This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Die Brücke (The Bridge): Review

[Before I begin: thanks to Ulla (baglava) for pointing me to this film.]

There really should be a rule: DO NOT REMAKE GOOD, OLD FILMS.

This also should read as a review of two films, not one; the films are both called Die Brücke (The Bridge) and were made on the same story – the attempt by seven German schoolboys to hold a bridge in their hometown against the might of the US Army in the last days of the Second World War.

The basic story is the same; as the tides of war overwhelm Germany, seven schoolboys are called up in one of the Nazi regime’s last-ditch efforts to use everyone old or young enough to point a gun and pull a trigger to try and stave off defeat for as long as possible. These seven schoolboys have no idea of war; they’re just excited at the prospect of the coming war. After just one day in the army, though, their unit is sent out to fight the Americans, but their commander, recognising that the boys would be sacrificed uselessly, comes up with the idea of putting them on guard over a strategically useless bridge in their hometown, a bridge which is due to be demolished anyway.

The teenagers, of various social backgrounds, are under a senior sergeant who goes off to get coffee and is shot as a deserter by a patrol of military police, leaving the young men to fight off the Americans alone, which they do, with absurd heroism, until the demolition party arrives with the explosives.

That’s the basic framework of these two films; it’s about all they have in common.

Once again, I repeat: THEY SHOULD NOT REMAKE GOOD, OLD FILMS. There ought to be some kind of a law.

The first of these films (the plot in detail, if you want to know, is here: ) is the original, made back in 1959, in black and white. It’s straightforward, shorn of special effects, and the black and white images actually, far from looking dated, convey the starkness of the story openly and clearly. The teenagers are boys of the time, crooked teeth and all; their acting, while sometimes a mite stilted in the early part of the film, becomes raw and full of power once the fighting begins. There are other excellent touches, especially that of a panicked German war hero with a Knight’s Cross stopping a convoy full of fleeing soldiers at gunpoint so he can hitch a ride, the convoy roaring off and leaving the seven schoolboys as the only force between Germany and the Americans. And the fighting’s handled well, taking up only the last twenty or so minutes of the film, after a nerve-racking and tension-building scene in which the American tank engines grow louder and louder but nothing can be seen.

I suppose it’s not really a spoiler to state that a small group of schoolboys isn’t exactly a force capable of holding off Patton’s army in the final days of the Reich, so even their heroism isn’t really worth much in the long run, though they do manage to destroy a couple of tanks and kill some Americans; but most of all it isn’t worth a damn because of the absurdity of the situation, where the bridge is successfully defended but then the demolition squad arrives and berates the boys for their stupidity in sacrificing themselves for the useless bridge.

In its absurdity, it rivals something out of Catch-22: whoever wins, everyone loses.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Right. Now, if you watch the 2008 remake of this film, you might be forgiven for thinking it was a completely different film. The boys are healthy modern teenagers, big and impeccably groomed and with immaculate orthodontic work , living in a town where everyone is dressed in spotlessly clean clothes and apparently lacks for nothing to eat. There’s gratuitous nudity, gratuitous drunkenness, gratuitous overacting.

I could almost see what was going through the director's mind:

"How to keep the audience's attention while we're building up to the big fight? Idea! Let's have a girl's clothes ripped away at gunpoint, so everyone can have a look at her boobs and pubic hair!"

And again: "How to make this long, long, long battle scene even remotely believable, since we aren't going with the original film's fifteen-minute fight? Idea! We'll put in some fat Nazi general guzzling booze and kissing a bridge in between!"

And as for the overacting, you have to see it for yourself.

And while I’m on that acting: these boys also can’t act to save their lives. You’d better believe it. The screaming terror of the first film is replaced by wooden-faced mouthing, the combat sequence goes onandonandonandon and the damn thing makes one wish everyone would die and get it over with.

I’d cheerfully put the entire cast of the remake, including Franka Potente, in front of the machine guns and Panzerfausts of the boys of the original film and let them have some target practice.

Rating: half a star, and that’s being kind.

The original is that good, and the remake is that bad.

By the way, who was it said "No reliance should be placed on the eagerness of young men for combat, for fighting has something attractive for those who are strangers to it"? Tacitus? Whoever it was, he might have been talking of the boys of the 1959 version.

Watch it.

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