Wed, 13 Nov 2019

Overlord (2018)

Director: Julius Avery
Screenplay: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith (story by Billy Ray)
Stars: Jovan Adepo (Boyce), Wyatt Russell (Ford), Mathilde Ollivier (Chloe), Pilou Asbk (Wafner), John Magaro (Tibbet), Iain De Caestecker (Chase), Jacob Anderson (Dawson), Dominic Applewhite (Rosenfeld), Gianny Taufer (Paul), Joseph Quinn (Grunauer), Bokeem Woodbine (Rensin), Erich Redman (Dr. Schmidt)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2018
Country: U.S.
Overlord 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Download

Overlord

At the 1975 Berlin Film Festival, the Silver Bear (the festival's highest award) was shared by Stuart Cooper's Overlord, a war drama that was a remarkable combination of archival documentary footage from World War II (culled from hundreds of hours) and a fictional narrative tracing the path of a young British soldier from his home to the beaches at Normandy. Produced as a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of D-Day, Cooper's film is simultaneously a realistic portrait of warfare and a poetic evocation of loss in which some of the most emotionally transcendent moments transpire in the realm of dreams.

The J.J. Abrams-produced Overlord, despite also being set during World War II and sharing the same title (which refers to the code name for the Allied invasion of Europe), has absolutely nothing to do with Cooper's film-quite the opposite, in fact. Instead, it is a gory throwback to '70s Nazispolitation films, although it doesn't have the conviction to truly follow through in its homage to that particularly sleazy strain of European trash cinema. The Third Reich left behind a particularly horrendous legacy of medical and experimental horrors that could be cinematically exploited for uniquely grisly effect, and the '70s were awash in such low-brow efforts, most of which were sexually explicit romps like Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. (1975) and Salon Kitty (1976). Late in the decade, low-budget American horror director Ken Wiederhorn introduced the idea of undead Nazis super-soldiers in Shock Waves (1977), an idea that took hold and has been recycled numerous times ever since.

That is essentially the gist of Overlord, which opens in a U.S. bomber flying toward France as part of the coordinated Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. We are quickly introduced to a handful of soldiers-sensitive fresh-out-of-boot-camp private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), hardened munitions expert Ford (Wyatt Russell, who shares a strong resemblance to his father, actor Kurt Russell), Bronx wiseacre Tibbet (John Magaro), and awkward photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker)-before crashing them in the forest of rural France in the middle of the night. Their objective is to take out a radio tower at the top of a church that overlooks a small village, but that plan is temporarily sidetracked by their discovery of some particularly nefarious Nazi scientific experiments involving a serum that resurrects corpses as super-powerful (and super-out-of-control) 1,000-year warriors. The experiments are overseen by your standard-issue bespectacled Nazi doctor in a white coat (Erich Redman) and a sadistic SS officer named Wafner (Pilou Asbk). The U.S. soldiers are aided by Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a young woman from the village whose parents were killed by the Nazis and whose aunt was subject to their experiments (she has a precocious 8-year-old brother to protect).

The screenplay by Billy Ray (The Last Tycoon) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) borrows the Nazi zombie soldier concept from Shock Waves and embeds it in a combat film that director Julius Avery treats with Saving Private Ryan-level seriousness. This produces something of a schizophrenic viewing experience, as the war-related sequences have a grim sense of intensity that is then radically counterbalanced by the gleeful absurdity of the story's horror elements. Avery, an Australian director whose feature debut was the little-seen crime drama Son of a Gun (2014) with Ewan McGregor, has a good sense of how to manage both the film's action and its horrors, although he never finds a way to make the two truly mesh. There is a plenty of gory fun to be had if that's your thing, but Overlord never really makes good on its premise or its potential to be something in genuinely bad taste.

Overlord 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Download
Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio

  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
    Supplements

  • The Horrors of War six-part making-of documentary
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateFebruary 19, 2019

    COMMENTS
    Overlord was shot entirely on HD digital cameras, and Paramount's 4K presentation is frequently spectacular. However the film is lacking in terms of character and story, the imagery and the production design are consistently top-notch, and the ultra high-definition presentation really shows them off. From the nuanced details of the costumes to the realistic gore, Overlord is a film that definitely benefits from the increased resolution. Detail is superb throughout and the image is crisp and sharp, which in some ways works against the tone of the film and its homage to '70s Euro sleaze, which definitely looked softer. Contrast is impressive, especially in the dark forest and the dank bowels of the Nazi experimentation center. The Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack is even more impressive, with a robust low end and an aggressive use of the surrounds to deeply immerse us in the horrors of combat and Nazi zombies. The only supplement is a thorough 51-minute making-of documentary titled The Horrors of War. Divided into six featurettes-"Creation," "Death Above," "Death on the Ground," "Death Below," "Death No More," and "Brothers in Arms"-it includes interviews with director Julius Avery, executive producers J.J. Abrams and Jon Cohen, producer Lindsey Weber, screenwriter Mark L. Smith, production designer Jon Henson, supervising art director Grant Armstrong, stunt coordinator Jo McLaren, military trainer Freddie Farnsworth, and actors Wyatt Russell, Jovan Adepo, Jacob Anderson, Bokeem Woodbine, John Magaro, Pilou Asbk, and Dominic Applewhite, among others. The various featurettes cover virtually every aspect of the film imaginable, from script development, to the details of production (such as determining the gauge of the netting on the soldiers' helmets), to the extensive CGI effects. Fans of the film will definitely be pleased by both the depth and the breadth of the coverage here.

    Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

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