Hollywood loves to make movies about Adolf Hitler’s last desperate bid to oust American soldiers dug into the snow-swept Ardennes as the last year of World War II approached in 1945. Dramatically, the German Army launched a wholly surprising attack during one of Europe’s worst winters on record that smashed the thinly defended lines held by American troops either too battle weary or inexperienced to withstand this breakthrough. These G.I.s suffered heroically against overwhelming odds until the harsh weather shifted back in their favor, and they were able to defeat the Germans.

The cloud cover over the Ardennes prevented the Army Air Force from bombing Hitler’s hordes. Four influential films have depicted this last-ditch clash between the U.S. Army and the Wehrmacht. William Wellman’s classic “Battleground” (1949), Ken Annakin’s star-studded, Cinerama tribute “Battle of the Bulge” (1965), Sidney Pollack’s “Castle Keep” (1969) with Burt Lancaster, and Franklin J. Schaffner’s biographical Best Picture “Patton” (1970) with Oscar-winning George C. Scott are the best-known films to examine the battle. Several low-budget movies produced since “Patton” have glimpsed this momentous experience. Three recent examples are Ryan Little’s “Saints and Soldiers” (2004), Thad T. Smith’s “Everyman’s War” (2009), and Robert Child’s “The Wereth Eleven” (2011), with “The Wereth Eleven” exploring combat from the perspective of African-American troops.

The latest entry is freshman director Steve Luke’s “Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland” (1/2 STARS OUT OF ****) co-starring Tom Berenger. Unfortunately, Berenger’s durable presence can salvage this woebegone 85-minute movie since his character spends most of his screen time behind the lines back at headquarters. “Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland” opens with a synopsis of this legendary land battle. Sadly, we see little of it in this inept, half-baked depiction. Everything is presented strictly from an American perspective, and Luke’s depiction of the conditions of the battle as well as the despicable German strategy is seriously flawed. Battle of the Bulge scholars will cringe at this sketchy, amateurish presentation.

Although Peter Wigand’s cinematography qualifies as atmospheric, the bare bones million-dollar budget of “Wunderland” doesn’t adequately cover the unique complexities of this campaign. One surefire way to tell the budget of a war movie is to count the number of tanks rampaging throughout it. During the opening moments, we’re told a thousand German tanks entered the fray, but we see less than four tanks simultaneously on screen. Those German Tiger tanks appear authentic enough to pass muster as do the few American Sherman M-4 tanks. Mind you, “Wunderland” is nothing like Annakin’s sprawling “Battle of the Bulge” with its large number of Allied and Axis tanks careening around the battlefield. Luke would have been better off imitating Wellman’s “Battleground” that focused on the troops in their foxholes without any armor in sight.

Director Steven Luke and “War Pigs” scenarist Luke Schuetzle, who penned the short-sighted screenplay, neglect to take advantage of the dramatic potential of ‘the Bulge.’ Indeed, the scarcity of snow constituted one of the serious shortcomings of Annakin’s otherwise lavishly budgeted “Battle of the Bulge.” When that 1965 epic was released, the producers had neither enough snow nor the CGI capacity to fake it. Similarly, in “Wunderland,” Luke tries to compensate for the lack of snow with computer-generated snowflakes. While the Minnesota scenery substitutes suitably for the Ardennes Forest in Europe, the “Wunderland” producers failed to generate enough of the white stuff. Lieutenant Cappa (Steve Luke of “Memorial Day”) and his men suffer from few winter-time handicaps.

Nobody falls prey to trench foot that devastated many soldiers. Occasionally, you see a soldier’s breath crystallize to indicate the bone-chilling temperatures. Furthermore, characterization is entirely one-dimensional. Civilian refugees are conspicuously missing from the plot, particularly women and children. Meantime, everybody appears in perfect shape, and their individual uniforms are largely similar, with few items augmenting their apparel. Essentially, the Americans mistakenly thought the Third Reich was kaput and the war would conclude before Christmas. Basically, Cappa conducts scouting missions for Major McCulley (Tom Berenger of “Sniper”). Cappa scours the woods with his trickle of troops, and they fight minor skirmishes with scattered German patrols. Happily, the weapons are entirely accurate for both sides, but fewer than 25 soldiers are ever deployed in combat. Cappa’s informal relationship with Sergeant Rock (Mikael Burgin of “Demoniac”) is the closest thing to camaraderie.

Battle of the Bulge buffs know that English-speaking German soldiers impersonated American troops. Basically, these saboteurs infiltrated our lines disguised as American military policemen. These phony MPs changed the signs at crossroads to create traffic jams and dispatched vehicles in the wrong directions. Eventually, the Americans exposed this sabotage and thwarted these impostors. Naturally, you cannot show armored columns dispersing in the wrong directions, if your threadbare budget doesn’t provide for such overwhelming complications. At one point, Cappa and his men encounter several amiable MPs before the fracas and have a conversation with them. This potentially suspenseful scene could have yielded a dramatic firefight, but Luke botches this opportunity, since neither Cappa nor Rock suspect these MPs aren’t genuine. The 1965 “Battle of the Bulge” exploited this situation for maximum impact.

Similarly, Luke and Schuetzle differentiate the German enemy as either regular army or notorious SS troops. Nevertheless, they don’t qualify this crucial difference until the final few minutes of this 85-minute opus. Again, if you know nothing about either ‘the Bulge’ or its combatants, this will have little meaning to you as a spectator. The worst tragedy of ‘the Bulge’ was the cold-blooded murder of American troops after they had surrendered their weapons. Classified as the Malmedy massacre, these SS troops mowed down 150 American soldiers in a mass execution. The 1965 movie documented this criminal atrocity. After watching Cappa, Rock, and their men wander around for 80-minutes, we are shown our heroes shot where they are standing without a prayer. Although this sudden reversal of fortune constitutes an indisputable surprise, this kind of unsatisfactory finale that will likely infuriate most traditional World War II moviegoers who were expecting to see more of this landmark battle.

For All Of Your Holiday Presents Give a DVD. Buy Now!

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.