on January 13, 2004
This was an ambitious undertaking for the British film-industry, to big-budget the legendary but partly mythical British air-stand in 1940 when complete German victory may have seemed as forgone a conclusion as US victory in Iraq. It certainly outdoes earlier nibbles at the Battle of Britain by fair films such as 'Angels one-five', chiefly by virtue of being far more ambitious with vastly more budget. The aerial-stable is impressive particularly by virtue of borrowing or purchase of German bomber and fighter types from the then current obsolete Spanish airforce, we have a good supply of two main German Types of the battle, He-111 and Bf109(well, sort of Bf109s, from the windscreens back) but are lacking several others that could have made the air-combat scenes slightly less reptitive , the Heinkels peeling-off smoking and diving vertically into the sea in the same old way, which was not 100% convincing, anyway.
Not to be denied by the lack of infamous Stukas, they clearly use models in the sole appearance of the notorious German terror-planes. The same disintegrating explosion is played several times, and THAT dogfight looks too much like what it is, a good RC-plane dogfight, but a bad real dogfight.Using heavier larger-scale models with 4-stroke engines would have helped. CGI would have been the answer if it had been available or even conceived-of in 1969.However, with this Stuka-scene, the shots of the shambles of the inside cockpit of a shot-up Stuka, with a helpless Stuka-gunner calling vainly to his already dead or unconscious pilot as the aircraft plunges to its doom, are very good.Perhaps Stuka-men are not the most sympathetic of brave doomed airmen.Akin to U-boat crewmen, perhaps.
You do feel a twinge, though, but nevertheless, youd do this to these guys as well.
The film also has some animated exploding aircraft, especially the scenes of Spitfires or Messerschmitts plunging howling and smoking a long distance away and down from the camera, to finally disintergrate with a fireball 'croomp' , which Im pretty-sure is animated. This sequence, like the disintegrating wing-folding Stuka( which looks pretty-good but is re-used too many times) is re-used and re-used, and frankly, neither the effect itself nor the frequent incidence of it, together with the He-111 plunging vertically into the sea,(re-used several times as well) constitutes breathtakingly effective special-effects, even for 1969.I dont know if the film won any special-effects awards or not, if it did, they must have focussed on the best, and ignored the worst, which abounded.
Sadly the complete lack of flyable Hurricanes meant that this type which outnumbered the more famous Spitfire was absent from the aerial-action of the film, though the taxiing ones they had looked and sounded great. (I love Hurricanes)
Important aircraft like JU-88s, Do-17s, and Me-110s,do not appear in the film. Now these aircraft are rare, and may not exist anywhere in flying condition, but some do exist in museums in the UK, and if some or all of these were borrowed and simply-seen idling engines-roaring or even taxiing , this would have added to the spectacle of the film, frankly. Likewise proper German Bf109s exist,in museums, and if they arent airworthy,could have been shown in ground-scenes, and it really would have raised the quality of the look of the film.
The first-half of the film perhaps works better than the latter. The scenes of the Hurricanes in France and what happens to them were very convincing. One technical clanger is the huge German panzer rolling towards Dunkirk in a German Army column, complete with kill-rings around its huge gun-German tanks of the Blitzkrieg were not the formidable huge 88mm Tigers of 3 years later in the war, they were 10-20 ton Mk 1 and 2 pop-gun jobs comparable to most contempory British tanks.
The film gets the 1940 British atmosphere, perhaps, but scarcely really tells the story of the battle, perhaps that wasnt even possible or the intent.We are subjected to too many scenes of just 5 flying Spitfires in a vic, obviously all that could be mustered. Aircraft purists will know that the Spanish AF German planes differ fairly substantially from the ones that actually fought Britain, ironically Spanish AF Ha- Bf109s have Spanish-built Hispano-Suiza RR Merlin engines( Like Spitfires and hurricanes, ironically) and it changes the appearance of a Messerschmitt because for one thing the engine is right-way up instead of an inverted-vee injected German DB of the original. Ditto for the Spanish Heinkels, end up with engine-cowlings like Lancasters, because the same basic engine.
Film has a whos-who of British film-industry, Caine, Plummer, Andrews, Shaw, York, Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Fox, McShane, Moore, on it goes, and of course, like 'A Bridge too Far', means character-development is not even really attempted, apart from Plummers and YOrks romance, Yorks angry outburst at the RAF NCO yelling at her, and Shaw shouting to 'give them a bloody-shovel'
( Skipper hates jerries, lol)
Its disjointed, gives a collage effect.Same effect as 'A bridge too far' and perhaps to a lesser extent, 'Tora tora Tora'.
The authentic German cast is convincing, including Hein Reiss the Goering look alike,Curt Jurgens the cultured German ambassador in Switzerland, friends with the British ambassador, and Major Falke the German-ace who likes the good-life in Paris, is confidant of victory, shoots down several hapless British, (including Caine, Perhaps) but gets his comeuppance on Sept 15, the climax and turning-point of the battle, in most opinions.
The score is good, especially the main Luftwaffe theme, all oom-pah-pah as the Germans laugh uproariously at feeble German jokes and are in high-spirits that victory is not far away.It clearly isnt German-music, but rather a British composer sending up German martial music. Its very good, helps atmosphere greatly.The RAF theme is soaring, glorious and exhiliarating like the zooming roaring Spitfires.
A must-see,(because of the dearth of relevant alternatives) good experience, but several glaring faults.
on November 9, 2003
If you love classic warbirds, then Battle of Britain is worth a watch: all those Spitfires, He 111s, and so forth are beautiful to behold, even just the models in the FX shots. Otherwise, the film has little going for it. It's very much like the overrated Tora! Tora! Tora!: a documentary-style war film that feels as if the writers just cracked open the first book about the battle they found and bashed out a screenplay on it. There's little attempt at real character-building here, so the superb cast is largely wasted, though Jurgens and Olivier manage to bring something to their roles, particularly Olivier with his dignified melancholy. The clumsy, heavy-handed romance/feminist entanglement with Plummer and York is a total bust, and the other actors get almost no chance to do anything with their small roles. (Compare the classic documentary-style epic The Longest Day, where the writers include tons of characters but also focus on them long enough to allow all the great actors to really bring them to life and make you care about them. Ditto the epic A Bridge Too Far, directed by the talented Richard Attenborough of Ghandi fame.)
Battle of Britain just feels too episodic and flat. You get a feel for the basic history of the event, but you rarely get any sense of Britain's great peril or courage in fighting back. You don't get a sense that real people were suffering and fighting through it, despite the obligatory little scenes of some bombed-out London buildings or wrecked airfields. The air combat scenes are surprisingly dull, too: cut to a couple planes flying by each other, cut to a cockpit shot of a pilot glancing around wildly and squeezing off some rounds, cut to yet another little fire aboard an He 111, cut to an exploding model, repeat. Almost every single battle plays out that way, and the filmmakers actually seem to reuse some footage, too. You don't get a feel for what's going on with any individual pilot throughout the course of a dogfight, don't get a feel for what maneuvers he's making and why. It all starts to blur together really quickly.
For basic intro to the history of the Battle of Britain, this film will certainly suffice, and the planes are certainly enjoyable to see. If you want a much better idea of the real drama, courage, and sacrifice involved, watch the superb PBS documentary Finest Hour: The Battle Of Britain. For a much more gripping, intelligent, well-written WWII aerial drama, check out the classic Twelve O'Clock High with Gregory Peck.
on May 29, 2003
The Battle of Britain is one of my favorite films. Great cast, classic flying scenes and a fascinating perspective on historical events.
However, I was disappointed with the DVD version. The image quality is great, but the DVD differs from the VHS version in some important ways.
First, the DVD version has different subtitles. Some are modified and some are added. If you read all of the newly added (and mostly unnecessary) subtitles, you can't keep up with the video in some scenes. I don't speak German, so I can't say whether the modified subtitles are more accurate, but I feel that some of the translations lost their dramatic edge in this release. The DVD producers also chose to overlap subtitles with the picture, when, at 2.35:1, there's plenty of room below the video for the subtitles.
Secondly, on VHS, the movie's final scene is boosted by Ron Goodwin's beautiful soundtrack. The DVD version drops the Ron Goodwin track and replaces it with a lifeless piece that saps the life out of the final scene. This was a major disappointment.
Lastly, just before the end credits, Winston Churchill's famous quote is replaced with a less notable one.
Overall, it's still a great movie, but the VHS version was nearly perfect. After waiting years for the DVD version, I'm now left hoping there will be a Special Edition version with the VHS subtitles and soundtrack restored.
on July 4, 2000
Perhaps you're wondering why I say this is a film worth seeing but only give it 3 stars. (then again, maybe you're not)
I say it's worth seeing because of the vintage aircraft used in the making of the film and the ariel photography. Both are great - both really make this movie. If you enjoy air combat the way it might have been during one of the keystone battles of World War II, then this is the film for you. I've seen it several times and always enjoy viewing it.
The flick falls flat on story line, however. Yes, it's Britain's struggle for survival against the German war machine in the years prior to America entering the war -- that much is apparent. But the story itself leaves gaps and has me asking, "What's going on just now? Why is this or that happening?"
The movie begins to tell the tale of several individual officers and pilots, then just seems to stop. Some were KIA's - what impact does that have on the strategic fight (not being callous here, but if you're going to follow a particular pilot and then kill him off, you should have some sort of reasoning or impact behind it). Character development is almost nil. It gives me the impression that 'BoB' should have been a four hour movie, but the producer's budget forced it into a two hour running time. Much of the movie has aspects of a newsreel (a good one, but still a newsreel).
Also somewhat confusing was the scene in Berlin where (Allied?) bombs begin to drop - shortly thereafter causing Hitler to declare England's cities (particularly London) fair game. This sequence (Berlin's bombing) seemed to come out of the blue. What was going on? How were the British able to lauch a bomber attack across the channel and into the heart of Germany when they were so hard pressed to defend their own shores at the time? Why would they bomb an enemy's city when it was the German aircraft which were their main concern. Don't recall that being addressed in the story at all - it just sort of happens.
Well, if you overlook the story-line shortcomings, you'll find this is a good movie to watch. If you're an aviation affectionato, you'll enjoy it even more. Many of the flight scenes are truly breath taking.
But watch it for the authentic aircraft and the ariel scenes - not for any great or coherent plot.