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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Dark Blue World (2001)

"A wounded soul heals slower than a wounded body."
- Franta (Ondrej Vetchý)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 13, 2002

Stars: Ondrej Vetchý, Krystof Hádek, Tara Fitzgerald
Other Stars: Charles Dance, Oldrich Kaiser, David Novotny
Director: Jan Sverák

MPAA Rating: R for (sexuality / nudity)
Run Time: 01h:52m:39s
Release Date: May 28, 2002
UPC: 043396082755
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

World War II heroism has served filmmakers well as rousing subject matter for better than sixty years now, and Dark Blue World is a worthy addition to that roster of movies. Director Jan Sverák's follow-up to his popular and critically acclaimed Kolya, it's a reasonably ambitious movie that yearns to tell its story on an epic scale. Not a revisionist film in any respect, it's an old-fashioned story of wartime derring-do, though it's not always entirely successful, and plays out more like an exercise in nostalgia than like a full-blooded drama.

The Czechoslovak Air Force surrendered their planes to the Third Reich without so much as a shot in March 1939, to the outrage and humiliation of the pilots. Dark Blue World follows two of them, Franta (Ondrej Vetchý), an old hand, and Karel (Krystof Hádek), his young protégé, as they're forced to leave their native Czechoslovakia. They make their way to Great Britain, where they sign on with the Royal Air Force, in an effort to continue flying and waging war against Germany. The British are initially as suspicious of the Czechs as the Germans were, though in time of course they are given the opportunity to prove their valor, and indeed the most worthy of them do so.

And of course there's a girl. Karel meets her first—Tara Fitzgerald plays Susan, whose husband, a Navy officer, has been missing for over a year, and takes Karel in when he's forced to eject from his crashing plane. Their age difference is something of a concern, but soon Karel is head over heels, and on his next leave brings Franta to meet his new girl. Big mistake, as the inevitable love triangle ensues. Franta and Susan may well be better suited to one another, but you can't help feeling that Franta is a rat for getting together with his best buddy's woman, especially since he's the one who left his true love behind in Czechoslovakia, with a vow to return after the war. (Those early Czech scenes also feature one of the finest, most devoted dogs in screen history.) The attraction between any of the three of them is unclear; Susan is lovely and lonely, but for the men, the competing pulls of friendship and sex aren't explored or dramatized with any particular insight or emotional power.

If the romance is unconvincing, the movie does have many other assets, chief among them the extraordinary flying sequences. Great care was obviously lavished on these, both for historical accuracy and dramatic effect, and the movie takes off, figuratively and literally, whenever the boys get into the cockpit. It plays off of our collective memory of many World War II platoon movies, and each of the pilots in Karel and Franta's unit is given just enough individuation for us to distinguish between them, and to mourn for those who are bested by the Luftwaffe. But there isn't a tremendous amount of detail about the bigger picture, about what's going on in the world, the progress of the war, the situation back in Czechoslovakia; the flight sequences are very cool indeed, but since they're not given much context, for much of the movie the heroism of the pilots is inferred and implied more than it's demonstrated.

The whole movie is structured as a flashback, with Franta in a Czech prison in 1950. The framing story makes a fascinating historical point, about how these pilots were in many ways men without a nation; forced out of their own country by the Nazis, they were viewed as slightly alien by the British with whom they served in the R.A.F., and then, when returning home after the war, were considered enemies of the state by the Communists, and were all imprisoned. But it does undercut some of the drama—there's an obvious tension every time a soldier goes into combat, especially a pilot going up to take on Nazi fighter jocks, but since we know that Franta rots in a postwar prison, there's not much concern that he won't make it back alive from battle. And in the cruelest of ironies, Franta's wounds are tended to by another Communist prisoner, a former officer in the SS; his healer now was his enemy in war.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The color palette is vibrant, and the black levels are reasonably consistent. Some of the CGI shots don't retain a tremendous amount of impact on the small screen, which can make some of the aerial shots look laughably fake; they can seem almost cartoony. But the transfer seems to be a clean one.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As you'd reasonably expect from a movie about airplane pilots, there are some fine uses of the 5.1 mix, especially during the dogfight sequences. Otherwise the dialogue tracks are clear, though the ambient noise level, during interior scenes especially, can be a little too high.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Divided We Fall, From Here to Eternity, Black Hawk Down
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jan Sverák and Eric Abraham
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The director and producer provide a genial, if ambling, commentary track in which they describe expending the political capital they built up in the movie business with Kolya on this film. We learn that everything, including the British sequences, were shot in the Czech Republic, and that some of the best aerial footage were rescued bits of discarded clips from Battle of Britain, made in 1969. The filmmakers do a good bit of filling in on the historical circumstances of the times portrayed, and though Sverák's English is very good, he frequently turns to his producer for help and correction; it's rather charming, and it's a dynamic not entirely unlike what happens on screen.

The Making of Dark Blue World (33m:12s) is a pretty haphazard affair, blending on-set footage, clips from the movie, and interviews with cast members and the filmmakers; unfortunately none of them are identified by name, so we're left to divine that the screenwriter, Zdenek Sverák, is the director's father. (He was also the star of Kolya.) There are some peculiar bits about the manner in which the film was made—Krystof Hádek took all his acting notes from an assistant director, for instance, as Jan Sverák readily admits that he comes from the world of documentaries, and doesn't really know how to talk to actors. And unlike in the feature, typographical errors crop up in the subtitles here.

The awkwardly named Making-of Visual Effects (6m:46s) provides before-and-after footage of many of the special effects shots, including storyboards, computer graphics, and blue screen material; it's all very cool to look at, but could have used some more explanatory material. Almost as peculiar and surely more pointless is the Aerial Symphony (2m:24s), which seems like the product of too much time at the editing bay—it's many of the airplane shots from the film cut together and scored with songs from the soundtrack.

The better of the two original trailers is a Czech one, which features someone—presumably the filmmaker—narrating the idea behind the making of the movie, the celebration of these neglected heroes, over rapidly cut images, not all of which made it into the final cut.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Dark Blue World was conceived as a celebration of the valiant Czechoslovak pilots who flew against the Nazis during the Second World War, and on that level, it works very well. The personal stories provided for the two principal pilots are less compelling, but some impressive flying sequences and a decent array of extras make this DVD worth checking out.


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