In-Box Review
The Red Baron 2008
MvR revised. . . again
  • move

by: Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]

Who would have thought that a Movie review could be done best by a fellow WWI aviation fanatic, who's life work has been at a newspaper? Our own Burl Burlingame has put in his 2 cents and its spot on IMHO.

"Every once in a while a movie comes along that you can't wait to see, but when you finally get to see it, you realize — sigh — that it's just a movie, and not a very good one at that. "The Red Baron" hit me that way.

Made a couple of years ago, "Der Rote Baron" was supposedly the most expensive film ever made in Germany, and when it was released, it was a tremendous flop. It was hard to figure out why from reviews. The YouTube clips of the flying sequences looked tremendous. Apparently, Germans don't care much for war movies these days, even those that star a great national hero.

It took from then until now for the film to be released on disk. I tried to pick one up at Suncoast, but the girl there told me tartly that a film like that doesn't appeal to "their" class of customers. Shrug. Order a copy of "The Red Baron" on Blu-Ray, which arrived promptly. I prepared by previewing Roger Corman's "Von Richthofen and Brown," from 1969.

The Red Baron is Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, the highest-scoring ace of the Greta War, with 80 victories, one of the first superstar pilots and a pop-culture icon. He was the terror of the Western Front until he was shot down by either Canadian pilot Roy Brown or a gang of Aussie soldiers on the ground popping off with rifles.

"Von Richthofen and Brown" was a low-budget actioner that contrasted the command styles of the two men, von Richthofen the dashing, titled Prussian; Brown, the dour, common realist. The remaining cast is a rogue's gallery of famous aviators, including Hermann Goring, Ernst Udet and teenage Werner Voss, von Richthofen's rival and friend. It is a snapshot of the changing face of warfare, and is largely successful as a movie. But it suffered from its small budget, and the aeroplanes and other details were inaccurate, although likely only us rivet-counters noticed.
Flash-forward to now, with a grand budget and the latest CGI techniques, and "The Red Baron" looks terrific and the aeroplanes are wonderfully accurate. The old gang is here, particularly Voss, although the new movie makes him a grizzled veteran instead of a talented teen. Nikolai Müllerschön, who wrote and directed, also adds a fictional Jewish pilot, although there were plenty of real Jewish pilots in the Fliegerkorps, such as Wilhelm Frankl. It's an odd political move that smells like apologia.
Both movies, interestingly, make much of the German pilots' veneration of ace Oswald Boelcke, almost as if he were a religious figure.

Virtually every review of "The Red Baron" points out it fails whilst on the ground, although it soars while in the air. Absolutely true. Taking the audience along in the dreamlike trance of flight is something movies are good at. It's not only a thrill ride for the audience, it also helps explain the motivations of the pilots.

There are many things that go wrong here. One is the reoccurring figure of Roy Brown (Joseph Fiennes) who seems to slip through the Western Front with ease just to have chitchats with von Richthofen. Another is a drummed-up romance with nurse (Lena Headey) that relies on her having abrupt changes of personality in every scene. And it's storytelling suicide to cheat the audience out of the the two most famous dogfights in the Great War, von Richthofen vs. Brown, and Voss vs. a whole sky full of British SE.5s. These battles, that should have been the cathartic heart of the film, are simply shrugged away.

It also doesn't help that Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays the title role, is thuddingly void of command charisma. It's partly the fault of the script, which pushes the image of von Richthofen as a rather sweet, sensitive soul who just happens to kill dozens on men in vicious aerial combat.
The main problem, though, is that Müllerschön just couldn't decide what his film was about. It needed a tough rewrite from someone who could keep eyes on the prize. Is "The Red Baron" a meditation on the evolving spirit of German martial ardor during the 20th Century? An analysis of the conflict between command and celebrity? A three-way romance between a pilot, his gal and his fighter plane? An engaging bio-pic about someone was once a world-famous figure, and is now a label on a frozen pizza?

This last is the worst. If you're going to tell the story of a historic character, even if you have to telescope events and personalities, at least get his personality right. Otherwise, it's literally character assassination. Von Richthofen was a dangerous, wily aerial tactician; a killer; a charismatic leader; a superb manager of public image. That's an interesting person. This rather damp, twee youngster posing in aviator togs in "The Red Baron" is just playing dress-up."

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Great areial sequences in CGI based on full scale modern replicas.
Lows: Inaccuracies in the story line made it little more than revisionism of the weakest kind. Some of the artwork is weak as well. The front cover shows the Baron's red Albatros with a headrest and no radiator in the top wing.
Verdict: Its entertainment with a bare reference to the real man and his life.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-1-56994-396-0
  Suggested Retail: $13.99 +
  Related Link: In the News
  PUBLISHED: Aug 04, 2010

About Stephen T. Lawson (JackFlash)

I was building Off topic jet age kits at the age of 7. I remember building my first WWI kit way back in 1964-5 at the age of 8-9. Hundreds of 1/72 scale Revell and Airfix kits later my eyes started to change and I wanted to do more detail. With the advent of DML / Dragon and Eduard I sold off my ...

Copyright ©2021 text by Stephen T. Lawson [ JACKFLASH ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


from Director Nikolai Müllerschön: also. . . Since my callsign here is JackFlash, please allow my comments. We know JACK about what we like. War movies make good movie subjects. Antiwar movies don't do JACK and maybe tthats why this movie did so poorly at the Box office. I guess for you modern cinematographers the reality of war isn't artistic enough and you feel it important to add humanistic revisionism to the life exploits of one that many aready respect or find some credence to. Today you find the term "Red Baron" on everything. You want to sell something just add "Red Baron" to it. What I personally don't get is why people that have no clue about real subjects get to make movies about them. But after all it just entertainment. At least DC comics created a successful and whole new personality and name for its WWI German pilot hero without having to borrow anything from the legend of the Red Baron. As to it being the greatest WWI aviation film todate, not hardly. The greatest movie todate on MvR? You have got to be smoking something illegal and hallucinogenic.
AUG 03, 2010 - 01:21 PM
Just watched this move this evening and I think maybe the best WWI aviation movie to date(oops forgot Dawn Patrol, my favorite). I must say, Im really keen on what the director had to say above. i dont know jack about making movies. But everytime these things come up directors consistently fail to explain to us of the unwashed masses why some seeming small, easy to get right details, must go out the window. If the A/C are CGI why not show the early dogfights with Hawker in pusher planes instead of SE5s. I dont know if Hawker used such an emblem, but it looks to me more like someone wanted Nungessers plane in the story, but it didnt belong. The german planes looked really good (a few ficticious schemes, some based on reality), a far cry from ten thousand red triplanes of flyboys, so they had the attention to detail to make a decent overall film. Roy browns first appearance in a camel looked good, but later was a preposterous mix of markings from several planes. The biggest cop out was not even attempting MvRs last flight. I was exited, the details were coming together, even Wolfram was going to be in the air... and then its over... lame. Note I dont bother with the love story and Richtofen/Brown scenes. The love story was at least rooted in rumor and the Richtofen/Brown scenes are part of the antiwar narrative (as far as Ive seen all war movies are anti war, as it should be) and help tell a story, so no matter how weird and counter factual they are. It could have been better without them, but the director had a mission in mind. The movie also seemed to trivialize the "blue max" (all the sudden everyone had one) and Hawker was snuffed out as if he was a helpless child in the cockpit(shouting like a barbarian too). This just skims the surface there is tons to complain about, but i think a few details could have really changed this for the better. Was still enjoyable though.
AUG 03, 2010 - 01:59 PM
Well i manage to watch both the RED BARON and FLYBOYS over the weekend and i thought Flyboys was a better film, i tried to forget about the hords of triplanes and watch it for what it was, infact it made me think more of the American flyers who also fought before the U.S came in to the war. As for the Red Baron film i fast forwarded the love story and just watched the dog-fights. As for the ending when MvR took his last flight, to me it looked like the film company had run out of money and couldn't afford to film it. making the whole film pointless. Now if Peter Jackson did a film about the first world war, i am sure it would be a knock out.
AUG 05, 2010 - 04:50 AM
Can you tell us more about this? I'm not a comics reader, but if it is well done, and reasonably realistic, I would be interested in reading it. Thanks! Karl
AUG 05, 2010 - 06:28 AM
Fortunately what both this new flick and "flyboys" demonstrates is that if someone decides to do a reasonable historically accurate film or a less generic historical fictional tale, the technology is there now to really blow the audience away. With the massive amount of CGI in the Lord of the Ring movies, Jackson sure has the credentials. This Movie reminded me alot of "Dark Blue world" which was another european (czech I think) made aviation movie set in WWII about czech pilots in the RAF. Fantastic CGI dogfights, though brief and over ruled by a love story.
AUG 05, 2010 - 10:56 AM
I just got this from Netflix and watched it. What a stinker it was! I didn't dwell on historical accuracies/inaccuracies, but just watched it as a WWI aviation film I wanted to entertain me. It failed miserably. While I did like the flight scenes and the dog fighting, the close ups of the aircraft, and while it did have a few good moments this was all too much crapola! The philosophical chat between Brown and the RB as they strolled happily along together while making their way back to their lines was too much when I saw it even though I knew it was coming. I don't claim to be an expert on Brown, but things I have read about him hardly portrayed him as an almost aristocratic deep thinker. The RB- well that's the trouble with legends, they have a life of their own. The oddest thing was the ending. If you aren't aware of the historical information surrounding the RB's last combat actions the dialog where the new pilot is told to hang back and not enter the fray is just that- meaningless dialog. The next thing you know the RB is dead and the film ends. You don't see anything! You certainly don't get the gravity and irony of those instructions. So, on one hand it's best to know little about history to be able to watch this film but at the end if you don't know history you don't get what happened. The tactical mistakes the real RB made in failing to heed his own advice about combat conduct are telling to some degree if the director and writers wanted to take literary license. Maybe he had had enough, maybe he had lost his edge, maybe he no longer cared. The debate whether the Australian machine gunner on the ground got him (my belief is with him) or if Roy Brown actually got him could have added a final note but wasn't included. I guess the best way I can sum, it up is saying I wouldn't bother watching it again. I'm glad I saw it through Netflix rather than bought it retail. Maybe somebody someday will make a movie about WWI aviation with the Red Baron that will do justice to the subject. For that, someone needs to portray history, not reinvent it. The only other film I felt as badly let down by was the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nobody seems to be able to get that one right either or make it as good as it could be.
AUG 10, 2010 - 09:00 AM
Sadly, the WB did not thought that Mexico could to be a good market for this aviation movie, so... we never saw the film in cinema halls Cheers. Al
AUG 10, 2010 - 10:27 AM
It never hit the movie theaters on this side of the globe . Was only in Europe and came out 2 years later on DVD . I won't waste my time with seeing this film. With the attitude of the writers and directors, they need a history lesson or two .
AUG 10, 2010 - 11:25 AM
Terri, I thought that the movie were in USA and Canada, I saw in Internet the premieres and now I know it was in Europe. About the history...mhhh... you are right, the story is some wrong, as a friend says, if the airplane movies only present the real history, the halls where empty.
AUG 10, 2010 - 11:41 AM