'Stalingrad' is an anti-war film that springs out of the same tradition that produced such titles as 'Platoon', 'Apocalypse Now' and even 'Grand Illusion'. The setting is World War II and the Nazi campaign on the Eastern Front. Five German soldiers find themselves in the middle of the war's bloodiest battle struggling to survive against better equipped and more numerous Russian troops. The film begins on a grim note and things get progressively worse as comrades are slain, supplies dwindle and the weather turns progressively colder and colder. The harder each man struggles to maintain his sanity the more forcefully nature and the enemy pound back until nothing's left but stark, brutal, dehumanizing violence.
'Stalingrad' is a film of great depth and realism. It displays the attention to detail so lauded in 'Saving Private Ryan' but without the gung-ho sentiment. Events unfold as they would in real life with chaotic twists and turns, tenuous victories and crushing defeats. The pacing of the film is slow but grinds inexorably, grippingly and engagingly forward from the first frame to the last.
Fox Lorber, long known for their sub-standard releases, did a better than average job on this disc but there are problems none the less. 'Stalingrad' was originally released in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and though Fox Lorber presents it widescreen they inexplicably crop the image to 1.66:1. The film elements themselves seem very clean (Stalingrad was released in 1993) but the transfer is non-anamorphic. Because much of the action takes place outside in the dead of winter the color scheme of the film is very monochromatic but even given this fact I found the transfer to be under saturated and much too bright. Black levels are about three shades to shallow meaning that no element ever reaches true deep black and shadow details begin to wash into drab gray.
Things are better on the sound front where the Dolby 2.0 surround mix (in both the original German and dubbed English) is actually very well done. The soundfield is broad and deep with plenty of ambient effects in the rear speakers and a good number of rumbles for the LFE channel. The score also makes use of the surrounds but never seems to overwhelm the dialogue. All in all this is one of the better Dolby 2.0 mixes I've heard.
Extras are fairly limited on this disc. There are the usual production credits, filmographies and award citations as well as two theatrical trailers. Fox Lorber broke the film into thirty chapters but only seven of them are selectable from the chapter search menu. It should be noted that Fox Lorber got the subtitle function right this time. They're in English and are on their own subtitle track (which defaults to 'on') rather than being part of the transfer itself as is the case with many of their other foreign language titles.
Stalingrad isn't an action film; it's a study in the psychologically devastating reality of human conflict. I highly recommend the film itself but the Fox Lorber disc is a disgrace and not worthy of purchase, especially for the outrageous MSRP of 27.95. That being said, even cropped and non-anamorphic Stalingrad is worth seeing if only as an evening's rental.