“Wunderland” is a WWII action movie written, directed, and starred in by Steven Luke. It went straight to DVD. It is set in the Battle of the Bulge. It begins right before the German offensive and follows a platoon of men led by Lt. Cappa (Luke). It opens with Cappa and four men sneaking up on and opening fire on a German artillery battery. The scene closes with Cappa being wounded and clutching the cross around his neck. A flashback takes us to the command bunker of Maj. McCulley (Tom Berenger). Something is stirring in the Ardennes. He orders Cappa and his platoon to plug a gap between the 99th and 106th divisions at a crossroads named Lanzerath. Cappa’s men have seen a lot of action and are not thrilled about being sent back to the front line. Isn’t the war almost over? They dig in in a forest. The rest of the movie involves either slaughtering Germans making frontal attacks on their position or Cappa and others going looking for Germans to slaughter. For most of these forays, Cappa is accompanied by Sgt. Rock (I kid you not).
Although not part of the franchise, “Wunderland” is similar to the “Saints and Soldiers” series. Actually, it is closest to “War Pigs” (which Luke appeared in), which has Mickey Rourke in the Berenger role. It is low budget, but Luke has made the best of his funds. The uniforms and weaponry seem pretty authentic. For instance, the Germans have MG42’s with their distinctive sounds. The sound effects are nicely done. There are a few vehicles that look like WWII vehicles. There is a limited use of CGI as the movie prefers to look real, if small scale. Whereas there is only one Sherman, Luke did manage to get a commendable number of reenactors for the German assaults. They die better than the usual actors in movies like this. Better than the Spanish infantry in the epic “Battle of the Bulge”. No one has to act wounded, of course. Cappa and his men are dead-eye shots. Surprisingly, they sometimes reload. It appears Luke cared about fidelity.
The introduction to the movie gives accurate background to the battle. I was stunned to find out that there was a platoon that defended Lanzerath against several German frontal assaults and the bodies did pile up in front of their position. This holding action, which ended when they had to pull back from lack of ammunition, threw off the German time table. This incident would make a good movie. But this isn’t it.
Where I give credit for trying to stick to historical facts, the movie has many flaws. The acting is wooden, although Luke is sincere and Berenger seems fairly interested in earning his pay check. I have seen much worse acting in movies like this. The dialogue is not laughable, but Rock is forced to say “I’m way too old for this”. I don’t know about the German dialogue since they speak German and there are no subtitles. Kudos. Luke shot the movie predominantly using a Steadicam. It does not have the “Saving Private Ryan” look, but it is competently lensed. The same cannot be said for the editing. Some scenes make no sense. Starting with the opening scene which implies we have started at the end and flashbacked to get us full circle. Instead, the real ending has Cappa and Rock in a Malmedy Massacre type scenario. It’s cross-clutching time again, but the movie is not overtly religious. The one thing that you will never forget about the movie is the transitions from snow to no snow to snow again. Luke can fairly say “hey, the behemoth ‘Battle of the Bulge’ couldn’t get this right either!”. That is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a disconcerting element of his film.
In conclusion, “Wunderland” was savaged by the critics. I am not as harsh since I have seen similar movies that are truly terrible. At least Luke tried hard to get it historically right. That means it earns some good will. It doesn’t mean that it is a good movie. It is merely watchable, but I don’t think Luke was hoping for more than that.