This review contains information about the movie 'Der Rote Baron' and as such will be a spoiler. For those of you that want to watch the movie unprejudiced ... don't read further. This review is seen from the perspective of a W.W.I flight sim fan. I am not a historian.
I went into the evening show of the movie on its release day in Germany. The cinema was pretty empty. About 30 people in a 500 people hall. Not much interest here in Germany. The movie was about 2 hours length. I tried to look at every detail in every scene thus it may have happened that I have overseen some things. So please forgive me if I leave out details that are more important to you than these I am writing about. This review is written with tongue in cheek. Don't take it too seriously. Yet you get the idea where this movie is aimed at.
OK, HERE IT GOES ...
If you want to watch a movie with heroism, daredevilry and historical accuracy then don't watch this movie. If you want to watch a movie with friendship, love and loss then take your girlfriend or wife with you (or both), grab a bag of popcorn and go watch it. This movie is entertainment, nothing else. It contains tragedy, romance, action, philosophy and has its funny sides. Funnily enough a lot of scenes have been dropped for the plot. Scenes that we all have seen already in the trailers.
In the first scene Manfred von Richthofen gets introduced as a young boy going hunting for deer and being fascinated by airplanes. The year is 1906.
Fast forward to the year 1916 in spring/summer time (I think). A funeral is held for a british pilot in a small french village and four German Albatros fighters are showing up with Richthofen, Voss, Sternberg (a fictive pilot) and a fourth I can not remember. Richthofen drops a wreath on the grave for his honourable enemy he obviously has downed before. Off the Albatros go and suddenly they get attacked by a tight formation of 12 British S.E.5 fighters dropping out of the sun with evil grinning Lanoe Hawker being one of those British pilots. As the SE5 was introduced to service on 22 November 1916 (later to be followed by the improved S.E.5a) those 12 planes must have been pre-production models secretly handed out to Hawker and fellows. There is a short dogfight between the Germans and Brits with Hawker downing one of the Germans and the Germans shooting down some of the Brits. This short dogfight scene will not get a much longer successor during the movie.
MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN
Played by German actor Matthias Schweighoefer. Initially von Richthofen is portrayed as a young vivid man who is very cheeky to his higher ranked officers and who is very keen on collecting trophies from his downed enemies planes. Also he is striving to achieve the Pour Le Merite and to be Germanies greates fighter ace. His credo is "if I can't win the fight I don't engage". He tells his comrades "don't shoot the pilots, shoot the planes". Interesting. On the other hand he does not care on the pilots of the planes he shot down. Later he will change his mind and see the cruelty of war in the trenches and in the field hospitals introduced by his love interest Kaethe a nurse of Belgian and German descent. Opposed to the historical Manfred von Richthofen he is not an introverted lone wolf but a aristocratic bon vivant spending his leisure time with his friends Voss and Sternberg in brothels, smokeing and drinking too much. This changes when he meets Kaethe on a plane crash site of a two-seater downed by him. Interestingly - and I did not know that - Roy Brown is the pilot of the two seater and Richthofen saves his live and meets him there the first time in the movie. Later he meets him in the German field hospital where Brown recovers from his wounds.
Played by British actor Joseph Fiennes. He is introduced as a two-seater pilot whose plane is brought down by Manfred von Richthofen. Richthofen visits the site of the crash and helps Brown out of the cockpit, removing a large wooden splinter from his leg. He saves his life and first is admired by Kaethe by doing so.
Kaethe: "You saved his life."
Manfred: "No, I brought him down."
Her admiration for Richthofen ends with that line. Roy Brown escapes then mysteriously from the German hospital "because there were no airfields", meaning he got bored. The second time he meets Richthofen it is during a dogfight and they are both peppering the other's plane with lead with Richthofen keeping the upper hand and forcing Brown to a unplanned landing in no man's land. The next time we meet Roy Brown is near von Richthofen's grave.
20 year old Werner Voss is played by 40 year old actor Til Schweiger. Voss is portrayed as cynical individual who is the best friend of Manfred von Richthofen. He is the type you would rely your life on and he is the coolest guy in the entire movie. He does not like Manfred's younger brother Lothar who is introduced as an arrogant and patriotic careerist. Voss is interested in the technics of his planes and is seen twice working on his planes engines. He loves his new Fokker Dr.I and says he would prefer it over women.
FLYING AND DOGFIGHTS
Actually during the 2 hours length of the movie 5 to 7 minutes were actually flying and dogfighting. You never see the planes taxi and take off and you never see them land except on one occasion when Richthofen lands his then red painted Albaros after getting wounded on the head. One time Richthofen crashes but the camera closes up on Roy Brown as he watches this. The dogfights in itself look great and you see some manoevres but not any half-hour long turn fighting. Just short approaches, short bursts, some spectacular manoevring, that's it. Maybe this is actually like it was during most of the dogfights in W.W.I. In one scene you actually see an Immelmann manoevre (the old one, not the modern one) carried out by Roy Brown to get behind Manfred von Richthofen. The planes behave more towards real palnes in my perspective. There are a few glimpses where you think they switched off gravity but generally this could be the behaviour of such planes. There are masses of planes and in one dogfight preceded by a bomber attack I got the impression they had 50+ planes flying there.
The variety of planes is not big. I saw the usual suspects like Albatros D.III and D.V with cockpit cone, of course Fokker Dr.I, one Pfalz D.III, the British aircraft are represented by S.E.5, Camel F.I, B.E.8 two-seater and and Handley Page O/400. Also there are balloons. The colour markings of the German planes are based on historical schemes. Of course Manfred and Lothar von Richthofen's planes could be identified. Also Werner Voss' Albatros with the red heart. What we do not see is his famous Fokker Dr.I paint scheme with eyes and moustache on the cowling. I saw Udet's Fokker Dr.I (Udet himself was portrayed also), Josef Jacob's black Fokker Dr.I with the fire spitting devil was parking alongside Jasta 11 aircraft (all world thought he was leader of Jasta 7, seems he had a second life in Jasta 11). Also a Jasta 18 red-white Fokker Dr.I was seen which supposedly was lent to Jasta 11 to overcome a shortage in supply of fresh Fokkers. I admit I don't know anything about british paint schemes. So no clue there. The engines are neat. You see working valves in the Albatros and you see actually spinning rotaries on the Fokker Dr.I. Thanks god no radial engines.
In one scene Werner Voss is seen with a captured Bentley rotary engine which brings us this conversation:
Manfred: "Where did you get that engine from?"
Werner: "From a british pilot."
Manfred: "He gave it to you?"
Werner: "Not intentionally, I had to persuade him."
In reality Voss equipped his Fokker Dr.I with a captured LeRhone from a Nieuport 17. <Rant On> Personally in the movie I think he has stolen this engine from Josef Jacobs Fokker Dr.I and it was a Clerget and not a Bentley as Jacobs Fokker was the only one I know of sporting a 130 HP Clerget engine during the war. With this engine Voss would have escaped the six S.E.5a that were jumping on him. We never get to see the epic battle between him and McCudden and his boys. Maybe Voss did not possess an English wrench and could not fix the engine accordingly. He then lost it during the dogfight. That's the only explanation I have why it took only six Brits to down one German. But it goes like a red line trough the movie: we never see the important dogfights of W.W.I. Thus we will never know the truth. <Rant Off>
The outfit of the movie with vehicles and stuff from that time is looking authentic so far. But some clothes are not approriate. Such as Kaethe's cap or hat out of leather and Roy Browns modern looking purple sun glasses he wears in one dogfight scene instead of pilot's goggles. You would think he has the only clean rotary that was produced during the war in his Camel. Not even one oil drip stained his glasses during that flight. Dressing of most German pilots is casual but most of them have the same coloured woollen scarf.
Barely none. Only some vital events in Richthofen's life emerge during the fictitious plot. His victory over Lanoe Hawker, the award of the Pour Le Merite, his leadership of Jasta 6, 8 , 10 and 11, his red painted planes, his head wound and his death on April 21st 1918.
ON WITH THE STORY ...
After dropping that wreath and the following dogfight Richthofen and fellow comrades receiva a telling-off by there commanding officer Lt. Bodenschatz. There Richthofen makes snide remarks to him but does not receive any punishment for this.
Richthofen aims to be the best German ace and wants to achieve the Pour Le Merite. For that he has to shoot down a balloon. Everyone knows that. Pour Le Merite is french and means 'Big Balloon Perforator'. He denies that and says he does not shoot immobile targets. Instead he proposes to bring down Lanoe Hawker to achieve the medal. The next you see is Richthofen visiting a plane crash site where a S.E.5 has dropped on the railway in front of a locomotive. It is Hawker's plane and he is dead. Richthofen does not care and cuts out Hawkers grim reaper paint scheme from his plane and asks for a wrench to dismount his machine gun. This stuff goes into his collection which is filling a whole stable later in the movie. The funny thing is you don't see the dogfight but only the result.
Richthofen gets awarded the Pour Le Merite for bringing down Hawker. After that he has a little vacation at his parents home in Prussia where his brother Lothar gets introduced. A patriotic very German behaving young man who can't live with Manfred's slack attitude towards their fatherland and towards the war. Lothar is sent to Richthofen's Jasta after his training as a pilot. There we meet Kurt Wolff a young pilot who is flying with his sleepyhead as a lucky charm. And from now on rivalry between the two brothers will be seen in every common scene with Lothar driving this rivalry.
Richthofen meets Kaethe again and has already fallen in love with her but she does not care. Richthofen then is going into a dogfight with British Handley Pages where he meets Roy Brown again. Both are landing in no mans land and meet there face to face again. They are philosophising about war, family and friendship and after that everyone goes his own ways. Richhofen then learns that his jewish friend and pilot Sternberg (fictitious person) has been killed during combat. He meets Voss and Lothar on the site where their friend crashed. He cries for his friend and following conversation unfolds:
Manfred von Richthofen: "He needs a doctor."
Lothar von Richhofen: "He does not need a doctor, he needs a priest."
Werner Voss: "A rabbi."
God, I love the sarcastic attitude the Voss character has in this movie. Reminds me of myself.
Later in the movie Richthofen gets wounded by a shot in the head. He makes a perfect landing with his red Albatros on a field and is transferred to the hospital where Kaethe works. She is assigned as a personal nurse to him. She follows him to his aerodrome as ordered by the Kaiser. Manfred is grounded and recovers slowly. A romance between Kaethe and Manfred unfolds. Both go dining and dancing in a French restaurant. Later this evening Manfred learns about the cruelties of the war in the trenches by Kaethe who shows him the hospital with wounded and crippled soldiers. Back in the chateau they nearly get intimate when suddenly a bunch of Handley Page O/400 bombers flies a night attack on the aerodrome. The still wounded von Richthofen goes up with his comrades against the enemies and attacks them fiercely. They lose some more comrades, for example Kurt Wolff who had a bad karma when he forgot to put on his sleepyhead. Manfred barely can't land while his wound has opened again.
After he has recovered he is offered the job as Commander of the German Air Service by the German high command. Kaethe, after talking to him to accept this and never fly again, returns to her hospital services. Richthofen is visiting the Fokker Werke where all the Fokker panes are built. There he learns that Werner Voss, his friend, has been killed. Richthofen wants to fly with his comrades as he feels responsible for them but is not allowed to do so. He meets the Kaiser and later Field Marshall Hindenburg whom he tells that Germany should give up as the war has no sense and other peoples have the same right to live in this world. Hindenburg gets angry and orders him to fly again.
Richthofen starts flying again and we see the preparations for the big German offensive against British troops called 'Michael Offensive". A hefty battle starts and the pilots of Jagdgeschwader 1 are going up against balloons and enemy planes. A two minutes dogfight is shown with lots of planes being shot down.
Kaethe learns that Manfred flies again and comes back to him to give him a telling-off. After his 80th victory and a supposedly hot night with her we see him in the morning of April 21st 1918 sitting in his plane ready to start and looking deep in her eyes. The picture gets dark.
Next scene we see is Kaethe in enemy territory visiting Manfred von Richthofen's grave telling him how she loved him. Guess who has brought her there with a car: the omnipresent Roy Brown.
The movie closes with some facts about the historic pilots and what happened to them.
This is the true story of the Red Baron. True in one of the multiple parallel universes I know of. You don't need to watch this movie if you don't feel the urge for it. The movie plot is pure fiction in our universe and it bears nothing for W.W.I historians. If you want to know the truth then read Manfred von Richthofens autobiography 'Der Rote Kampfflieger' which was finished by Lothar von Richthofen after Manfred's death. This is a great read.
I just hope they have left out a lot of dogfight scenes only for introducing them into the director's cut version of 'Red Baron - The (Extended) Movie'.
ONE FINAL QUESTION ...
What stuff were director and script writer smoking when laying out the plot and can I have some?