Koch Vision // 2006 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // February 5th, 2008
"They say the first victim of war is innocence. It is also the last."
On February 13, 1945, in the waning days of World War II, a British bombing raid turned the German city of Dresden into an inferno. According to the BBC, "the death toll from fire and suffocation is unknown, but probably lies between 25,000 and 100,000."
"It was a dead town, just rubble. It was just devastation and it was a hell of a shock to your system," Friedericke Clayton, a German woman who lived near Dresden in 1945, told the BBC in 2005. The devastation meant sharp criticism from Parliament and Sir Winston Churchill within weeks of the attack, the BBC notes.
At 10 million euros (roughly $14,800,000 as of Feb. 1), Dresden is the most expensive miniseries made for German TV. Historians and special effects wizzes alike sought to recreate the destruction of Dresden.
World War II British bomber pilot Robert Newman (John Light, Band of Brothers) parachutes from his plane, landing behind enemy lines near Dresden. He's shot by some frightened, angry Germans, but escapes and makes his way to a hospital.
Anna (Felicitas Woll), a nurse whose father runs the hospital, finds the frightened Robert hiding in the basement. She dresses his wounds and makes sure he gets fed. Anna, by the way, is engaged to Alexander (Benjamin Sadler), a doctor.
After Anna's friend is executed outside the hospital -- shot by Nazis for hiding her deserter husband -- Anna turns to Robert for solace. She ends up making love with him on a hospital bed, which begins what could be a beautiful friendship.
Meanwhile, the British are making plans to bomb Dresden to disrupt the German supply flow and help their Soviet allies. Will the love of Anna and Robert survive the horrors of Dresden?
Dresden is a movie full of grays and faded yellows, both to capture the gray mood of Dresden in World War II and to make more natural use of the vintage war footage that appears throughout. At times, the contemporary footage even has lines and flecks added to give it the weathered feel of old footage.
In the making-of featurette accompanying Dresden, the people behind the miniseries talk about the lengths they went to for historical accuracy, and the miniseries shows it throughout, with chilling details that reveal the terror of both the Nazi regime and the bombing that turned Dresden into an inferno.
Dresden ends on a hopeful note, flashing forward to the restoration of the historic Frauenkirche, destroyed in the bombings.
What doesn't ring true in Dresden is the soap opera interlude, which begins near the end of the first part when Robert and Anna make love on a hospital bed in a ward full of injured German soldiers. This feels more like a TV-movie cliché than the heartfelt start of a relationship. When Robert turns up at Anna's engagement party and decides to help Anna uncover her father's black-market morphine dealings instead of staying hidden and safe, the believability gap grows.
The movie's mostly in German, with English subtitles, although British characters do speak English when you'd expect them to. Oddly, Anna seems to comprehend Robert's soliloquy late in the story, after not seeming to understand English most of the way through, but moments like this are rare.
The production doesn't quite have the big-budget movie feel sought, but it's impressive for a television miniseries; those 10 million euros turn up on the screen. The movie's soundtrack, full of 1940s swing music, comes through well.
The 30-minute making-of featurette only gives a little bit more background on the bombing itself, but it does go into detail about the production of the movie and the production team's efforts to achieve accuracy. The two newsreel clips are way too short; moreover, with the newsreel crew shooting from the air, there is a distancing effect.
If you need a lot of soap to get you interested in history, the morphine and romantic subplots deliver just that in Dresden.
The power of Dresden is best illustrated by the lack of power of the newsreel clip of the bombing of Dresden. Even in a cinematic recreation, the horrors of war pack more of an emotional punch when seen from ground level rather than the air.
No one could totally recreate the effects of the London Blitz or the Dresden bombing, but Dresden makes a strong effort. I recommend checking out the BBC sites listed under accomplices to learn a little more about the bombing and its impact.
Dresden ultimately is a fascinating illustration of the effects of war, but is guilty of diminishing its own effort with melodrama. It's worth watching despite the flaws, though.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Making-of Featurette
* Newsreel Footage
* BBC: Remembering Dresden
* BBC: On this Day, February 14, 1945