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Case Number 13777

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The Reich Underground

First Run Features // 2004 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // June 5th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia has built an elaborate series of underground bunkers. It's the only way to keep Nosey Nellies out of his CD collection.

The Charge

Hitler's Secret Labyrinths Explored for the First Time in Decades.

Opening Statement

Indeed, The Reich Underground does give a fascinating look at one of the previously untold stories of the Nazi regime.

Facts of the Case

In 2004, director Michael Kloft (The Goebbels Experiment) accompanied government historians and surveyors as they inspected various underground tunnels, bunkers, and silos built by the Nazis between 1940 and 1945. Some, mainly in Germany and occupied Poland, were built as shelters to house high-ranking Nazi officials like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann. Others, in the northern coast of occupied France, were constructed by Armaments Minister Albert Speer to serve as massive missile silos to launch V2 rocket attacks against London and, eventually, the United States. Interviews with surviving slave laborers and SS officials tell the story of how and why these tunnels were built.

The Evidence

The most remarkable thing about The Reich Underground is the footage Kloft has shot of these underground tunnels. Some of these had not been opened for decades. Many of them, in fact, were never actually finished, meaning that there's a real possibility that they could collapse. Many are so neglected that the original entryways have rotted or disintegrated, so that the only way to get in is risky or complicated. Still, Kloft has somehow set up his cameras so that no matter how hair-raising the conditions the explorers meet, there's a perfect shot of the tunnels that perfectly conveys just how extraordinary they are—and they really are spectacular. These are not little caverns or bunkers. These are elaborate networks that are wide enough to accommodate multiple lanes of traffic and go on for miles, with an intricate layout of twists, turns, and branches. Some end in rooms massive enough to store ballistic missiles. Others were designed to house high-ranking Nazi officials in comfort and style. All were built at massive costs and in rapid speed, using slave labor at gunpoint to carve out mountains and put in every detail. As feats of impressive engineering coupled with grotesquely inhuman methods of construction go, these tunnels could easily rival the pyramids of Egypt.

The Reich Underground reveals what remains of these tunnels in a thoughtful and compelling fashion. The idea of endless footage of miles of abandoned tunnels sounds less than thrilling in theory, but Kloft has a keen visual sense and chooses his shots carefully to show off the tunnels' magnitude to full advantage. He also adds stories of how and why the tunnels were designed and constructed, telling these in a clear and informative manner. Thus the interviews with surviving concentration camp inmates, who were used as slave labor and who tell harrowing stories of fellow workers who were literally worked to death to build these tunnels. The historians and surveyors describe the elaborate plans Hitler, Speer, and Bormann had for them, and whenever possible they refer to original blueprints and documents. Not many of these have actually survived, but the ones that did are immensely fascinating. The Nazis essentially planned elaborate underground cities, complete with ballistic missile defenses to strike at London and even Washington, D.C., in some instances, with deadly chemical weapons.

Almost none of these have survived to today as they were conceived. Some were simply too massive and ambitious to be completed before the war ended. Others were completed but were bombed to smithereens by the Allies. The elaborate shelter built for Hitler's Wolf's Lair home in Poland was blown up by both the Nazis and Russians, but Kloft interviews Hitler's former SS bodyguard to describe what he can remember of it. Only Bormann's shelter has remained more or less intact, and even then it's been pillaged and looted over the years so that it's barren and empty. Kloft even tracked down footage of Goebbels' underground fortress, which was discovered and subsequently destroyed in 1998. The amount of effort Kloft has put in, in both shooting and research, to reconstruct these tunnels is impressive, and pays off in a documentary that is recommended for anyone interested in the history of Nazi Germany.

The Reich Underground is presented in a full-screen transfer and PCM stereo mix, both of which are satisfactory. The only extra, unfortunately, is a text biography of Kloft.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The Reich Underground is split into two chapters. The first, describing the bunkers and bases built to launch missiles and serve as command centers, is consistently superb. The second, covering the personal bunkers and bomb shelters built to house the Nazi leadership, is good but sometimes feels padded. It goes into too much detail about Hitler's and Goebbels' suicides, topics which don't really have much to do with the underground bunkers. Mentioning this is fine, but the amount of detail here is a bit much. Presumably, anyone who is interested enough to watch this DVD will already know the most important details of those stories. Hearing more from survivors and seeing more of these tunnels would have been much more interesting.

Closing Statement

The Reich Underground tells a fascinating story of Nazi Germany that has never really been widely reported. Kloft mixes splendid footage with well-chosen interviews and forms a straightforward narrative that will be both entertaining and informative. History and World War II buffs should definitely seek this DVD out.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 5
Acting: 80
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Filmmaker Biography


• None

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