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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Valkyrie



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#1 of 7 Matt Hough

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Posted May 25 2009 - 03:22 PM


Valkyrie (Blu-ray)
Directed by Bryan Singer

Studio: MGM
Year: 2008
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 120 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Korean, others
Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.99

Release Date: May 19, 2009
Review Date: May 25, 2009


The Film

4/5

The true story of the last attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler by his fellow Germans makes for compelling storytelling in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie. Just like historical films such as ‘1776’ and The Alamo did not have their effectiveness blunted by the audience’s foreknowledge of the story’s ending, so, too, does Valkyrie escape any feeling of an anticlimactic conclusion through the sheer force of exciting writing, performing, and directing. This is another film that puts the disparate loyalties of the German people and its army officers during the waning years of World War II in tremendous perspective against any preconceived notions we Americans might have about their actual allegiances.

After Major-Gen. Henning von Tresckow’s (Kenneth Branagh) failed attempt to explode a rigged container of Cointreau in an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler (David Bamber) and hopefully end the war in 1943 before all of Europe was completely destroyed, the task for killing the Fuehrer falls to Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise). Along with fellow conspirators Gen. Friedrich Ulbricht (Bill Nighy) and Gen. Ludwig Beck (Terrence Stamp), among others, the conspirators initiate their plan known as “Valkyrie” which involved assassinating Hitler, using the reserve army to take control of Berlin and overpower Hitler’s fiercely loyal SS, and institute a new government with a new chancellor who will attempt to broker peace with the Allies.

As Terrence Stamp’s character says at one point early in the planning process, “It’s a military operation; of course things are going to go wrong,” and they certainly do as the detailed (but not overwhelmingly so) script by Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander makes so abundantly clear. With the plan laid out carefully and director Bryan Singer showing us both its progress and its gaffes every step of the way, Valkyrie is a very easy film to follow. The extent of the frustration of these conspirators with the growing madness of their leaders is keenly felt to the point of desperation, all due to Singer’s masterful hand in letting his camera explore faces and body language in many of the tense conspiracy meetings. He’s also mounted a glorious pre-plan battle sequence which explains how Col. von Stauffenberg came to suffer such damaging injuries in a Northern Africa campaign which saw the British and Americans pounding the Germans from the air, all the more strengthening his intensity to bring some sanity to the German High Command once he can eliminate the men at the top.

Tom Cruise does not play Col. Claus von Stauffenberg with a German accent, but the script and the director stage a very slick way around that by having the film begin with Cruise speaking German on the soundtrack and segueing into his American accent halfway through it (mimicked by the slowly morphing opening titles from German to English). Otherwise, he’s grounded and determined as the officer who puts pride in his country above any sense of duty toward a madman. Of the supporting players, Tom Wilkinson’s rather treacherous Gen. Friedrich Fromm, who turns a blind eye to the conspirators’ plans while secretly retaining his own shaky allegiance to the Reich, gives a devastating account of this actual traitor while Bill Nighy’s Gen. Friedrich Olbricht’s indecisiveness is exceedingly well played. I also enjoyed Jamie Parker’s Lt. Werner von Haeften, Stauffenberg’s blindly loyal aide; David Bamber’s zonked-out take on Hitler at this stage of the war, and Tom Hollander’s Col. Heinz Brandt zealously guarding his own sense of importance and peeved when Stauffenberg seems to usurp it.


Video Quality

4.5/5

The film’s theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. What appears to be a light blue-green filter seems to have been used through much of the movie to give the film a cool sense of the past ambiance. The Blu-ray has no trouble rendering this though it makes flesh tones seem just a little off as a result. (Later scenes don’t seem to have this look and appear much more natural.) The North Africa scenes have been slightly bleached out to suggest the intensity of the sun there. The transfer likewise has no problem rendering this look accurately either. Sharpness is excellent throughout with only a brief moment of slight pixilation. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.

Audio Quality

5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix gets a tremendous workout during the North Africa bombing sequences at the beginning of the film. Sweeping pans and zooms in the audio track bring the action right into your viewing area, and LFE are very impressive. Elsewhere in the film, the surrounds remain active when necessary with a good spread of sound effects (the eventual explosion to blow up Hitler made me jump in my chair and an earlier air raid was also impressive) and John Ottman’s music score.


Special Features

4.5/5

The disc offers two audio commentaries. In the first, director Bryan Singer, star Tom Cruise, and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie have an amiable conversation about making the movie. The second commentary finds the co-writers McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander talking more specifically about the historical background and impact of the events portrayed in the film. Both are worthwhile commentaries with little repetition between them.

“Journey to Valkyrie is the 16-minute documentary on the making of the film with the director, both writers, the cinematographer, and several cast members discussing their experiences on the movie from the pre-writing stage through to the premiere. It’s in 1080i.

“Road to Resistance” finds the grandson of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg proudly taking us on a tour of the Berlin locations that show up in the film and telling us a little something about his famous grandfather, a celebrated hero today in Germany. This lasts 9 minutes and is in 1080i.

A 1080i featurette on the filming of the “African Front Sequence” lasts 7 minutes and features discussions about the location used for filming, the stunt work involved in the scene, and the actual vintage war planes used during filming.

“Taking to the Air” is another 1080i featurette specifically focusing on the vintage planes used not only in the North Africa opening sequences but also the German planes used elsewhere in the film. It lasts 7 ½ minutes.

“Recreating Berlin” spends its 6 ¾ minutes showing us the period buildings in Berlin that are still standing and could be used in the filming of exteriors for the movie. It’s in 1080i.

Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer participated in a Reel Pieces interview/question and answer session after the premiere of the film in New York. The give and take lasts for 39 minutes in 480p.

“The Valkyrie Legacy” is Kevin Burns’ excellent 114 ½-minute documentary giving information and insight into the rise of the Nazis in Germany after World War I, the beginnings of the resistance against Hitler formed in the late 1930s, and going right into the events portrayed in the movie, and the aftermath in Germany after the war and on into the Berlin Wall and its eventual dissolution. A great many relatives of the characters portrayed in the film give testimony to their bravery and their legacy. It’s in 1080p and is by far the most important extra in the set.

There are 1080p trailers for The Pink Panther 2 and Quantum of Solace.

The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the film. There are instructions inside for transferring it to Mac and PC devices.

Also inside the case is a $5.00 rebate certificate from Fox/MGM toward the purchase on Blu-ray of A Bridge Too Far, The Battle of Britain, Flyboys, Patton, Rescue Dawn, The Sand Pebbles, The Longest Day, or Windtalkers.


In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)

A compelling drama of a World War II story that’s not as widely known as one might think, Valkyrie is almost completely successful. This Blu-ray features excellent picture and first-rate sound along with some interesting bonuses that’s well worth buying or renting. Recommended!


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 7 Southpaw

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Posted May 26 2009 - 12:32 AM

Great review. I agree 100% on your film assessment and A/V scores. That first bomb during the raid literally made me jump out of seat. Holy crap, what an LFE moment!
I enjoyed this film and I think it's mainly because I didn't know much about this attempt on Hitler's life.

If you had to pick one commentary to listen to, which one would it be? I'd like to take in one but I don't have the time to do both.

#3 of 7 Matt Hough

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Posted May 26 2009 - 12:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Southpaw
Great review. I agree 100% on your film assessment and A/V scores. That first bomb during the raid literally made me jump out of seat. Holy crap, what an LFE moment!
I enjoyed this film and I think it's mainly because I didn't know much about this attempt on Hitler's life.

If you had to pick one commentary to listen to, which one would it be? I'd like to take in one but I don't have the time to do both.

Thanks!

Both commentaries really are interesting, but I'd pick the first one because you'll get insights from writer Christopher McQuarrie on it (he's on the second one as well), and since he initiated the project, what he has to say is important and interesting. The second one is a little dryer in tone than the first.

#4 of 7 Sam Posten

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Posted May 26 2009 - 05:37 AM

Wow, between your review and Mr. Harris' thoughts this is definitely on my list now. Well done!

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#5 of 7 Swanny

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Posted May 29 2009 - 02:59 AM

Thanks for the review. I thought Tom Cruise was terrible though!
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#6 of 7 David_B_K

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Posted May 29 2009 - 03:38 AM

I passed on this film at the theater. I read a lot of history and am fairly familiar with the story. It was covered on film in Rommel the Desert Fox in the 50's, and there was a TV film of it with Brad Davis as von Stauffenberg. I thought my familiarity with the story would kill the suspense, but you guys have talked me into giving this a look-see.

#7 of 7 Gary Miller

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Posted May 31 2009 - 02:39 AM

Excellent review, Matt! I agree with your assessment. While I haven't listened to the second commentary track yet, the one with Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie was terrific. Agree or disagree, Bryan Singer makes a cogent case for decisions regarding the film's artistic and historical approach.

Valkyrie is a very underrated film, in my opinion. In fact, I passed on this during it's theatrical run, due to the tepid reviews. I should have ignored them. I wouldn't argue that Valkyrie is a great movie, but it's a very good one, and very handsomely produced.

Also, Tom Cruise, who bears a strong resemblance to the real life Colonel Stauffenberg, was fine, and unfairly vilified in many reviews.

Here's another insightful, and very balanced take:


Blu-Ray Review: Valkyrie - Film.com