Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 2008 | 121 mins | Rated PG-13

Valkyrie, which details the July 20, 1944 plot by German army officers to assassinate Adolph Hitler, created a firestorm of controversy long before the film hit screens American screens on December 25, 2008. The casting of Tom Cruise, who was undoubtedly looking for a big hit at the box office after some strange off screen behavior had caused a great deal of controversy; set to play the role of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the key plotters, some German politicians and members of von Stauffenberg’s family were bothered because of the actor’s practice of Scientology, which is considered a totalitarian organization in the country. Despite the fact that German newspapers and filmmakers were supportive of the film, Director Bryan Singer and others initially had trouble securing filming locations within Germany. The controversy may be remembered long after the film itself.

ValkyrieBecause we know Hitler survived the assignation attempt. The suspense comes from the minds of the participants, who call up the Reserve Army and begin to arrest SS officials before discovering their bomb didn’t kill its intended target.

After being badly injured in North Africa in a bombing that resulted in the loss of his left eye and right hand, Colonel Stauffenberg (Cruise), is sent back to Berlin. As soon as he gets there, Stauffenberg is recruited by a group of military officials who like him, have no use for Adolph Hitler’s (David Bamber) policies; their plan is to assassinate the führer. Convinced that the men– Major General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh), General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy), Colonel General Ludwig Beck (Terrence Stamp) and Colonel General Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) among others–don’t have a solid exit strategy, Stauffenberg decides to take one of Hitler’s own contingency plans, Operation Valkyrie and adapt it for their purposes. The idea of Valkyrie is to secure the German government in the event that something happened to the führer; manipulated the right way, the coup could take out both Hitler and the SS simultaneously.

With their plan in place, Colonel Stauffenberg takes charge of the operation. We see first a failed attempt at an assassination and then one the group believes has succeeded, which sends Stauffenberg rushing back to Berlin to put the new government in place. This is where things get a bit tricky because the audience knows Hitler survived, even as Stauffenberg, convinced he is dead, is instituting a new government. Since this is Stauffenberg and the other plotters story, we are left to wonder what Hitler and his advisers were doing during those hours when it was assumed Hitler was dead.

The bomb explosion in on Hitler’s meeting rooms is the last moment of genuine excitement Valkyrie offers. From then on, we watch Stauffenberg and the other men go through the motions of taking over the government while we wait for the worm to turn. After awhile, watching a stiff Tom Cruise walking around delivering orders, while waiting for the inevitable grew almost painful. I could help but think Singer and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander could have made things much more interesting by using some of the screen time to answer some questions about the plotters; who were they? What drove them to join this plot? That last question has some obvious answers, but certainly there were personal motivations for each. Simply knowing what they did and what it could have meant had they succeeded isn’t enough.The tension should have come from the personal travails, the heroism from the sacrifice. These men were real but Singer seems content to peer at them from a distance. Giving these men a soul would have made this film seem more dramatic and less like a cold retelling of what we already know was a failed plot.

Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (with an average bit rate of 21Mbps), Valkyrie’s transfer exhibits strength in reproducing the visual quality of the source material, but ultimately remains average when compared with other modern releases on Blu-ray. Having used film, there is a lack of fine object detail on Valkyrie. It seems Singer intended to give the film a somewhat dated look, but I’d still prefer to see crisp visuals on a high-definition release.
Color saturation exhibits a slight push to yellow, but it serves to further the vintage nature of the photography, and seems fitting in the context of the film. At times, black levels don’t display the depth of a reference quality release, which poses some problems with contrast in low light scenes; but all of the well-lit daytime sequences show an excellent level of contrast. Lastly, grain is apparent in many sequences throughout the film and creates a noticeably noisy background in several scenes.

The primary audio offering on this release is an English DTS-HD MA track. Taken as a whole, this is a thoroughly robust sound mix, with excellent surround use and a fine demonstration of clarity. Surprisingly subtle for a film which opens with a slam bang battle sequence, that segment obviously offers immersion and LFE galore, but I was repeatedly impressed throughout the film with some very careful sound design. Listen, for example, to the brilliant, sporadic use of tympani by composer John Ottman–little LFE “thumps” that are disquieting and help add some adrenalin to a somewhat lethargic film. Surround channels are used quite effectively, all dialogue is clear and crisp, and the overall mix is subtle and intelligent.

DD 5.1 mixes are available in Spanish and French, and subtitles are available in all soundtrack languages, plus Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese and Korean.

Valkyrie does offer a nice slate of special features:

The Journey to Valkyrie (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 15:56 min.): Chronicling the history of Valkyrie from conception to final product, this featurette includes interviews with the filmmakers and leading actors as they discuss details of the production and the core themes of the film.

The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 9:08 min.): Hosted by Philipp Von Schulthess (real life grandson of Colonel Stauffenberg), this brief extra looks back at the life of Col. Stauffenberg and takes the viewer on a tour of locations in Germany that the Colonel had connections to.

The African Front Sequence (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:01 min.): Delving behind the scenes of the opening sequence from the film, this supplement analyzes several scenes from a technical and thematic standpoint.

Taking to the Air (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:32 min.): The aerial coordinators are interviewed regarding the use of vintage aircraft, while segments from the sets are shown.

Recreating Berlin (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 6:51 min.): The actors and filmmakers discuss the lengths the production crew went to in order to find the locations and sets that were used in the film.

92nd Street Y (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 38:57 min.): Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer are interviewed in front of a live audience and asked to discuss many elements of the story from Valkyrie. The interview is interesting as a forum for two artists to talk about their craft, but tends to become a little boring toward the end of the lengthy runtime.

The Valkyrie Legacy (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 114:14 min.): This surprisingly in-depth (and lengthy) documentary is the real gem in the package. Directed by Kevin Burns (Empire of Dreams: The Story of the “Star Wars” Trilogy, Behind the Planet of the Apes, and many more), the documentary goes beyond the true story of the Valkyrie plot and delves into the rise and fall of Hitler. One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is the attention to Nazi Germany’s affect on the lives of German citizens all the way up to modern times and the stigma that continues to follow them as a result.

Two Commentary Tracks (one with Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer and writer/producer Christopher McQuarrie; and a second one with Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Nathan Alexander).

• A Digital Copy for use on computers or portable media devices.

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