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Red Baron, The (DVD Review)

2 May, 2010 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Prebook 5/4/10; Street 6/1/10
Box Office $0.04 million
$26.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for war violence, some disturbing images and brief suggestive material.
Stars Matthias Schweighöfer, Til Schweiger, Lena Headey, Joseph Fiennes.

Before becoming a pop culture foil to Snoopy in the “Peanuts” comic strip, the name of a popular pizza franchise and a 1960s song, the Red Baron was World War 1 flying ace Manfred von Richthofen.

Credited with 80 confirmed air combat victories, Richthofen endeared near cult status among friends and foe throughout many spectacular aerial dogfights in the skies above France — before his combat death at age 25.

The 2008 German/Czech Republic production of The Red Baron attempts to humanize Richthofen (well-cast Matthias Schweighöfer, who not only looks the part but can convey German veracity while speaking English!) as a score-keeping tactician who transforms into an anti-war realist despite being trumpeted by the German Empire.

Through an enhanced romantic relationship with nurse Kate (Lena Headey from “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles”), Richthofen begins to understand the human toll of war and his increasing role as a propaganda tool by the government.

Red Baron scores a direct hit with spectacular aerial combat scenes, including nighttime dogfights complete with bullet-riddled fuselages, machine-gun fire and exploding (hydrogen-filled) dirigibles.

Actor Joseph Fiennes (“Flash Forward”) is cast at Capt. Roy Brown, the Canadian pilot thought to have shot and killed Richthofen on April 21, 1918.

In the film, Richthofen is credited with helping Brown after injuring him in an earlier dogfight. What role Brown actually played in the Red Baron’s later death (now disputed by historians) is ignored.

In the recommended special features, it is noted that numerous Jews served in the German air force during World War 1 — at the same time future sociopath leader Adolph Hitler toiled in the trenches below.

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