Most of Adrien Brody's scenes were cut from the film without his consent and he wasn't aware of these changes until he saw the film at the premiere. Brody came to the premiere expecting to see himself as the lead character and was shocked when he saw that he was barely featured in the film.
Producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau, who were feuding with Terrence Malick, said they would attend the Oscars ceremony. Malick said if they were going to attend, he would stay home. None of them attended the Oscars. The movie won no awards.
In the scene where the American soldiers are sitting around among the Japanese prisoners after their bivouac is captured, you see an American soldier sitting next to and taunting a dying Japanese soldier. The Japanese soldier is retorting and what he is saying over and over to the American soldier is this: "Kisama mo itsuka shinun da yo!" Kisama is an unfriendly way to say you, similar to "you nasty person". Mo is "too". Itsuka is "someday or sometime, one day etc.". Shinu is the verb "to die". "Da yo" just gives it force and provides an exclamation point. So he's basically saying "you too, will die someday".
Hans Zimmer, the composer on the film along with John Powell (who provided additional music) composed over four hours of music on this film, presumably for the original director's cut of the film. However, when director Terrence Malick re-cut the film down to its current running time of 170 minutes, he chose only a few select pieces of music from Zimmer's and Powell's musical contributions, along with original source music, which ended up in the theatrical edition of the film.
Terrence Malick's reputation and working methods commanded great respect among the actors, with both Woody Harrelson and John Savage staying on for an extra month after they finished all of their scenes just to watch him at work.
Prior to the film's release, producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau allegedly violated a confidentiality clause they had signed by giving an interview to Vanity Fair about their long involvement with Terrence Malick and the film. Malick was so upset that Geisler and Roberdeau had to sign another agreement stating they would not attend the Oscars ceremony. If they violated that agreement, their names would be stripped from the film and video credits.
In the film's script, much of the characters' speech and much of the narration are actually lines taken from the James Jones novel "From Here to Eternity". For example, Witt frequently speaks the words of Private Pruitt, and Sergeant Welsh speaks the words of Sergeant Warden.
Music Editor Lee Scott and Francesco Lupica, the creator and performer of the Cosmic Beam, provided the haunting "metalic" sound to the films score. What sounds like a large distant bell is actually the Cosmic Beam. Malick would later use variations of the Cosmic Beam in his films, The New World (2005) The Tree of Life (2011) To the Wonder (2013) and Knight of Cups (2015)
Director Terrence Malick tended not to wait for ideal lighting conditions but would shoot the same scene three times: when it was overcast, in bright sunlight, and in ideal light. This way he had all conditions covered. When it came time to edit he could decide which is the best lighting for a specific sequence and use the scenes shot in that particular light.
Terrence Malick's unconventional filming techniques included shooting part of a scene during a bright, sunny morning only to finish it weeks later at sunset. He made a habit of pointing the camera away during an action sequence and focus on a parrot, a tree branch or other fauna.
Hans Zimmer's score would influence the direction his style would take for the rest of his career. Many directors (especially Christopher Nolan) would employ him based on their love for the film and the desire for its similar ambiance, specifically based on the track "Journey to the Line". Ironically, with the exception of "Journey to the Line", most of Zimmer's score did not make the final cut. What was used was often sampled with various other music chosen by Terrence Malick to create an intricate work that is very often mistakenly credited to Zimmer.
In the final narration by Train (John Dee Smith), he says, "Darkness and Light. Strife and Love. Are they the workings of one mind, the features of the same face?" This is a slight misquote of William Wordsworth's Prelude: Book Six, lines 636-8: "Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light / Were all like workings of one mind, the features / Of the same face".
Editor Leslie Jones was on location for five months and rarely saw Terrence Malick, who left her to her own devices. After principal photography wrapped, she came back with a five-hour first cut and spent seven months editing. It was at this point that editor Billy Weber came on board, and they spent 13 months in post-production and the last four months mixing the film, using four Avid machines with a fifth added at one point. Malick edited the footage one reel at a time with the sound off while listening to a Green Day CD.
Right after Captain Staros (Elias Koteas) has his big confrontation with Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) in which he refuses to make a frontal attack on the ridge, he hangs up the sound power and mutters in Greek. "He's lost it. He doesn't know what he's saying." Roughly: "Ta echi chasi aftos," then "xery tee moo lay." (This line is not in Jones's novel.)
This movie takes place at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal is situated in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean, north-east of Australia. Its local name is Isatabu and contains the country's capital, Honiara. The island is humid and mostly made up of jungle with a surface area of 2,510 square miles or 6,500-km². Guadacanal was named after Pedro de Ortega's home town Guadalcanal in Andalusia, Spain. de Ortega worked under Álvaro de Mendaña who charted the island in 1568.
The movie was almost not made. Sony Pictures dropped plans to produce it because of fears that it couldn't be made for its then $45-million budget. Fortunately, Fox Pictures came to the rescue by providing most of the cash.
In 1995, once word went out that Terrence Malick was making another movie after many years, numerous actors approached him, flooding the casting directors until they had to announce they wouldn't be accepting more requests. Some A class actors including Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Gary Oldman and George Clooney offered to work for a fraction and some even offered to work for free. Bruce Willis even went as far as offering to pay for first-class tickets for the casting crew, to get a few lines for the movie. At Medavoy's home in 1995, Malick staged a reading with Martin Sheen delivering the screen directions, and Kevin Costner, Will Patton, Peter Berg, Lukas Haas and Dermot Mulroney playing the main roles. In June of that year, a five-day workshop was scheduled at Medavoy's with Brad Pitt dropping by, and culminating with Malick putting on the soundtrack of Where Eagles Dare (1968) and playing Japanese taiko drums. Malick met with an interested Johnny Depp about the project at the Book Soup Bistro on the Sunset Strip.
Two aircraft were used for the background flying sequences. They were painted and modified to look like USN Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers, but were in fact a Harvard and a Wirraway. Unfortunately little footage of the aircraft managed to make the final cut. There's a glimpse of the Wirraway running along the invasion beaches piloted by Doug Haywood and Owen O'Malley. O'Malley is one of two of the movie pilots who actually flew in World War II; Jack Curtis was the other one. Sadly, The Wirraway crashed at an air show in Nowra, Australia in 2000. It was piloted by O'Malley, and both he and his passenger perished.
Terrence Malick and John Toll shot for 100 days in Australia using Panavision cameras and lenses, 24 days in the Solomon Islands and three days in the United States. They scouted the historic battlefields on Guadalcanal and shot footage, but health concerns over malaria limited filming to daylight hours only. Logistics were also difficult to shoot the entire film there: As Toll put it, "It's still a bit difficult to get on and off the island, and we had some scenes that involved 200 or 300 extras. We would have had to bring everybody to Guadalcanal, and financially it just didn't make sense".
On Roger Ebert's show at the end of the 1990s, Martin Scorsese sat in as a guest to list their top ten movies of the decade. This was chosen as his second favorite of the 90's. However, it should be considered his number one since The Horse Thief (1986) isn't technically apart of the 90's decade. That film would actually debut in the United States at the beginning of 1988 in a limited release.
Nick Nolte, as Lt. Col. Tall, says to Capt. Staros on the dawn of the day of the attack, "Eos rhododactylos . . . rosy-fingered dawn." He uses the second part of that line, "Rosy-fingered dawn" again in a later movie, The Good Thief (2002).
Before the casting was finalized, Nicolas Cage had lunch with Terrence Malick in Hollywood in February 1996. Malick went off to scout locations and tried calling Cage that summer only to find out that his phone number had been disconnected.
Filming also took place on Dancer Mountain, which had such rough terrain that trailers and production trucks could not make it up the hill. A base camp was set up and roads carved out of the mountain. Transporting 250 actors and 200 crew members up the hill took two hours.
Contrary to popular belief, the unit in the film and the characters in it are US Army, not Marines. They are wearing Army herringbone twill fatigue uniforms, and are using M1 Garand rifles, which most Marines on Guadalcanal did not have. The Marines led the invasion of Guadalcanal in August of 1942 but operations were turned over to the Army who finished the campaign in February of 1943.
Weeks before filming began, Terrence Malick told Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau not to show up in Australia where the film was being made, ostensibly because George Stevens Jr. would be the on-location producer supporting line producer Grant Hill. Malick told them that they had upset the studio for refusing to give up above-the-title production credit to Stevens. He did not tell them, however, that in 1996 he had a clause inserted in his contract barring the producers from the set. Geisler and Roberdeau were mystified about this behavior; Geisler told Entertainment Weekly, "I didn't think he was capable of betrayal of this magnitude".
In 1995, once word went out that Malick was making another movie after many years, numerous actors approached him, flooding the casting directors until they had to announce they wouldn't be accepting more requests. Some A-list actors including Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Gary Oldman, and George Clooney offered to work for a fraction and some even offered to work for free. Bruce Willis even went as far as offering to pay for first-class tickets for the casting crew, to get a few lines for the movie.