Rescue Dawn DVD: Review By Dodd

An impressive narrative outing from infamous director Werner Herzog
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
An impressive narrative outing from infamous director Werner Herzog
Not that the film is bad, but it is missing a certain punch that would push it into my Top Ten list of 2007.
If one tried hard enough, they could find at least one commonality in the films of a single director. John Waters, for example, follows the conflict between outsiders versus mainstream norms. Another example is Brett Ratner, whose films are all coincidentally trite and crappy. Then there is the great Werner Herzog. The German filmmaker has dabbled in both fictional film and doc*mentary. But most of this projects tend to focus on a scenery-chewing great man who overcomes all odds to complete an objective or make a point. His most recent fictional film, Rescue Dawn, is actually a follow-up to his prior doc*mentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Even as a narrative film that follows popular actors as opposed to real-life subjects, Herzog proves that he still has it in him to keep his audience invested in that one great man of a character.

It is in the midst of the Vietnam War and American fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) is sent to comb over the Laos area in his plane. Dieter is violently shot down by the enemy and crash lanes in the fields below only to miraculously survive. With enemies sweeping the area in hopes of taking him alive, Dieter is not able to dodge detection for too long before he is captured by soldiers with machine guns. After refusing to betray his own country and sympathize with the enemy, Dieter is taken into the middle of the jungle to a POW camp.

It is here where he becomes one of the gang with a group of regulars. This includes American prisoners who have been imprisoned for years in the compound just waiting for the war to end so they can hopefully be rescued before being mercilessly executed. There is the slightly optimistic Duane (Steve Zahn) who has not groomed, eaten a heart meal, or had dental work in years, and also suffers from dysenteric loose bowels. There is also the American, soft-spoken Gene (Jeremy Davies) who is not so enthusiastic about being released from the camp. Whenever Dieter makes mention of possibly escaping, it is Gene who would prefer snitching on his bunkmates just to save his own hide from death. However, Dieter is a brave individual who will not settle for staying cooped up in a prison camp and suffering from starvation. Utilizing his skills of survival and persuasion, he convinces his fellow inmates to pull together and find freedom outside of the walls of their newfound hell.

Rescue Dawn was marketed as being an old-fashioned action film that is in the vein of The Great Escape, except with more gunplay and explosions. This incorrect marketing may disappoint some fans looking for an adrenaline rush as the film is really a slower-moving look at character and survival. Dieter does manage to come through with an escape plan, but he doesn't do it with the badass confidence of an action star. Instead the film takes a more realistic approach to the way people would really tick in a situation similar to this. When Dieter tells his fellow inmates that he plans to escape, they do not jump on board, each with their own talent to break out. Instead they are hesitant due to their fear of dying, or losing the trust of their captors after so many years of living together. There is also the issue of escape methods. Not everything works every time, and the film addresses these reasons. Even when Dieter manages to pick the locks of his handcuffs like most heroic figures do, Herzog insures that the character stop for a moment to explain, detail-by-detail, the mechanics of lock-picking just to prove that he does not take his audience for granted as passive assumers.

Of course the film does have its fair share of suspense when putting aside the powerful human drama. Indeed this is an escape film, but not with the warm camaraderie of other similar pictures. Once Dieter escapes, the group does not stick together like a cooperative bunch. The suspense is not so much exciting, but terrifying as certain characters must take on the jungles against the enemy lurking in the jungle. There may not be explosive shoot-em-up sequences, but that is there the film succeeds. Werzog is a master at capturing the strengths and flaws of human man. Dieter is not an action hero, but a human being who manages to survive his journey thanks to luck and his God-given skills.

The DVD has a 45-minute doc*mentary that is a rather impressive and comprehensive collection of information pertaining to the film. Viewers have the ability to watch it in its entirety, or to divide it into topical parts. The beginning of the doc*mentary is spent mostly with the talkative Werner Herzog who introduces us to who Dieter was, and his affiliation with the doc*mentary he made on the man. Then the rest of the piece contains interviews with the cast and Herzog as they discuss making the film. There are a lot of stories here about making the film against the strenuous forces of the shooting location. This doc*mentary is extremely entertaining and worth seeing.


Werner Herzog goes solo on this track with the help of an interviewer. The commentary moderator seems to be a new idea on commentary tracks to keep things flowing. However, Herzog, of all people, is in the least need of an interviewer. The man is an adventurous storyteller and never slows down for a second.

Deleted Scenes

There are only three of these with optional commentary from Herzog. These are pretty so-so as most deleted scenes on DVDs tend to be.
Widescreen. Herzog really has a knack for capturing the right moments. In this case, his camera goes into the jungles to capture the filth and horror of a POW camp.
5.1 Dolby Surround. The sound is very accurate for ever situation. Herzog does not feel the need to use composed music when a scene calls for silence to better emphasize the isolation of the jungle.
Once again, I did not receive this DVD in its case. This business of receiving screeners that cannot be properly added to my collection is really starting to get on my nerves.
Rescue Dawn is not one of the best films I have seen this year, but Herzog definitely gets it right as a filmmaker. The story behind Dieter Dengler's escape is intense, and Christian Bale captures the character well. Even the featurettes accompany the film well with a terrific commentary and a lengthy featurette that covers all the bases. If you do not buy this DVD, it should at least be rented.

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