Dark Blue World (2001)

Directed by Jan Sverák
Written by Zdenek Sverák
Starring Ondrej Vetchý, Krystof Hádek, Tara Fitzgerald, Charles Dance, Oldrich Kaiser


Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent It.

Franta (Vetchý) is a man with the Czechoslovak air force. He's got the coolest dog you've seen in a long time, he's got a beautiful girlfriend who's crazy about him...the only catch is that Czechoslovakia is on the edge of World War II, when the Germans walked in and took over. Not willing to sit on his butt for the duration, he and his young protege, Karel (Hádek) head for England where they can serve with the RAF. They become best friends, they get trained...and they make the mistake of falling in love with the same woman.

This film starts out with what seems to be a fascinating premise and a piece of history I was previously unaware of. Czech pilots who left their country to fight with the RAF in World War II were condemned by the new Communist government upon their return and shut up in forced labor prisons. Gratitude, huh? So we're dealing with Franta in the "present," after the War, and then his time during the War in England.

The strength of this film lies in the fact it's one of the best flicks about World War II battles in the air that I've seen in quite some time. These dogfights are incredible and the combo of CGI and fancy cinematography they used to bring them off is impressive. There's nothing quite like a protagonist's cockpit getting splintered by gunfire to make you sit up and take notice. Or when the cockpit starts filling up with fuel. Just flat out crazy. So when it's being a war movie, it's dead on.

However, there are three movies going on here. The first is the war movie. The second is what I mentioned before, and what appears to be the impetus for the whole thing: the story of Czech pilots during and after World War II. Unfortunately, this second movie is relegated to a half-baked frame story that ultimately lacks resolution. This is primarily, I feel, due to the third movie, which is weaker still: the romance.

When Franta and Karel fall in love with the beautiful Englishwoman (who's married, don't you know), it's not believable in the least. First, there's so little screen time between They Meet and They Make Out Like Maniacs that one wonders: is she really that desperate for a little physical intimacy? If that's the case, then both of our protagonists are little more than morons who can be lead around by their members--and it's hard to feel any pity for them. But no, it feels like the romance is supposed to be legit--but it never becomes believable. It screams Plot Device at the top of its lungs.

For all the reservations about the film itself, luckily the DVD is here to help with its features. First and foremost, the commentary by director and producer is especially effective, considering that a lot of what they were trying to get across in the film just doesn't get across very well. It's one of those nicely informative commentaries that covers the things one wants to hear about: casting, sets, ideas, and so forth and so on.

The making of featurette is a good half-hour and shows you plenty of behind-the-scenes stuff about that aforementioned first movie--you know, the good one. The photo montage alone is an additional ten minutes, with the musical score from the film in the background as you watch it slide by on its own. No clicking of the right arrow key on your remote for an hour.

The Making-of Visual Effects featurette is nice enough, but the explanation of how they composited a bunch of stuff together to create the kickass imagery in the film goes by way too fast. Because the process is so fascinating and there's enough of it that you get used to taking a half a second to process an image, this featurette still manages to be worthwhile. Although there is one quick drawback to the film and that's the subtitles. It's not that there are some that's the problem, it's the fact that they never turn off. Even when the characters are speaking English. So basically the flick is closed captioned rather than subtitled.

As I've stated, the war movie portion of this is pretty fantastic. If they had decided to make a war movie about Czech pilots instead of a war movie about friendship, or whatever thematic excuse they had, it would have been very impressive indeed. As it stands, you'll be quite fine renting it.

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