Fedor Bondarchuk’s “Stalingrad” is an attempt to tell the incredible story of the titular battle, which was one of the bloodiest of World War II. As far as the story goes, there’s not much. A small group of Russian soldiers infiltrates the city and bunkers down in a building that is strategic for their position, while a group of Nazis set up camp nearby with orders to take the building. Meanwhile, the Russians also take care of a young girl who was living in the house, with several of them falling in love with her. At the same time, a German Captain falls in love with a local girl, whom he is willing to do anything to protect. With the devastating battle raging on and off, things only become more complicated for the various relationships.
This is a film that seems to have been made for one purpose and one purpose only: to use as many explosions and gun rounds as possible. It’s basically a two-hour noisemaker that pauses momentarily every now and again in an attempt to squeeze in a human element to the story, but whenever they try, it ends up feeling so empty and so hollow that the audience becomes unable to feel anything for these characters, who aren’t developed in the least. You know things aren’t going well when the only thing the film has going for it is a hilariously-bad English-dubbed track (yes, I know it has the original language track available, but why take away its one unintentionally-good aspect?). Other than that, there’s just nothing here to enjoy. The film is bloated at a runtime of over two hours, much of which was simply not needed, and with nothing for the audience to become engaged in, all you can do is count each minute as it ticks by. The filmmakers may have had the best of intentions when they set out to make the film as a tribute to the brave soldiers who fought the battle, but all they ended up making was a dull, stretched-out, and noisy mess.
“Stalingrad” is presented in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of decent quality. Much of the film is very drab, with a palette of gray, green, and other dark colors, so when it becomes hard to see something, it’s probably the production design that’s to blame, not the picture. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is loud and clear, presenting no problems to get in the way of hearing all the sounds of war or the dialogue track (whichever language you choose to listen to). Overall, both areas are satisfactory, allowing for an easy viewing/listening experience.
The Making of Stalingrad: An 11-minute behind the scenes featurette that features interviews with the cast and crew discussing the making of the film. There isn’t very much to be learned here, so it’s not particularly worth watching, but at the very least you get some interesting behind the scenes footage.
“Stalingrad” is a film that is completely lacking in substance, not only on the basic storytelling level, but also on the human level. There is nothing here for the viewer to get engaged with, nothing for them to care about, and no real reason for them to keep watching as the film drones on and on. For a film like this to work, the soldiers we’re supposed to be rooting for need to be developed to the point where we can get attached to them, so that, when the battle occurs, we have an invested interest in what happens. “Stalingrad” offers nothing of the sort, leaving us with a dud of a war film that never comes to life.
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