Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland Image

It is rare to see a cinematic amalgamation of 1940s war film lingo, 1980s action movie heroics, and the historical reality of one of the most costly battles in world history. This hodgepodge of lightly connected scenes is set against the onset of the Battle of the Bulge and follows a mishmash of fictional characters. Directing himself in the lead role, Steven Luke and his motley crew of miscast bit players (and Tom Berenger) through a slog of almost offensively trite conversations and firefights. While the filmmakers’ fascinations with World War II may be apparent, Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland is a historically inaccurate, overly mannerist tedium through tired genre cliches.

In the winter of 1944, German forces muster to make one last desperate push to turn the tide of the war in Europe. Lieutenant Robert Cappa (Luke) and his battle-hardened platoon have been ordered by Major McCulley (Berenger) to hold a road junction that has specific strategic importance. Though Cappa’s men are drained and need rest, they dig in as the spearhead of the Allied defense, unaware that all hell is about to descend upon them in the thick woods of the Ardennes. At least that is what this film is supposed to be, in theory.

“…they dig in as the spearhead of the Allied defense, unaware that all hell is about to descend…”

Front and center is the overreaching robotic and caricaturistic acting of the entire cast, especially Luke. He relies on default statements of blind flag waving supplemented by Christian plot contrivances to carry an appreciation for his character when there isn’t much character to consider. This Robert Cappa is a fictional character, not to be confused with Robert Capa, a heroic Hungarian photojournalist (which would have made a far more interesting subject), but has little to no characterization beyond the typical whitebred, starry-eyed idealist over here to make the world right. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that kind of character if placed in positions that challenge them in intriguing ways, but as with most American action movie stars of the 1980s, he is a perfect bastion of goodwill, perfect aim, and seeming invincibility to direct hits by bullets (even when standing clearly in the open).

Supporting cast members, like Mikeal Burgin and Apostolos Gliarmis, are there only for the protagonist to have easy opportunities for crazy (yet always effective) heroics, and to spout off 40s-era one-liners (“You crazy son of a bitch!” as the indomitable Cappa rushes an enemy position and takes all soldiers out with singular perfect shots). These performances, coupled with the non-existent continuity (snow will be covering the ground, only to be gone in the very next scene with significantly more foliage in the trees, to then go back again), and endless traveling sequences with no character development make it impossible to take anything that is happening seriously…and the Battle of the Bulge is one of the most serious events in modern history. It’s hard to keep that in your mind when every German soldier can’t even get close to hitting their targets (unless convenient for the plot).  The Americans don’t even have to duck, spraying M1 and Thompson fire almost indiscriminately with barely any kind of recoil or disadvantage (again, unless convenient to pull at heartstrings or plant a seed for a justified vengeance).

“…hard to keep that in your mind when every German soldier can’t even get close to hitting their targets…”

What it appears to have happened is that the filmmakers were inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, yet only took away the continuous meandering sequences with none of either work’s central dynamics or themes. Even with Berenger’s credibility and screen presence, the screenplay makes little use of his talents, while wasting far too much time on our petrified protagonist. With obvious particle computer effects in place of snow, and digitally animated tanks and bullets, the visuals are just appallingly cheap. The Americans are heroes, and there isn’t a solitary moment that the film will let you forget that, with the buffoonery and lackadaisical tactics of the German soldiers to be on par with any classic Schwarzenegger henchmen. The film tries to canonize these characters (by way of The Great Escape), but because of their hyper-dramatic representation and lack of all things accurate to history, it ends up making a mockery of the whole battle. At times I wanted to root for Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland, but it ultimately impresses as a half-baked film school project over a completely realized movie.

Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland (2018) Directed by Steven Luke. Written by Steven Luke. Starring Steven Luke, Tom Berenger, Mikeal Burgin, Aaron Courteau, Casey Sill.

2 out of 10

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  1. K.P. Bolton says:

    I tried twice watching to make sense of this incredible mockery of a battle from history as portrayed on the screen. I served in real life with one of the major Army units (not in this movie) that was involved in this battle (101st Airborne Division while in Vietnam–D/ 2/502nd Infantry). I agree with the reviewer above that this movie seemed very amateurish, lacking in any semblance of real combat. The 2 main light infantry (11B MOS) weapons seen often in this movie are used in an impractical context that gave them the element of surprise and fire superiority to overcome German SS soldiers greater numbers. The M1 Garand (.30 caliber) semi-automatic rifle has an internal magazine within the receiver group in which an 8 round clip is inserted. When the 8 rounds have been expended the empty metal clip is instantly ejected with the bolt locking to the rear so as to insert another clip. The internal spring loaded magazine instantly closes on its own once the new clip has been inserted (if you don’t get your thump out of the way after insertion your thump gets caught between the closing bolt and the chamber–known painfully as an m1 thumb). The point I’m making is this; as in the Private Ryan movie during any battle with soldiers firing their M1s there’s endless ejection of the clips and constant re-insertion of a new clips–remember, the clip only holds 8 rounds. The next US infantry weapon seen in this movie, was the .45 caliber Thompson M1928A1. This submachinegun could fire either semi-or fully automatic with a 30 round external magazine. In this movie, rarely did the operator fire semi- or in short auto burst but instead fired endless long bursts that would empty the magazine in seconds. Never once did I see these soldiers change magazines (because a .45 caliber round is short and thick in diameter compared to lets say a .30 caliber BAR, it was quite time consuming to reload the magazine by hand). In the few instances I saw the use of the BAR, I think the operator did change magazines once in the movie. I thought it really odd when I saw the German SS soldier that the lieutenant let go after his capture had a M26 “lemon” grenade hanging off his LBE instead of a “potato masher” grenade; this despite the movie showing the use of “potato masher” grenades. The M26 “lemon” grenade (first introduced in late 1952 replacing the Mk2 “pineapple” grenade) is what we used in Vietnam before the M67 “baseball” grenade was introduced). It has been said before, how do you make a movie of the December 1945 Battle of the Bulge in which you have scenes without heavy snow. How hard would it have been to shoot the movie in a wintry location. This has to be one of the lowest budget war movies depicting a famous battle.

  2. (MSG) Filip Willems says:

    As a military Battle of the Bulge guide at the WHI Bastogne Barracks I have to say this is the worst movie about this Battle I ever saw, very poor.
    I liked Battleground far more. Score: 2/10

  3. PhilT says:

    ‘Band of Brothers’ managed this much better, and with greater authenticity. Quite what the point of this movie might be is a mystery. Why make it? It had nothing new to say or show. Why, as an investor or distributor, provide it with financial backing? It was never goin g to succeed, even as an overe hyped film school entry at Sundance. Luke reminded me of a young Cassavetes, but it’s only a faint reminder. The set pieces reminded me of each other, one after the other, which was perhaps what things were like at that stage of the conflict. And yet it was all. . . too . . predictable, devoid of tension, and absent the claustrophobic fear with which ‘Band of Brothers’ succeeded in investing its own outdoor sequences. You may be outdoors, but you felt trapped, vulnerable, doomed. As no-one in this movie ever feels trapped or doomed, there’s no need to ask why the Germans stroll blithely into one ambush after another, without ever using point men to recce in advance. Ditto the Americans: the two central characters are so alert to imminent death that they literally stroll straight into a static group of German infantry in the closing stages. Whilst there are elements to admire — the music score, the armourer’s skill, some (but not all) of the cgi, and occasional flashes of direction — the overall impression is of inadequacy all round: the script, the characters, and, in the case of an almost unrecognisable Tom Berenger, the acting.

  4. CRaitt says:

    Some good points. The US MPs they meet might be signpost turning Germans? Red hot PAK round flying silently over a Sherman is the opener for the main attack. The US armour pulls out and aren’t seen for the rest of the film. No air, no artillery support, no comms and both flanks in the air, situation normal. Mortally wounded man the medic can’t help, double shot morphine to kill him peacefully. Ordered to kill an enemy that you captured, then you got captured when he was rescued then he releases you only for him to be captured a second time, look sad but shoot him. Replacements, don’t bother to learn their names till they’ve survived a battle. A lot goes unsaid bar the soldiers sour expressions. A Hetzer, Pz IV H, Sdkfz251 spotted. Based partially on the battle of Lanzerath Ridge. Not your regular plot, no love interest, the heroes all surrender and get murdered at the end.

  5. Ursula says:

    This is another film where the facts are changed .Where the German Army gets shown as kindergarten army. But I can say this 3out 6 of my family went to war my uncle was there if he could see this he would have a lot to day but nothing good.not worse watching .

  6. Kevin F. says:

    This was one of the worst films ever made. Fake snow fall, blind germans that evidently can’t see very poorly hidden American troops, and horrible dialogue. I’m disappointed that an accomplished actor like Tom Berenger was a part of this fiasco.

  7. Thomas McKillip says:

    Is this going to be another one where it left off

  8. Some day I would like to add my own fathers story, (501st of the 101st D-day, Holland and Bastogne) His words and memories to a movie. Not about him but part of a larger story. I would not want it to become part of a cheesy film and that’s hard to follow but worth a historic watch.

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