Hitler: The Rise of Evil Review
The young sensitive Adolf grows up with quite a penchant for art but finds little acceptance in the Viennese art school and ends up homeless until the first world war thrusts him into the trenches where he miraculously survives many mortar and chemical attacks. Though failing to impress his superiors, he is still retained at the end of the war as a informant on various political groupings operating within Munich. With the fear of revolution gripping the beleaguered nation, most political groups are seen with great suspicion by the authorities but Hitler finds some common ground with the nationalistic German Worker's Party and finds in himself the talent of an electrifying speaker.
Robert Merle in his fictive biography of the commander of Auschwitz told us that just labelling him as evil sidesteps any attempt to comprehend what happened and it can be argued that Hitler: RoE fails to do that at all - even the title sets out the point of view taken. Shown as a two part TV drama, the film follows Hitler, imaginatively played by Robert Carlyle, from his childhood until Hindenburg's death and his accession to absolute power but is too embroiled in the strangeness and nastiness of the character to take a wider view or attempt to analyse what is going on in his head; the economic effects of the Versailles Treaty, for example, are portrayed only through Hitler's words making the less historically-minded viewer wonder if he was just whipping up a frenzy out of nothing.
Visually, it's quite obvious that CBS poured an awful lot of money into this production - the costumes and the set design look incredibly good for a TV venture and the cinematography is agile and fluid. Though the cast is not really A-list, there's plenty of talent to make the film work, and the film flows evenly throughout its three hour running time. Historically, the script does make some strange choices, erasing some very important characters and groups (Himmler or the SS seem completely absent) and has to bend some facts to create some dramatic tension but generally sticks to the facts. Also the choice of filming this entirely in English was economically inevitable but the violence of Hitler's speech delivery seems to be lost in translation despite Carlyle's best efforts. Compared to 1989's The Nightmare Years, an outstanding TV adaptation of William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (not available on DVD), Hitler seems by far the less impressive of the two, though comparing the two may be a little unfair given their slightly different focuses.
None of this should take away from the fact that the film is supported by some excellent performances from the cast - casting Carlyle as Hitler was probably not obvious but for all purposes, it works out relatively well. The rest of the cast put in convincing performances though Peter O'Toole's minimal performance is ill-served by the costume assistant putting him a suit 5 sizes too big and padding it up with paper! Generally, the film stands up perfectly well despite its various flaws and should prove to be more than watchable to most - just don't watch it expecting it to be completely accurate or a deep analysis of what happened.
Filmed in widescreen, we get an anamorphic transfer that reveals few print marks or blemishes. There is some grain apparent on close inspection but nothing that noticeable to the naked eye. The colour scheme is generally quite monochromatic with some outbursts of red and this is well rendered in the transfer. The blacks do at times seem a little unstable but generally they hold up quite well.
Unusually for a TV production, we get a 5.1 mix which is the sole sound option. The war scenes make good use of the surrounds and sub-woofer but the rest of the film tends to solely use the surrounds for ambiance noises (music, crowds). Still it's a good mix with most of the dialogue clearly in the centre and exhibits no major flaws.
Given the topic, it's a shame that there wasn't a greater effort to have some historical tie-in like we had on The Quiet American or Palestine, Palestine - all we get is a rather hyperbolic trailer focusing mostly on telling us how many awards each member of cast has won.
Though far from being perfect, Hitler: RoE is a decent TV production that it quite watchable. The DVD, though bereft of real extras, provides a good image and very good sound and will be released on 20th October.