: Kelly's Heroes
recommender: Gothnak
also relevant to: Panzer Elite Special Edition, Combat Mission

"One of the truly great buddy war films with a great story and some fantastic acting, especially Donald Sutherland. It can also explain to any wargaming noobs about armour penetration and bloody Tiger Tanks!"


  • Close Combat V: Invasion Normandy

series: Band of Brothers episode 3 (Carentan)
recommender: Wilco1985
also relevant to: Brothers in Arms

"Besides the obvious matching theaters of war and divisions fighting it, this episode of Band of Brothers follows Private Blithe who struggles with shell shock and fear during the battles. The Close Combat series' psychological model was a huge selling point."


  • Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem

film: A Bridge Too Far
recommender: JcDent
also relevant to: Close Combat 2: A Bridge Too Far, Combat Mission: Market Garden, Command Ops 2: Highway to the Reich, Assault on Arnhem

"It’s a wonderful movie with a star studded cast, tense and humorous at parts. If you can stand Leo 1s pretending to be Panzers, you can and must watch the movie. Beautiful work all around and from everyone involved.

It matches up well with the game. You will experience the rush to the bridges, the armored push, the desperate fight of paratroopers faced with tanks and, of course, exploding bridges. Troubles with radio equipment will be simulated by your own MG teams walking into MG42 fire.

Would probably work for that one Company of Heroes campaign, too, but Last Stand Arnhem is better at capturing both the scope and the desperation."


  • Combat Mission: Red Thunder

film: Cross of Iron
recommender: Shiloh
also relevant to: Graviteam Tactics, Red Orchestra

"Another well known standard, shot in Yugoslavia and set in the Kuban bridgehead in 1943, the story of Feldwebel Rolf Steiner and his nemesis, the glory-seeking Captain Stransky. Of particular note for the grognard is the use of real WW2-era hardware – the Yugoslav People’s Army apparently had stocks of T-34/85s which were used in the film."

Father Ted: "Cross of Iron fits well with Red Orchestra, at least for the big battle scenes. The scales are similar and both sport last gen graphics"


  • Crown of Glory

film: The Duellists
recommender: Shiloh
also relevant to: The HPS 'Napoleonic Battles' series, Scourge of War: Waterloo

"Possibly an odd choice for the library given the subject matter, but this 1977 film debut from Ridley Scott (based on Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Duel”) has a wonderful sense of place and time. The careful attention to Napoleonic detail (thanks to consultant Richard Holmes) is evident in the uniforms, weapons and conduct throughout, and you’d struggle to find a better looking film about the Napoleonic Wars."


  • Desert Rats (ZX Spectrum)

film: Ice Cold in Alex
recommender: Gothnak
also relevant to: Combat Mission: Afrika Korps, Desert War 1940-43

"Desert Rats being my first foray into Digital Wargaming on my friend’s Spectrum (My parents got me a BBC B which had none) really only made sense once I had seen Ice Cold in Alex. The sheer hostility of the terrain in the film helped me understand supply lines and the fear that grips anyone in the desert when they see an enemy plane on the horizon taught me enough about air superiority. All in all a great story within a war although the combat itself is minimal, and the beer drinking scene in Alexandria is sure to make anyone feel refreshed."


  • Enemy Front

film: Kanał
recommender: BooleanBob
also relevant to: -

"This is a film befitting the horrendous slaughter of the uprising in Warsaw it documents. In all senses of the word it is an awful film – excepting only that of its quality, which is first rate.

One of the weird effects of the sheer unconscionable scale of the Eastern Front is that many of its footnotes, weighed on the scales of human tragedy, dwarf the headline events on which our Occidental histories unerringly linger.

So too our Occidental games. How many times have we paid tribute to the bravery of the fallen at Normandy, Arnhem or the Ardennes? Enemy Front has an edge on these titles, if only because it seeks to pull back the covers on a dark chapter of history seldom considered in popular historical media.

Kanal is a companion piece in that, while not necessarily fleshing out the history of the Uprising, it provides an alternative perspective on the same historical events. The perspective is that of a ragtag group of Polish resistance fighters, who in their exodus from a rapidly unravelling Warsaw must brave the horrors that come with not just fighting, but losing a war in a theatre where almost nothing is cheaper than human life. The film heaps raw meat on the boney aphorism that war is hell, infusing it with a terrible literalness, never descending into mawkishness or didacticism – but nonetheless descending, inexorably, inescapably, into the dark."


  • Gary Grigsby's War in the East

film: Come and See
recommender: Shiloh
also relevant to: John Tiller's Panzer Campaigns, Decisive Campaigns: Barbarossa, Graviteam Tactics

"Set in Byelorussia in 1943 at the height of the German occupation. Horrifying, grim (I defy anyone not to watch the barn scene without cringing inwardly), surreal in places and about as anti-war as you could get, a handy addition to the library in that it reminds an armchair general like me that there were real people on the Ostfront."

Cederic: "Come and See is a very very hard film to recommend. It’s excellent, but it’s vicious and bleak. Really haven’t found a game that might even remotely resemble it either."


  • Hearts of Iron

film: Downfall (2004)
recommender: Rorschach617
also relevant to: -

"A game series that can have many films linked to it is Hearts of Iron (I spent a lot of time with HOI2), but the film I would like to link it to is Downfall (2004).

Amusing hitler-rant memes aside, Hearts of Iron, when all goes wrong and you are watching your armies disintegrate, has an echo to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film, as you scramble paper armies around the map trying to recover some semblance of order, knowing that the game was lost when you started the war, but you just did not know it.

As to the film itself, the acting and characterisation, the casting, all weave together to give you the impression of a fly on the wall documentary filmed at the time rather than a recreation nearly 60 years after the events.

Here the architects of National Socialism are seen in all their faults. Hitler is weakened and unbalanced, his followers are self-serving and cowardly, his generals weak. The film does an excellent job of translating those last desperate days of a monstrous regime into human terms, with their terrible results.”


  • IL-2 Sturmovik

film: Carrier Flying
recommender: Tim Stone
also relevant to: Combat Flight Simulator 2, 1942: The Pacific Air War

"Exposure to this riveting Royal Navy instructional film produced c1945 won't turn you into an Eric Winkle Brown overnight but it should mean you spend less time clipping islands and sliding off flat tops in your favourite naval flight sim. Using an imaginative mix of drama, animation, models, and real flight footage, Carrier Flying tells the story of the cocksure Sub-Lieutenant Wilson, a new Fleet Air Arm pilot who thinks deck landings are a piece of cake and batsmen are an 'unnecessary luxury'.

After pranging his Corsair, the chastened hotshot finds himself alone in his cabin contemplating a blank accident-not-attributable-to-enemy-action report form. A classroom doodle takes him back to his basic training days, and, for a fascinating half-hour, we join him as he re-learns about batsman signals, landing techniques and procedures, and carrier layouts.

Many of the tips are as useful in a virtual context as a real one. Compared to the utilitarian instructional material that accompanies many sims, Carrier Flying's teaching approach feels playful... ingenious. Every time I watch it I find myself yearning for tailhooks and arrestor cables and wondering why, in thirty-odd years of mil-simming, no dev has ever given me the opportunity to play as a bat-waving Deck Landing Control Officer."


  • Kerbal Space Program

film: Apollo 13
recommender: corinoco
also relevant to: Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space, Buzz Aldrin's Space Program Manager

"'And, um, Jeb, if you could give your oxygen tanks a stir'


Recreate Apollo 13 – fly on manual, eyeball your way around the moon. Get those Kerbals home! The more recent versions give you some realistic systems, and of course lots of mods give you additional complexity should you need it."


  • Men of War: Condemned Heroes

series: Shtrafbat
recommender: Curry the Great
also relevant to: -

"The series is cheap and Russian, but surprisingly honest for a Russian film about the terrible Soviet penal batallions of ’42 and the grim acceptance of the inevitability of their fate of the soldiers and officers who are supposed to redeem their honour “in blood” by being wounded in battle and providing witness testimonies to the fact. Their reward? Reinstatement as a normal soldier and the removal of the threat of decreased food rations for their families. Die in battle, but nobody’s left to see it? You will have died a coward’s death and consequently food rations for your loved ones will be cut. Minefield clearing equipment? A barrel of alcohol and lies. The game doesn’t deliver on the same horrors but provides interesting glimpses of the captured French equipment and Eastern European tanks used on the Eastern front."


  • Norm Koger's The Operational Art of War III

film: The Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara
recommender: GernauMorat
also relevant to: -

"This documentary should be seen by anyone with an interest in the cold war and the rise of the ‘rationalised’ warfare. The film consists of a series of interviews with Secretary of Defense McNamara, one of the Bete Noirs of Vietnam, and advocate of problem solving via application of saturation bombing. Also, it has an excellent soundtrack by Philip Glass."


  • Red Baron 2/Red Baron 3D 

film: The Red Baron (2008)
recommender: Wilco1985
also relevant to: Rise of Flight, Wings Over Flanders Fields

"The movie and game complete each other so perfectly. The game is all about combat action and does not give a lot of historical context while the movie gives all the context while not having a lot of fight sequences."


  • Red Orchestra 2 

film: Enemy at the Gates
recommender: peterako1989
also relevant to: The Sniper Elites

"A pretty vicious Eastern Front game with teammates dying left and right as you frantically try to locate who is shooting at you."


  • Rise of Prussia

film: Barry Lyndon
recommender: Syt
also relevant to: The Seven Years War (1756-1763)

"Ryan O’Neal stars in Kubrick’s period epic based on Thackeray’s book. Barry Lyndon, an Irish ne’er-do-well who joins the British Army to escape prosecution in his home country. He fights in the Seven Years War, deserts, and becomes a spy for the Prussians before marrying an aristocratic widow. It’s downhill for him from there. Kubrick’s cinematography in this slow paced movie is heavily based on period paintings of both civilian and military life, reviving the splendor of the 18th century."


  • Silent Hunter 3

film: Das Boot
recommender: Electricfox
also relevant to: Atlantic Fleet, Silent Hunter V, Silent Hunter II, Aces of the Deep

"THE uboat film, whilst others deserve a respectful nod (The Enemy Below, for example) Das Boot gets the award. From the boredom of patrol, to the excitement of attack, followed by the terror of the counter-attack. Das Boot, based on the book by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, although some liberties are taken in complete accuracy, manages to capture the life of a Kriegsmarine uboat crew during 1941 in a way that no other film or series has done before or since. Add to that a terrific score by Klaus Doldinger and directing by the famous Wolfgang Peterson, and you have a film that is top on nearly all Subsimmers lists."

latedave: "Play without time acceleration for added tension and Das Boot should be just about finishing up by the time you exit the harbour…:)"


  • Sniper Elite

film: Battle for Sevastopol
recommender: Zagzagovich
also relevant to: Red Orchestra

"Probably the last co-production between Russia and Ukraine we’ll see in a while but it’s a great one to go out on. Telling the story of one of the best Russian snipers during WW2 Lyudmila Pavlichenko. The name is slightly misleading because the battle is only a small part of the movie. We follow her from the first day of war to the last days of her service and it’s a hell of a journey. It’s a rarity when a new Russian movie manages to avoid propaganda (Stalingrad, Battalion) but this one does. Capturing not only the heroism but also how war affects people."


  • Spec Ops: The Line

series: Generation Kill
recommender: phuzz
also relevant to: -

"Where as Spec Ops is basically a movie, being heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now, Generation Kill depicts what by all accounts is one of the most realistic accounts of what modern warfare is actually like for the grunts on the ground. Based on a true story, a reporter is embedded with 1st Recon USMC as they invade Iraq, trying to stay safe from both the people in Iraq, and their own commanders who seem to have little clue. During the series you can watch as what started off as a straightforward invasion, becomes an occupation for which the invading forces were not prepared (and which arguably led to much of the current situation in the Middle East today)."


  •  Squad Battles: Soviet-Afghan War

film: The Beast of War
recommender: Dances to Podcasts
also relevant to: 9th Company: Roots of War

"The Beast of War is one of those movies that I saw late at night decades ago but somehow still lingers in the back of my mind. And unlike many other entries in the Israeli single tank movie genre I could actually find a game for it. :)"


  • Squad Battles: Vietnam

film: We Were Soldiers
recommender: Philopoemen
also relevant to: Vietcong series, Vietnam '65

"One of the few Vietnam-era scenario based games, and its eerie watching the actors playing the troops you’re commanding in the Ia Drang."

Shiloh: "I’d add Platoon and Hamburger Hill to this one, the latter if only for the ferocious combat scenes."


  • Stalingrad (aka Great Battles of WW2: Stalingrad)

film: Stalingrad
recommender: JFS
also relevant to: Lock 'n' Load: Heroes of Stalingrad, Close Combat 3, Red Orchestra, Squad Battles: Advance of the Reich

"The movie doesn’t just depict the house-to-house fighting that Stalingrad became infamous for, but the lead-up to it as well as the aftermath. So does the game, which starts in the summer of 1942 and ends with Unternehmen Wintergewitter. I’d argue the game is even more detailed and shows elements the movie can’t (such as Axis minor troops from Croatia or Soviet factory worker militia), but it does of course have more room to spare."


  • Total War: Shogun 2 

film: Throne of Blood
recommender: unacom
also relevant to: -

"A pretty straightforward choice. Akira Kurosawa sets up Shakespearean tragedies, which will affect not only their respective figures, but the population of the provinces as well. Beautifully tunes the mind to every aspect of a long night of Total War."


  • Wargame Construction Set III: Age of Rifles

film: The Charge of the Light Brigade
recommender: Syt
also relevant to:  The Charge of the Light Brigade (1991)

"A “lions led by donkeys” tale, albeit set during the Crimean War instead of World War One, the movie depicts the struggles of competent officers and soldiers under disaffected superiors who follow outdated doctrines that cause needless losses on and off the battlefield. The movie culminates in the eponymous, ill fated charge."

Rorschach617: "Age of Rifles can have so many films linked to it thanks to its vast inventory of weapon and unit options. Zulu and Glory for example."

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