(Quick aside before my actual review. As always. Yes, I realize that my last three films have been from the 1950s now. I was supposed to review Woody Allen’s 1990s movie Crimes and Misdemeanors but the copy of it that I got sent from Netflix was cracked so there was no dice there. If I review a film tomorrow [which I may not because I’m going to be working on the new Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti album for my NYC job and I also have to see my academic adviser for Morgantown school life], it’s going to be the more modern Like Water for Chocolate. So for those of you who have grown tired of me reviewing so many older films, that should change shortly.)
It’s one of the rare pleasures of watching an absurd number of movies that you get to see when future directors lift entire scenes from older films to suit their homage/genre feature purposes. Quentin Tarantino is notorious for it, almost to the point that he’s been accused of plagiarism (although I’ll let it slide for Tarantino since they are such loving [and usually awesome] scenes that are better remembered than the films he cribbed from). One can put in the Indiana Jones films and go back and look at old adventure serials to see exactly which scenes Lucas and Spielberg took from to make the movie. The 1955 World War II “classic”, The Dam Busters, was liberally stolen from in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope for the Death Star sequences. An interesting and surprisingly science-driven look at one of the lesser known aspects of World War II, The Dam Busters is an educating film if not quite an entertaining one.
In the waning months of the European campaign of World War II, British military scientist Doctor Wallis (Michael Redgrave) believes he has come up with a way to cripple the German industrial machine. Most of German’s steel manufacturing at the time was reliant on power generated by hydro-electric dams, and if one were to knock those dams out, the German’s ability to continue to arm themselves would be crippled. Doctor Wallis devises a “bouncing” bomb to be delivered by highly trained fighter pilots to breach the German defenses and blow up the dams. After much fighting with the British government, his plan is eventually approved, and with the help of ace pilot Wing Commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd), the Brits train an elite cadre of pilots to fly behind German lines and lay the groundwork for the ultimate Allied victory.
Much like The Longest Day (but without suffering that film’s interminable length), The Dam Busters works more as a history lesson than a dramatic film. Roughly the only character traits developed in this film is Commander Gibson’s love of his dog (whose racist name I will not be printing in this review). Other than that, everyone from the top down is a bland mix of archetypal World War II caricatures. Even when the flyboys let off some steam by getting into a playful fight with another group of airmen, you feel like you’re watching more a bland representation of a historical occurrence than a moment which could have shown the boiling tension these men are facing before they go off on a possible suicide mission. The only times when the film’s History Channel presentation has any life (besides the climactic final mission) are the small science moments where Michael Redgrave delights over his own ingenuity.
However, during the bombing missions themselves, I must admit that I let out some mild squeals of glee when I saw just how many images from the iconic Death Star scenes were taken from this movie. Whether it’s the turret run, trying to hit an almost impossible target, the sights on Luke’s Tie-Fighter (or do the Rebels use X-Wings? I can never remember. I’m sure some nerd will correct me), or even some of the dialogue on how their voices sound on the comm systems, it really was just a real life version of the big battle in A New Hope. The film was nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar, and while some of the artillery fire and flak may seem really fake looking today, it’s obvious that The Dam Busters was a major technical achievement when it was first released. There is just something inherently thrilling about dogfights, and The Dam Busters delivers the goods.
For those who don’t find themselves enamored with the minutiae of history, The Dam Busters may come off as a terrible bore. The characters are all instantly forgettable, and it isn’t until the final thirty minutes or so of the film that any action ever actually happens. However, for World War II buffs and those interested in the lesser-explored sides of military history, it has its moments. It’s one of the only military dramas I can think of where a scientist was one of the primary heroes. That has to count for something. Peter Jackson has long been rumored to be working on a remake of the film. If that ever comes to fruition (after the three Hobbit films [serious overkill]), I could find myself getting very excited for the direction he could take this compelling story.
Final Score: B-