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Battle of The Bulge  rating

Review: written 2007

Inaccurate and contrived - but still a little fun to be had

Battle of The Bulge

Infamous as the war movie denounced by Eisenhower for its woeful inaccuracies, anyone approaching this movie should be well aware of its pitfalls. However, if you can overlook them or at least partake with a generous pinch of salt, there are still some treats to appreciate.

The battle of the bulge was set in one of the bitterest winters on record in 1944, when the Germans used the bad weather to confound the Allies air superiority to launch a massive all out attack designed to splinter the Allies and change the course of the war. As the disclaimer at the end of the movie says, this film is a highly compressed, fictionalised version of that, with all the characters merged and renamed.. in other words, it is a fictional version of what happened - and it shows.

The bitterest Winter is hinted at in a few moments of the movie as during the initial battles we see some pockets of snow and men stamping their feet to keep warm - however, as the movie progresses, the films actual shooting location in Spain becomes more apparent as we see dusty desert and sweaty men.

Battle of The Bulge

Worse, the two environments are poorly spliced together leading to woeful continuity, and almost the entire movie is plagued by incongruously sunny weather. The tanks bear no resemblance to those used, and the grimness of war is covered over, with death conveyed in the old fashioned `throw-up-your-hands-in-the-air-and-fall-down-dead' approach to moviemaking. Now that the movie is over, I am hard pressed to remember a single moment that actually showed blood. One would think that having directed on `The Longest Day' (a far superior film) Ken Annakin would have learned some lessons in the importance of historical accuracy, and how it can bring an audience in. Here, the contrivances which have Henry Fonda almost single handedly figure out the whole sequence of events and be in all of the major battle scenes, serve to disengage the viewer.

So that's the bad out the way - but in fact, from a one star movie, a sort of watchable movie is rescued thanks to two things - Firstly, the cinematography - shot in Ultra-Panavision, a process designed to give an epic widescreen image, enough to project onto Cinerama (a process which used 3 curved screens, and in its true form, 3 synchronised projectors, to create an all encompassing experience). This movie has clearly been made with this process in mind, as scenes of trains hurtling along tracks and cars weaving down slippery roads are shown at some length from point-of-view angles... the end result is rather like watching a movie shot in 3D in its 2D form - the action seems contrived. However, the aerial, crane and dolly shots in its magnificently restored version use the widescreen to dramatic and exciting effect, and should only be watched in widescreen...the reputation of this movie has suffered greatly from too many years in pan-and-scan format designed for the TV screen.

Battle of The Bulge
Battle of The Bulge

And secondly, the magnificent performance of Robert Shaw as the fictionalised panzer commander, based on Colonel Peiper - the youngest man to reach full Colonel in the German army. His is a complex character, showing humanity to his aide, and passion for the process of war - and yet disdain for the hierarchy that sends him to battle.

Apart from Shaw, there are a few other moments which attempt to add some humanity to the proceedings, with heroism being forged from tragedy, such as the young lieutenant who survives the infamous (and historically accurate) massacre of prisoners at Malmedy, and becomes galvanised to lead the fight as a result. However, the pluses are outweighed by the clumsy script, inaccuracy and dusty desert filling in for frozen Belgium. The unlikely ending at the fuel dump serves as the nail in the coffin.

Has a certain boys-own appeal perhaps, or to watch to enjoy the incredible amount of Franco's hardware on display...but in this day of Saving Private Ryan and other of its ilk, an audience have come to expect much more. Worth a rent perhaps, but not one to watch twice.

Battle of The Bulge

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