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Blu-ray Review: Valkyrie

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Project Valkyrie was the final of many attempts on Hitler's life during World War II. The atrocities caused by both Hitler and the Nazi party have been endlessly documented, but much less space has been given to the Germans actively resisting the Fuhrer, which was a dangerous and lethal move, given that not publicly vowing allegiance to Hitler – and certainly rallying support away from him – was sufficient cause for being put in jail, and often to death. Project Valkyrie remains the penultimate, and most elaborate, resistance effort. And the fact that it was carried out by many of Hitler's most senior military officers makes the scenario all the more compelling.

The story centers around Carl Von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a top military officer known for his discomfort with the developments within the Reich. After being seriously injured during a battle in northern Africa, he returns to Germany, where he is soon connected with a group of other dissidents within the military. While planning an overthrow of the Fuhrer, the group redrafts Project Valkyrie, which is a contingency restructuring of the government and military in the event of the Fuhrer's death. This plan requires the much trickier first step of their mission: to assassinate Hitler.

From history we know the ultimate fate of this plot against Hitler. And the challenge is to keep us intrigued in the story, given this already decided outcome. Granted, this is no different from the challenge of other historical films, but with a thriller you have to keep the pace from being hampered by this foreknowledge. It's not just about the facts, but also the chase.

The Movie

Valkyrie is a film that has everything going for it. It has an all-star cast, a meticulously researched script, access to the real locations from history, and a solid director in Bryan Singer. But for all of its assets, the film doesn't always fire on all cylinders.

The film can be viewed in two halves. The first half is background information, where we are introduced to the characters, the current state of affairs in Germany, how this group of dissidents came together, and how exactly they plan to achieve their mission. The second half of the film follows the actual execution of the assassination attempt, and this half is delivered with genuine intrigue and suspense. But the first half of the movie simply feels like a rush to get to this action. Characters and situations are quickly presented, but not with enough space to center the audience in this world before racing forward. As a result, it becomes easy to feel out of sorts on what you suspect is a good film, if they would just take the time to go over all the details, and not just the exciting ones at the end.

Valkyrie still holds together, and is thoroughly enjoyable depending on how familiar you are with this period of history. But it seems like a squandered opportunity, to have all of these things going for it, and then to leave out whole chunks of the back story, character introductions, and motivation.

Video / Audio

Valkyrie receives a nice, if imperfect, transfer to high-def. In general, detail is very crisp and contrast is handled well. The color scheme for the film is somewhere in between a muted vintage look and a more vibrant modern film, although the color that is present – handled especially well with the costumes and period set designs – stands out admirably. Some of the scenes, especially low-light interior and night shots, suffer a bit with grain and black level contrast. It's not terribly distracting, but it does knock it a notch below reference. But the cinematography itself is very well executed, and that carries through nicely to the Blu-ray transfer.

The audio for Valkyrie is strong, if a bit imbalanced. In general, the dialogue is mixed below a balanced level, making either the sound effects (most significantly in the few battle sequences) feel artificially elevated, or the dialogue scaled back on an exaggerated level. However, that aside, this is a lively and clear 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is cleanly spaced in the front, and the sound effects and score receive excellent separation throughout the sound field, completely enveloping you in sections.

The Valkyrie Legacy

The definite highlight of the bonus materials – and for some, perhaps the entire disc – is the documentary The Valkyrie Legacy (HD, 114:15). Originally produced for the History Channel, this feature-length look at the real-life events surrounding Project Valkyrie covers everything from Hitler's rise to power to the aftermath of the war on Germany. It is a thorough and intriguing look at this infamous period in history, and a stellar addition to this disc.

Bonus Materials

"The Journey to Valkyrie" (HD, 15:56) chronicles the search for authentic storytelling, through the casting, story, and research, and selection of filming locations. "The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide" (HD, 9:08) is a historical review of the events and locations portrayed in Valkyrie. Hosted and narrated by Philipp Von Schulthess, grandson of the film's main character, it lends a more thorough legitimacy and glimpse into the careful research of the movie. "The African Front Sequence" (HD, 7:01) is a behind-the-scenes look at filming one of the intense battle sequences. "Taking to the Air" (HD, 7:21) shows everyone being quite giddy about shunning CG effects with the aircraft shots, and using real, vintage planes. "Recreating Berlin" (HD, 6:51) shows some of the real-life locations from the historical period that they were able to shoot in. All of the above material contains some overlap in information, and could have been handled more effectively in fewer and more focused installments.

"Reel Pieces" (SD, 38:56) is a live interview session with director Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise. The duo answers moderated questions regarding both Valkyrie and their careers in general. This segment contains many bits of information on the film not highlighted elsewhere, and is an interesting segment on its own. Also included are two commentary tracks for the film. The first includes Bryan Singer, actor Tom Cruise, and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie. The trio gives a non-stop look back – as the participants try desperately not to talk over each other – on the process of filming the movie, echoing information that is largely covered in the other bonus material. The second track involves just the two co-writers for the film, Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. This discussion feels like the more focused of the two, as the writers detail specific elements of the film, their relation to real-life events, and the historical research for the script.

Conclusion

Valkyrie ends up being both a wasted opportunity and a competent historical thriller. It's a very compelling story from history, the acting is top-notch, and the obsessive attention to detail brought to the film should have sailed it through. But the rushed set-up of the story and characters makes the pacing feel haphazard. It's still quite enjoyable after some historical research – especially after viewing the included and very impressive documentary – but it's an oversight of the film to lean on the viewer's external knowledge of events. Still, this is an intriguing story, and the total Blu-ray package for Valkyrie hits more than it misses.

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