I enjoy rooting out obscure war movies, especially World War 2 ones. The Winter War is a Finnish war movie that came out in 1989 or more specifically, a TV series in vein of Band of Brothers or Das Boot. A big deal for the Finns I’m sure since it was one of the most seminal events in their history. I caught the short version of this movie once years ago. I’d been holding out for the full TV series but apparently we’re never going to get that with English subtitles, so now that the director’s cut has been remastered and put on Blu-Ray, it was a no brainer to import it.
This is one of the lesser appreciated fronts of WW2. And I understand why. No-one wants to talk about how Finland had to ask for help and receive practically no reply, after they were invaded by the Soviet Union in an act of bald-faced aggression. America took a de-facto policy of neutrality (this is odd given how the American then sent millions of tons of materiel to the USSR as it invaded other countries) and Finland’s neighbours refused a corridor potential troops from the likes of France.
So the Finns had to rely on tactical ingenuity, from hit and run tactics holding down entire Soviet divisions all the way down to ramming a crowbar into the treads of tanks. The Winter War was a nasty business, I mean the most savage artillery per square KM since the height of WW2 took placed on Finnish soil and actually that’s something that’s represented in this movie — probably no other war movie in existence has such an indefatigable onslaught of artillery hissing booming throughout. And while the Finns did have to cede land, they left the USSR with a bloody nose and they (the Finns) gave their neighbours some relief.
This movie follows the tried and tested formula of following a platoon and seeing the war through their eyes and how one by one, the guys we see at the start of the movie are killed off before the end credits roll. In terms of feel and direction, I’d put it closer to Stalingrad (1993) than, say, Saving Private Ryan (1998), not quite as gritty as Steven Spielberg’s washed-out palette style change in the genre, but it pulls no punches. I mean, one scene where a man is hit by artillery then found by his comrade is especially jarring with brilliant practical effects recreating a body blown into three heavy pieces.
I’ve been reading about this war lately as well as watching a documentary on it. There’s a lot less discussion about Finland’s war with the USSR in its entirety and only the opening phase of 1939-1940. Eloise Engle’s book stops at the first cessation of hostilities, so does the well researched Battlefield documentary from 2002. So does this movie. But the war resumed a year later, with Finland counter attacking and heading into the USSR proper to get medieval, with better weapons. While the first part of the war lasted three months, this part lasted three years. Perhaps its because Germany came to Finland’s assistance that this ’round 2′ is less spoken of in contemporary media?
I don’t know, but this was a fun and interesting movie. Over three hours and a lot of accurate weaponry and hardware. If you don’t mind subtitles, check it out. If you speak German, you should check it out too because it has a German dub track.
The movie has been remastered on Blu-Ray, I imported the director’s cut version from Germany. It’s sad that on Googling this, The Winter War 4K remaster, I seem to be getting more about a ‘Huntsman’ on 4K Blu-Ray, some girlie man bullshit starring Chris Hemsworth! Damnit, this movie seems to be buried. So if you’re looking for it you might want to search for Winterkrieg, the German title for it. There are also two releases, the theatrical cut and the director’s cut, so don’t make a mistake I made and think that there’s only one (the 3 hour+) version. The director’s cut is distinguished by its nice snow-white packaging.
I can’t compare this remaster to a previous release but it looks quite strong. Strong to excellent would be my surmise. The movie when I first watched it all those years ago looked somewhat pale in some scenes and a little too dark and murky in others. This remaster seems to iron these issues out, now interior shots hold strong detail and contrast and exterior shots aren’t washed out. There’s a lot of grain for this movie although sometimes it can become a bit intrusive during those interior bunker scenes, to my eyes. But there’s a sharpness behind it so that counts as a positive.
As stated this movie is the 197 minute director’s cut, it comes with original Finnish audio and a German dub, along with German and English subtitles. Although the English subs can slip up from time to time, they are 99% fluent and won’t bother anyone using them. There is also a lot of artillery thrown around in this movie and a good surround system will make use of the whizzing sounds overhead and the thuds through the sub. At over three hours, be prepared to keep someone in your house awake with this stuff.
The release also comes with an interview with Dr. Agilolf Kesselring, military historian a trailer and two other smaller features. But none of these have English subtitles, which was a bit of a negative for me. That said overall the real meat and potatoes is good, the full remaster itself is something you’re going to need if you’re familiar with this movie and haven’t been aware that it was released this year in this way.