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Baron Manfred von Richthofen is the most feared and celebrated pilot of the German air force in World War I. To him and his companions, air combats are events of sporty nature, technical challenge and honorable acting, ignoring the terrible extent of war. But after falling in love with the nurse Käte, Manfred realizes he is only used for propaganda means. Caught between his disgust for the war, and the responsibility for his fighter wing, von Richthofen sets out to fly again. Written by
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A Potentially Fine Film Ruined by Dismal Script Writing
The real Von Richthofen story is one which needed no embellishment or silly and false added padding to have the makings of a great movie. Sadly, the writers of this military melodrama had an agenda and used Von Richthofen's fame to try and sell it. A German written film, it clearly demonstrates just how far the Germans as a people have truly changed in their attitudes towards the military and war. To use Von Richthofen, one of their greatest national heroes, as a vessel to literally preach anti-war sentiment was a crime against the man, his ideals, his way of life and the legacy he left to history.
The film itself is visually pleasing and has some wonderful sets and scenes that are well choreographed, acted and filmed. To be honest, if one were to watch this film without any sound it would be much more enjoyable. It's really only the script that falls painfully and pathetically flat.
The mock-up aircraft and replicas used for the ground and airfield backgrounds are stunning and realistic (even if some are inaccurately painted). For any aviation or military history buff, they alone are well worth watching the movie for. Overall, the most interesting and pertinent aspects of Von Richthofen's flying career are glossed over in barely noticed passing or ignored entirely. Unless you are acquainted with his history in detail, some of those small nods to reality will be missed or misunderstood by the casual viewer. Major Lanoe Hawker screaming like a mad banshee in battle is an appalling treatment of that beloved and gentlemanly British officer. What were the writers and director thinking???
The CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is solid, though the planes fly too fast and make many maneuvers which are far from the flight physics reality of the time. As is often the case with CGI, the artists/designers and CGI directors go way overboard in the number of objects depicted on the screen. Far too many planes and observation balloons are involved in the overly busy battle scenes. When will they learn that more is not better?
The acting is for the most part by relative unknowns, at least in the USA, Joseph Finnes being the lone exception. Regardless, most of the actors truly shine despite the dismal script they had to work from. Matthias Schweighofer, who plays Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, is literally perfect for the part and plays it very, very well, again despite the horrible script he was forced to impart. Regardless of that scripts bile and drivel, he does an outstanding job delivering it. What he could have done with a real script of Von Richthofen's life would have been a film masterpiece. Sadly, we'll never know. The other pilots of his Squadron (Jasta) also come through the awful script with flying colors (pun intended). Voss, Wolff and the others all give strong, if undeveloped, supporting performances. The character of nurse and Von Richtofen's movie love interest, Kate Otersdorf, is wildly over blown and is included only as another vessel for the writers to push their anti-war message. Very few Von Richtofen biographies give any women in his life more than a passing mention. Here she is simply a brutally abused and excessively used plot device. Once again, the writers fail the real and much more interesting story by inventing one to suit their agenda.
I was initially going to give this film 6 out of 10 stars. Then a later scene in which nurse Otersdorf lectures Von Richthofen in a field hospital on morals and class distinction assaulted my ears. Somebody please get an axe so this film can be edited properly... 10 Stars for appearance/cinematography, acting and the planes. Unfortunately, minus 6 Stars for the pretentious idiots who thought they were film writers.
In short, if your going to do a significant film about a historical figure and time period, use the social attitudes of the time. Use the facts and tell it as it was. Don't turn history inside out to prove some currently popular social attitude. That isn't history. It's a travesty and a tragic disservice to the truth and the memory of those who made that history.
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