Tuesday, June 16, 2015

CRACKER? Dark Blue World (2001)

                “Dark Blue World” was a recent participant in my Best Dogfighting Movie Tournament.  It was the representative from Czechoslovakia.  Directed by Jan Sverak, it was at the time the most expensive Czech movie ever made.  That was partly because it cost $10,000 per hour to rent Spitfires.  It was well received by audiences and critics.  The movie pays homage to Czech pilots who escaped from their country when it fell to the Nazis.  Many went to Great Britain and played a role in the Battle of Britain.  Those that returned to their native land after the war were confronted with a communist system.  Some were imprisoned as potential freedom fighters.

                The movie sets up its flash back format with Franta (Ondrej Vetchy) in a forced labor camp in 1950.  He remembers back to 1939 when he was a pilot in the Czech air force.  When the German army invades, he and his friend Karel (Krystof Hadek) escape to England.  They are accepted into the RAF, but have to go through retraining that is frustrating for men who are itching for some payback.  The training includes practicing formation flying on bikes!  After three months of chafing, they get their chance.  They bounce some Heinkel bombers and get into a dogfight with some Me109s.  Later, Karel gets shot down, bales out and meets a British bird named Susan (Tara Fitzgerald) whose husband is MIA.  He makes the mistake of introducing her to his BFF Franta.  Franta and Susan don’t want to hurt Karel, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  Plus this is a movie, after all.  Nothing like a love triangle in a war movie. 

                From the moment the movie transitions to the break-up of the friendship, it devolves.  There are some silly plot developments leading to the inevitable culling of one member of the trio.  We know who it won’t be because the movie intercuts with Franta’s trials in the labor camp.  How he gets there is unpredictable, thankfully.  Unless you care to dwell on this being a modern war movie.
Karel and Franta before a woman came into their lives

                I don’t want to discourage the Czechs from making more war movies, but “Dark Blue World” is disappointingly overrated.  The plot is simplistic.  It’s your typical love triangle set in war.  This tired trope is modernized with the cynicism of the Vietnam War era.  The acting is blah.  Vetchy and Hadek may be Czechoslovakia’s answer to Clooney and Hanks, but they seem average to me.  The nonlinear format works fine although it does take some suspense out of the “who will survive?” nature of the film.  Also the labor camp scenes do not deliver what they imply will happen.

the real star of the film
                The movie does have some fairly neat aerial combat.  Some of it was borrowed from the “Battle of Britain” movie.  There is a nifty scene where they strafe a train.  There is a dogfight while defending a crippled bomber.  Quality over quantity as the film has only a total of seven minutes of actual dogfighting.  Certainly not enough to overcome the romantic subplot.  The movie does a fair job commemorating the Czech pilots who served in the Battle of Britain.  And the terrible mistreatment of some after the war.  The frustrating transition to combat in the battle is realistic, as is the high mortality rate once they were given a chance.  I had never seen the use of bicycles to teach tactics, but the movie has them learning the “finger four” formation long before the RAF adopted it.

                Will it crack my 100 Best War Movie list?  No. It gets credit for sincerity, but it is just not memorable.

GRADE =  C-  

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