A Brief History
On November 9, 2018, the new blockbuster science fiction/action adventure film Overlord makes its US opening in theaters across the country. Featuring US paratroopers vs. the German Army in France on the eve of D-Day, the film shows a surprising blend of realistic action scenes compounded by evil German experiments with enhancing the fighting ability of soldiers (a real life avenue of scientific interest during World War II and since) and German experiments into the reanimation of corpses to be used as super soldiers (not a real life scientific avenue, that we know of!). We expected the movie to be campy and cartoonish in a spoof sort of way, sort of like Uwe Boll’s 2011 Blubberella or the 2007 made for television movie Reign of the Gargoyles. Far from these other World War II sci-fi efforts, Overlord is much more serious with a high level of tension and excitement.
Critics and nit pickers may bemoan the historical inaccuracies in the film, and we remind them, THIS FILM IS NOT A DOCUMENTARY! Overlord is a fictional film and takes its just poetic/artistic license. That being said, the early part of the movie depicting the transport of American paratroopers to make a pre-D-Day jump into German occupied France to perform a vital mission is pretty realistic, graphic, and provides chills and thrills as the C-47 transport planes come under intense anti-aircraft fire. This portion of the movie is realistic and terrifying. Special effects are excellent and the eye candy is graphic. Later, the combat scenes and fight scenes are likewise well depicted and graphic. Lots of shooting and explosions, which is coincidentally something we like. A lot.
Some of the plot is formulaic and predictable in the Hollywood framework of typical plots and characters, but the casting and acting are both good. The main American characters, Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell, the son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, film credentials as far back as 1996) and Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo, an African-English relative newcomer to Hollywood) play exceptionally good roles in their assigned slots. Russell has an unrealistic shaggy hair style and 3 days growth of beard that is out of place on a June 5-6, 1944 military operation, but this is part of the normal suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy any movie other than a documentary, especially a science fiction film. The fact that Adepo and some other actors portraying American Army combat personnel happen to be Black (of African heritage) has been criticized as well, but in this particular film we were surprised to find that aspect of the casting was not a distraction in the least. Probably because of being conditioned by recent decades normalization of the integrated US military we do not believe American audiences will find any particular distraction due to the casting choice. (As producer JJ Abrams points out, even though the US Army did not have Black paratroopers in 1944, the German army did not have zombies, either.)
The other main character is Chloe, played by Mathilde Ollivier of whom we are unfamiliar. Her work in Overlord is excellent, and we expect to see her often in the future. Chloe is a French woman that assists the American paratroopers in achieving the goals of their mission in the face of terrible oppression by the Nazi Germans that occupy her town. That brings up the Germans. The main German army character is Dr. Wafner, the evil villain played by Pilou Asbæk, a Danish actor who recently transitioned from European movies to Hollywood. His sneering, bloodthirsty and borderline psychopathic personality is sure to raise some objections from people of German descent, but like other movie monsters, Nazi’s are not normally portrayed sympathetically by Hollywood. In fact, the other German soldiers and scientists portrayed in Overlord are also portrayed as evil, amoral creeps out to sneeringly oppress the Untermensch French and Americans. In fact, the German soldiers are portrayed as not even nice to children!
Not really a spoiler, the plot revolves around American paratroopers trying to destroy a pre-D-Day target that happens to be co-located with a secret German scientific facility in which the evil German scientists are trying to develop some sort of serum that can revive dead people and turn them into super-soldiers. The resultant “zombies” are pretty frightening, nothing like the shambling moronic zombies of Night of the Living Dead or The Walking Dead. The zombies in Overlord are much more sentient and much more capable, resulting in their being much more frightening.
The moderate running time of 110 minutes seems much shorter due to a high pace of action throughout the film, though plenty of dead time. (Pun intended.) Sure, the American soldiers talking and walking in a highly dangerous occupied France (just like Saving Private Ryan, 1998) is ridiculous, but if the soldiers had been portrayed remaining virtually silent and well spread out the film would necessarily drag unacceptably. The conventional weapon combat scenes are actually pretty realistic looking, much better than usual. The hand to hand fight scenes are also quite good, and the zombie fight scenes are better than the normal zombie fight scenes. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by Overlord, getting a highly entertaining and attention holding movie when we expected a cartoonish half comedy. (Note: there is no particular comedy in Overlord.) Rated R for the violence and graphic scenes, Overlord is a serious horror movie meant to raise your level of tension and horror. Young children may well be left at home for this one, although kids that tolerate horror well maybe okay with parental discretion. (No particularly graphic sex scenes.) Overlord is for fans of horror films and science fiction films, not aficionados of World War II, although aspects of the movie would definitely appeal to those interested in the historical aspect of the era.
We definitely liked Overlord, ranking it along with The Girl in the Spider’s Web as tied for our favorite movies of 2018. We strongly recommend Overlord for almost all audiences. Enjoy!
Questions for students: Have you seen any other films about D-Day? Also, are you planning on seeing this movie?
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For more information, please see…
Ambrose, Stephen. D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. Simon & Schuster, 2013.
Jenkins, Ryan. World War 2: Soldier Stories VIII: True Airborne Stories of the US Paratroopers, from D-Day to Operation Market Garden. Success First Publishing, 2014.
Luckhurst, Roger. Zombies: A Cultural History. Reaktion Books, 2016.
For more information about this film, please see Overlord‘s official website at https://www.paramount.com/movies/overlord.
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