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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

The Red Baron (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Red Baron
2008 (2010) - Niama Film (Monterey Video)
Released on Blu-ray on June 1st, 2010
Also available on DVD

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 16.5
Audio (1-20): 6
Extras: D-

I've got to be honest with you: I really wanted to like The Red Baron. I'm a sucker for a good war movie, even more so one about aerial combat. When I first saw the film's trailer online, I was fairly well blown away. It looked great, with real potential.

A German production strangely shot in English - the film tells the infamous story of a young German fighter pilot in WWI named Manfred von Richthofen (a.k.a. The Red Baron, so named for the bright red color of his plane - played here by Matthias Schweighöfer). Richthofen loves to fly and distinguishes himself in battle after battle, weary of the war though he is, soon becoming the leading ace in the conflict. As his superiors are shot down one after the other, Richthofen gradually finds himself in command of all the German air forces. But he's become a valuable symbol for the Germans too - a hero to encourage the battered troops in the trenches to keep fighting. As an honorable man who's come to question the very wisdom of the war itself, that's something he finds increasingly difficult to deal with, especially when he falls in love with a nurse (played by Lena Headey of Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles fame), who helps him recover from a combat injury. Anyone familiar with history can probably guess how this all ends.

While The Red Baron's production values are quite high, featuring lovely costumes, plausibly accurate and detailed production design, and excellent visual effects, the story just sort of plods along aimlessly from one scene to the next without really building momentum or allowing you to fully invest in the characters. And though the aerial combat sequences are terrific, all of the energy they generate is quickly squandered when the film returns to the ground. The actors are all solid in their roles, but the direction is placid and the script is more intellectually interesting than emotionally engaging. The Red Baron is still a bit of a guilty pleasure for its aerial battles, but it sadly falls far short of expectations.

From a quality standpoint, the HD video presentation from Monterey's Blu-ray release is solid - not quite up to the latest Hollywood studio standards, but good for an independent release. Detail is excellent, with very nice texture visible. The color saturation has been dialed back a bit and timed to have a warm, vintage look, but it's accurate to the artistic intent. The black levels are a bit lacking however - shadows have a tendency to look a bit gray, especially in night scenes. The real problem with this disc is the audio presentation. Not only is there no lossless track, the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is just terrible. Bass is good and dialogue is generally clear, but the mix too often sounds flat and metallic, like it's been filtered through a tin can. It's just completely unnatural sounding and really pulls you out of the story. Seriously, take a normal action film 5.1 mix, and listen to it through an old soup can with the lid still hanging off. That's what this sounds like. Terrible.

Extras-wise, you get the film's trailer in full HD, a 12-minute featurette on the film's visual effects in SD, some text historical notes on the real Red Baron, and SD promo trailers for other Monterey titles on DVD. But there are real problems with the trailer and the featurette - problems I can only assume are related to authoring, video conversion or compression errors. Both have a very shuddery look to them, almost like frames are being dropped - something I experienced both in my home theatre and on a PC as well. The problem is so bad as to render both almost unwatchable, which is a shame.

I wonder, frankly, if the U.K. Blu-ray release of this film isn't of better quality. I'd be curious to give it a look if it's region-free. Given the domestic Blu-ray issues and the underwhelming nature of the film itself, I can only recommend The Red Baron as a rental.

Bill Hunt
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