"Operation Valkyrie" is the third dramatic production surrounding the events of the July 20th plot I've seen this year. I have previously reviewed the early 90s US TV movie "The Plot to Kill Hitler" and have also seen Bryan Singer's blockbuster adaptation, "Valkyrie." I applauded the focus on characters in the TV movie and chided "Valkyrie" for creating a phony tension around the actual execution of the plot. Now, having viewed the 2004 German television production "Operation Valkyrie," I can look back on Singer's attempt with a greater respect.
"Operation Valkyrie" is easily the weakest of the three productions. Like "The Plot to Kill Hitler" it condensed the events into a 90-minute run time, but lacks depth in all aspects. The focus is on Col. Claus von Stauffenburg (Sebastian Koch) and all other characters are pushed to the shadows, unlike both US productions. Had I not been casually familiar with the plot itself, I would have had no idea who certain characters were and what their importance was. Considering these men are regarded as heroes in their native land, this shallow treatment doesn't do them proper justice here.
The timeline of events is also rushed and we are catapulted from the late 30s to the day of the event itself in less than thirty minutes. The other attempts on Hitler's life are passed over and this paints a very simplistic view of historical events. In this buildup, we are also treated to a fictional domestic dispute between Stauffenburg and his wife, which is the biggest injustice in the whole production. In both US versions, the strong love between Stauffenburg and his wife is highlighted (and a huge part of the early 90s TV movie) and is a major factor in the plot being carried out. To fabricate this conflict and portray Nina von Stauffenburg as petty and selfish is inexcusable.
Once the bombing unfolds, like "The Plot to Kill Hitler" the film must then rush to its conclusion. These events are the antithesis of drama, and it was at this point I appreciated some of the false tension in "Valkyrie" The remainder of the film remains a hazy muddled mess, stemming from the previously mentioned lack of supporting character development. The only thing that holds the film together is the commanding performance of Koch as Stauffenburg.
Had Bryan Singer cast Sebastian Koch in his adaptation, "Valkyrie" would have been a much more tolerable film. Koch makes Stauffenburg come alive and brings the internal conflict onto the screen. For the time being, he is the definitive Stauffenburg, despite the phony melodrama added by writers in terms of his relationship with his wife. The rest of the cast does an average job, but there were no standouts.
If you are familiar with the July 20th plot like me, you'll most likely want to see "Operation Valkyrie" for completions sake. For the average viewer, the only draw here is Koch's performance, but the melodrama it's saddled with even makes that debatable. Casual viewers would do better with renting "The Plot to Kill Hitler" and "Valkryie."
The anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation is one of the most ugly presentations I've seen in quite some time. The film is littered with a heavy amount of grain, so much in fact, that when there is a white background in any scene, it looks like a swarm of bugs. Added to this is some very ugly edge enhancement, most present in outdoor scenes. The underlying transfer does show some detail and the colors of WWII era Germany are faithfully reproduced, but the grain becomes distracting at times. I understand the film was originally made for TV, but this is well below the standards for a 2004 TV film. My only theory is the filmmakers used very cheap stock.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 German audio track is very clear, but front heavy. The surrounds don't get a heavy workout, even during the brief battle scene at the beginning of the film. Fortunately, since this is a dialogue heavy film, this isn't as noticeable, but it's still a somewhat lackluster result. I actually suspect this is a fake 5.1 track and the television origin of the production lends credence to that assumption. A 5.1 English track is present and should be avoided at all costs; the dubbing is among the worst I've heard. English and Spanish subtitles are present, along with an English subtitle track for the hearing impaired.
A short, promotional piece titled "The Making of Operation Valkyrie" is the sole extra on the disc. It features some decent interviews from the principal players involved, but is very light on actual substance. A trailer is advertised on the case, but was nowhere to be found.
"Operation Valkyrie" is a lackluster, underwritten telling of an important point in history that is further undermined by a poor technical presentation. To call this movie a disappointment is an understatement. Skip It.