DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD Pick: Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn sees director Werner Herzog revisit the story of Dieter Dengler with Christian Bale in the lead role.

Herzog is one of the true mavericks still working in cinema and over 40 years since his first film, it is heartening to see him still active.

The success in 2005 of his brilliant documentary Grizzly Man not only introduced new audiences to his marvellous back catalogue, but also afforded him the opportunity to make a more mainstream film with a high profile star.

Although the making of Rescue Dawn was filled with the storm and stress that has been a hallmark of Herzog’s productions, it was probably his most accessible film in years, despite the fact that it didn’t really set the box office on fire.

The story of Dieter Dengler was one familiar to the director as he had made the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly about the German-born US fighter pilot for German TV back in 1997.

Dengler managed to overcome extreme poverty during his childhood in Germany and when he emigrated to the US, joined the army.

Achieving his dream of becoming a pilot, he was then shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam war. He was a POW for several months before somehow managing to escape after an epic struggle through the jungle.

Although on the surface Rescue Dawn is a more straightforward retelling of Dengler’s story, it has much in common with the themes of Herzog’s work, notably that of man struggling against the odds in a hostile world.

Unlike many films set in the Vietnam War, it eschews any wider political context, focusing on the human struggle of Dengler and his will to survive against incredible odds.

On first viewing, some aspects may puzzle fans of Herzog’s earlier work (in particular the final shot) but much of the power of the film comes from the lack of irony and melodrama that has plagued war films.

The DVD has a good selection of extras that includes:

  • Audio commentary by director Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill
  • Making of Featurette: Unfinished Business: Telling Dieterโ€™s Story (4 mins 18 secs); Strength of Character (9 mins 15 secs); War Stories (23 mins 51 secs); What Would Dieter Do? (6 mins 44 secs); Sound of War (9 mins 18 secs)
  • 7 deleted scenes with a good commentary by Werner Herzog and interviewer Norman Hill (5 mins 36 secs)
  • Stills gallery
  • Theatrical trailer

If you haven’t seen Little Dieter Needs to Fly, then it is essntial viewing for anyone interested in this film or Herzog’s documentaries. It fills in a lot of Dengler’s backstory and it would actually make an excellent 2nd disc extra for a future edition of this DVD.

> Buy Rescue Dawn on DVD from Amazon UK
> Listen to our interview with Werner Herzog about Rescue Dawn
> A long and interesting profile of Herzog in The New Yorker by Daniel Zalewski that details the difficulties in making Rescue Dawn
> Official site of Werner Herzog
> Check out reviews of Rescue Dawn at Metacritic
> Find out more about Herzogโ€™s career at the All Movie Guide
> A lengthy Senses of Cinema essay on Herzog by David Church
> See Werner get shot at during a BBC interview with Mark Kermode
> A collection of photos from the set of Rescue Dawn on Flickr
> Find out more about Dieter Dengler at Wikipedia
> Buy Little Dieter Needs to Fly at Amazon UK