Valkyrie Review and Blu-ray Features
25 Dec 2008
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
Is “Valkyrie” based on a book?
No. Valkyrie is based on a screenplay by director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie. The idea started when McQuarrie visited Berlin in 2002 while researching another project. While there, he saw a memorial to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg at the Bendlerblock. Staufenberg was a German army officer and one of the leaders in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Adolf Hitler. Four years later, McQuarrie was joined by Singer and filming began the following year.
What does the title ‘Valkyrie’ mean?
In Norse mythology, the Valkyries were minor female deities – half women, half birds – who served Odin, the leader of the gods, and protected Valhalla, the Norse heaven. Operation Walküre (Valkyrie) was an operational plan of the German Wehrmacht’s Reserve Army, initially designed to be used in the event that disruption caused by the Allied bombing of German cities caused a breakdown in law and order or a rising by the millions of slaves from occupied countries working in German factories. The primary emphasis, however, was on the protection of Hitler (played by David Bamber) and the government in Berlin. The conspirators of 20 July 1944, Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise) and others from the Wehrmacht’s General Staff amongst them, tried to modify the plan according to their needs so that they would be able to quickly disarm SS troops, arrest the leading Nazis, and take over control of German cities.
Why is Tom Cruise wearing an eyepatch?
It’s simply part of his costume as Claus von Stauffenberg. In 1943 Stauffenberg was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and was sent to Africa to join the 10th Panzer (tank) Division. There, while he was scouting out a new command area, his vehicle was strafed on April 7th, 1943 by British fighter-bombers and he was severely wounded. He spent three months in hospital in Munich. Stauffenberg lost his left eye, his right hand, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand. He jokingly remarked to friends never to have really known what to do with so many fingers when he still had ten of them.
Is Heinrich Himmler in this film?
Yes, albeit very briefly. When Stauffenberg meets Hitler for the first time to present the revised copy of Valkyrie to him, Heinrich Himmler (Matthias Freihof) is seen briefly in the group of people sitting around the fireplace. He is the one walking around with the hi-top haircut, glasses and the pencil mustache. He doesn’t have any significant role in the plot except that Goerdeler (Kevin McNally) didn’t want Stauffenberg to proceed with the bombing unless he could get both Himmler and Hitler.
Is Erwin Rommel a character in the movie? What was his involvement, if any, in the 20 July plot?
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famous “Desert Fox”, does not appear in Valkyrie, but has often been connected by both historians and popular media to the 20 July plot. Rommel was one of the most famous and well-respected generals of the German Army, known both for his tactical prowess and chivalry. Rommel, commander of the Axis forces fighting in North Africa, and later Germany’s troops opposing the Allied invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord), strongly objected to Hitler’s conduct of the war and publicly criticized Hitler, even (according to some historians) planning to “open” the Western Front to the Allies via a negotiated peace. After the 20 July plot, Rommel was accused by the SS as a conspirator (based upon the testimony of two of the conspirators), and in October 1944 he was convinced to commit suicide to avoid the shame of a public trial and mistreatment of his family. After the war, as Rommel began to be seen as both a hero by the German people and an honorable opponent by the Allies, he was depicted as the archetypical “Good German”, who not only disapproved of Nazi excesses but actively opposed them by plotting Hitler’s death. Several films, most notably The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) with James Mason, helped cement this depiction in popular media, a reputation that persists to this day.
However, historians widely doubt that Rommel had any real degree of involvement in the plot. He is known to have been approached by the plotters, and Dr. Goerdler placed him on a list of possible officials in a post-coup government, but no direct evidence has linked him to the plot; his threatened execution was likely an attempt by Hitler and the SS to clean house. Many internal “enemies” and critics of the Third Reich were arrested and/or executed in conjunction with the 20 July plot, even if they played no part in the conspiracy itself. Rommel’s wife and son have always insisted that Rommel was against the plot, not wanting to give the impression that Germany lost the war because of being “stabbed in the back” by traitors (a prominent myth arising after Germany’s defeat in World War I). Despite disagreeing with many of Hitler’s more extreme policies (particularly regarding the Jews), he seems not to have had any strong dislike of Hitler or the Nazi regime in general. Rommel benefited greatly from Hitler’s patronage, rising from the rank of Colonel (and commander of Hitler’s bodyguard) to Field Marshal in four years. As he had been seriously wounded by an Allied fighter in June 1944, he would not have been able to play an active role in Valkyrie; due to his reputation with the German people, however, it was hoped by the plotters that he may cooperate with or support their coup- very much the wait-and-see attitude adopted by General Fromm.
I don’t understand Fromm’s character. He seems to be all over the place.
Commander of the Reserve Army, Genernal Friedrich Fromm (Tom Wilkinson) was all over the place when it came to his alliances. He would only stay with those from whom he could benefit. When originally approached by Stauffenberg and General Obricht (Bill Nighy); they hinted that they would give him the position of “Supreme Military Commander” when they take over power, as they needed Fromm to put the military on standby action to take over the districts of SS and Gestapo. Fromm tells them as long as The Fuhrer is alive, he will not join Stauffenberg. Basically he is saying “Kill Hitler and I’ll join you.”. Fromm aids Stauffenberg by getting the revised copy of the Valkyrie initiative past inspection in order for Hitler to sign it. But after the first attempt fails, Fromm pulls out of their arrangement for fear of his life.
During the second attempt, Obricht forges Fromm’s approval to put the troops into action. When Fromm learns what has happened he tries to arrest Stauffenberg and his men, but they hold him prisoner until their mission is complete. After the coup fails, Fromm orders the immediate execution of Stauffenberg, Obricht, and the rest. In direct defiance of Hitler’s instructions to take them alive. This is because Fromm fears they would tell Hitler of his involvement in the coup and he would be executed along with them. Even after all his attempts to cover his tracks, Hitler didn’t take any chances and had Fromm executed as well.
Why did Fromm unplug his phone when talking to Stauffenberg and Obricht?
It’s likely that the phone was tapped or had an open receiver and anyone could listen in, even when it was hung up.
What was with the creepy stare that Hitler gave Stauffenberg in the Wolf’s lair? Did he suspect him of something?
It is possible that Hitler suspected him of something, but it’s more likely that he just didn’t really give a damn about Stauffenberg, which is why he didn’t really acknowledge him to begin with. By this point in history, Hitler was beginning to come unhinged mentally, which was attested to by many witnesses. This could be the movie’s attempt to portray Hitler slipping in and out of his mental capacities. The interaction also cements Stauffenberg’s resolve that Hitler is incapable of continuing to rule Germany. An alternate theory is that it was simply, from Stauffenberg’s point of view, that he thought he may have been discovered. We see pretty much every person that looked his way who wasn’t in on the plan looked at him suspiciously to portray the paranoia of someone in Stauffenberg’s position.
How does the movie end?
Under Hitler’s direct orders, Major Remer arrests the conspirators. Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) shoots himself in the head. The others stand trial. The end of the movie details their executions by firing squad: Police Chief Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf (Waldemar Kobus) on 15 August 1944, General Friedrich Olbricht and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, both on 21 July 1944, General Erich Fellgiebel 4 September 1944, Doctor Karl Goerdeler 2 February 1945, Erwin von Witzleben (David Schofield) 8 August 1944, and General Friedrich Fromm 12 March 1945. This is followed by an epilogue that reads: The July 20 plot was the last of 15 known attempts by Germans to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Nine months later, with Berlin surrounded, Hitler committed suicide. Nina von Stauffenberg and her children survived the war. She died April 2, 2006. The final screen is from an inscription on the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin: You did not bear the shame. You resisted, sacrificing your life for freedom, justice, and honor.
What does Stauffenberg shout at the end?
As he is executed, Stauffenberg shouts “Long live sacred Germany!”
Why did the coup fail?
Going strictly by how the movie portrays the events: First, the bomb didn’t kill Hitler. The reason the bomb didn’t work was because the explosives were to be significantly amplified inside The Wolf’s Lair due to the confined rooms built with concrete. But the meeting wasn’t held inside The Wolf’s Lair. It was held in a building on the outside which was very open. Stauffenberg then asked to be placed as close to Hitler as possible and he places his briefcase with the explosives underneath the table very close to Hitler. Stauffenberg then leaves the building and begins his escape. Colonel Heinz Brandt (Tom Hollander) accidentally knocks over Stauffenberg’s briefcase and moves it farther away from Hitler and leans it against the leg of the table. When the bomb goes off, it kills Brandt and three others, but Hitler survived, possibly solely because he was protected from the blast by the leg of the table. General Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) calls Obricht’s office and reports the blast happened, but it isn’t clear if he reported Hitler dead or alive as the connection was faulty. Fellgiebel then orders all communications to be cut so The Wolf’s Lair couldn’t issue any orders. Obricht, not knowing if Hitler was dead, panicked and hesitated on issuing Fromm’s troops into stand-by mode. After a three hour delay Stauffenberg calls Obricht and tells him Hitler is dead. The troops are put on stand-by (by forging Fromm’s approval), and the coup goes without a hitch from then on. Hundreds of SS and Gestapo are arrested without a single shot fired. But then The Wolf’s Lair manage to get communications out issuing arrest warrants for Stauffenberg and others (due to witnesses and the fact the majority of people survived the blast and Stauffenberg was the only one completely absent). Eventually Captain Haans (Danny Webb), who was in charge of feeding through orders from one location to another decides to cease sending orders from Stauffenberg and continue sending orders from The Wolf’s Lair. Once Major Remer (Thomas Kretschmann) (leader of the reserve army) speaks to Hitler on the phone, he realizes he has been duped by Stauffenberg and proceeds to release all those he arrested and goes to arrest Stauffenberg and the other conspirators. The film implies that if Obricht hadn’t hesitated, they may have been able to succeed even though Hitler was still alive.
It’s obvious how this movie ends, so what is the point?
Well, we know how World War II ends, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in watching movies like Saving Private Ryan (1998), Das Boot (1981), or The Pianist (2002). This story shows how close these people came to assassinating Hitler. It is a story told out of respect for those who attempted to free Germany and to show us that not every German soldier, not even high ranking officers and politicians in Germany, were loyal to Hitler and agreed with his ways.
RT/Meta Critic Review
A very good movie about real facts in history.(VladimirV/MetaCritic)
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (with an average bit rate of 21Mbps), Valkyrie’s transfer exhibits strength in reproducing the visual quality of the source material, but ultimately remains average when compared with other modern releases on Blu-ray. Director Bryan Singer, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel have worked together since Usual Suspects, but their production of Superman Returns marked the first time the two men made the switch to using digital cameras (Panavision’s Genesis model). On Valkyrie, they return to the use of film (Singer has publicly stated he’s more comfortable with the use of film) and although the results are better than the transfer on Superman Returns, there’s still a similar lack of fine object detail on Valkyrie. I’m assuming Singer and Sigel intended to give the film a somewhat dated look, but I’d still prefer to see crisp visuals on a high-definition release.
Color saturation exhibits a slight push to yellow, but it serves to further the vintage nature of the photography, and seems fitting in the context of the film. At times, black levels don’t display the depth of a reference quality release, which poses some problems with contrast in low light scenes; but all of the well-lit daytime sequences show an excellent level of contrast. Lastly, grain is apparent in many sequences throughout the film and creates a noticeably noisy background in several scenes (mostly interior shots
The primary audio offering on this release is an English DTS-HD MA track. Taken as a whole, this is a thoroughly robust sound mix, with excellent surround use and a fine demonstration of clarity. The film isn’t littered with action sequences, but there are still several spectacular explosions that reminded me how important a subwoofer really is. Considering my home theater is located in my basement, I was thrilled with one scene where the Colonel and his family descend into the bomb shelter of their home and listen to the not-so-subtle rumble of bombs exploding in the distance. Listening to the scene, I felt as if I were right there with them, engulfed with the vibrations and creaking of the overhead ceiling joists. It’s a rare occasion when the lights of my theater vibrate, and Valkyrie is one title I’ll remember in that regard. Another proficiency of the audio track is the use of spatial separation within the sound field. Fighter planes crossing from side to side exhibited precision as they made their way from speaker to speaker, and the dialogue is not merely relegated to the middle/front channel. If I had one complaint about the audio track, it would be the volume balance in three or so scenes. I actually backed the film up during a couple soft moments in the dialogue, which isn’t a good sign (volume balance is a crucial part of keeping a viewer involved in the film, since reaching for the volume on your remote tends to diminish the experience). The occasional soft dialogue wasn’t enough to cripple the other fantastic audio merits, but it did bring my overall score down slightly.
The Journey to Valkyrie (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 15:56 min.): Chronicling the history of Valkyrie from conception to final product, this featurette includes interviews with the filmmakers and leading actors as they discuss details of the production and the core themes of the film.
The Road to Resistance: A Visual Guide (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 9:08 min.): Hosted by Philipp Von Schulthess (real life grandson of Colonel Stauffenberg), this brief extra looks back at the life of Col. Stauffenberg, while taking the viewer on a tour of locations in Germany that the Colonel had connections to.
The African Front Sequence (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:01 min.): Delving behind the scenes of the opening sequence from the film, this supplement analyzes several scenes from a technical and thematic standpoint.
Taking to the Air (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:32 min.): The aerial coordinators are interviewed regarding the use of vintage aircraft, while segments from the sets are shown. Tom Cruise appears to be a pretty big fan of airplanes, though the aircraft in this film are far different than the jets in Top Gun.
Recreating Berlin (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 6:51 min.): The actors and filmmakers discuss the lengths the production crew went to in order to find the locations and sets that were used in the film.
92nd Street Y (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 38:57 min.): Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer are interviewed in front of a live audience and asked to discuss many elements of the story from Valkyrie. The interview is interesting as a forum for two artists to talk about their craft, but tends to become a little boring toward the end of the lengthy runtime.
The Valkyrie Legacy (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 114:14 min.): This surprisingly in-depth (and lengthy) documentary is the real gem in the package. Directed by Kevin Burns (Empire of Dreams: The Story of the “Star Wars” Trilogy, Behind the Planet of the Apes, and many more), the documentary goes beyond the true story of the Valkyrie plot and delves into the rise and fall of Hitler. One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is the attention to Nazi Germany’s affect on the lives of German citizens all the way up to modern times and the stigma that continues to follow them as a result.
Lastly, we have two commentary tracks (one with Tom Cruise, Bryan Singer and writer/producer Christopher McQuarrie; and a second one with Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Nathan Alexander).