Those of you dreaming about a deluxe presentation of Joseph Vilsmaier's epic saga Stalingrad (1993) will likely have to continue waiting as what Synapse Films have offered us with their latest DVD release is not the film everyone has been waiting for. STALINGRAD is the award-winning mini-series by German directors Sebastian Dehnhardt and Christian Deick which was nominated with an Emmy Award for Best Documentary back in 2003.
Presented in the form of three separate episodes that could be viewed without intermission this close to 170 minutes documentary retells the horrific story of Stalingrad, its occupation by the German forces, and the tragic fate of those who fought on the two opposing sides. Furthermore, the film also offers an invaluable look at the remains of a city which for many years was regarded as one of the true beacons of Soviet Socialism and those who believed in its leaders.
As with so many documentary productions Stalingrad delivers a mix of archival footage and contemporary materials aiming to reconstruct as accurately as possible the tragic events that took place at the Volga River from August of 1942 to February of 1943. Frame after frame this ambitious film puts together the pieces of a tragedy which quite frankly seems inconceivable by modern warfare standards. The recently recorded interviews with survivors (showing no political bias), both from the Russian and German sides, recalling how they had to endure the unthinkable in order to survive indeed separate the work of the German producers from everything else I have seen exploring the subject.
In my opinion there is practically no point of discussing whether or not what Stalingrad provides is historically accurate. It would be laughable to look at the archival footage this DVD boasts, listen to the recollections of those who took part in this monumental human tragedy, and conclude that it is all blatant exaggerations. Stalingrad offers human emotions that no actor can successfully reproduce.
With the assistance of a narrator (a voice-over English narration next to the German speech) Stalingrad meticulously follows the history of the conflict that led to Germany's capitulation in WW2. From a detailed picture of Hitler's plans to relocate the Sixth Army to the Far East Front and take control of the oil wells the Soviets controlled, to the hectic preparations inside the city of Stalingrad, to the well-thought counter-attack designed by the Red Army generals, to finally describing in detail the horrific fate of those captured behind the walls of Stalingrad, this film is a piece of history brought back to life from a most talented team of producers and researchers.
There are two aspects of Stalingrad that impressed me more than anything else: First, it is the enormous care that must have gone into this project especially given how emotional most of the survivors appear on screen. Convincing them to participate and more importantly recall in detail a human pandemonium history will remember forever must have been a chilling experience, both for the filming crew and for those who stood in front of the camera. Second, it is the impressive manner in which 3-D graphics were used to rebuild the city of Stalingrad (the movement of the Red Army, the Sixth Army's relocation, Hitler's response, Stalin's counter-attack…it was all fascinating to watch) combined with the digitally restored footage the German filming crew-Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick, Jörg Müllner-have managed to uncover: Stalingrad adds more to what has been said during the years about this horrific event, it does not rehash old facts.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's as well as including a large number of digitally-restored footage Stalingrad looks terrific. All of the new materials shot for this production (interviews, 3-D schemes, etc,) look absolutely fabulous (they were all done in HD): colors are vivid and piercing, contrast is marvelous, and there is hardly any edge-enhancement one should be concerned with. As far as the archival footage is concerned the predominant amount of is in great condition. To sum it all up this documentary looks simply outstanding!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
This is the area where I think I would have liked it a bit better if the producers of the DVD had actually opted for a slightly different approach: having the original German audio with optional English subtitles. But, unlike feature films in this documentary the English-dubbing works quite well. It is mastered in a great fashion allowing the audience to partially hear the speech of those that are being interviewed. This being said the English track provided is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and there are no issues worthy of discussion here whatsoever.
In addition to various portions of the recorded interviews that did not make it to the final version that are now being offered here (in German with English subtitles) you will also find a beautiful but short overview of modern Volgograd a.k.a Stalingrad, and an interview with Dr. Guido Knopp (Professor and Historian) who further elaborates on the history of Stalingrad and what took place there.
I loved every single minute of this documentary!! Extremely well-produced, thought-provoking, and offering a unique look at events that have been discussed over and over again Stalingrad is an enormous achievement! The German crew working on it has done a magnificent job and more importantly the DVD herein reviewed which Synapse Films has provided is a pure delight to watch. If you have even the slightest interest in history OR happen to be a history-buff searching for a worthy piece to add to your collection I recommend this DVD highly! Spectacular!