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Film Review: World War Three (1998)

English Title: World War Three

German Title: Der Dritte Weltkrieg (lit. The Third World War)

Director(s): Robert Stone

Screenwriter(s): Robert Stone & Ingo Helm

Studio: Cinecentrum

Released: 1998

Runtime: 1h 33m

Starring: David McCallum (narrator), Boris Sichkin, Boris Leskin, Klaus Schleif, Christopher Wynkoop


World War Three (1998)

World War Three is a German alternative-history pseudo-documentary film that is amusing and entertaining without trivializing the subject matter or turning it into some sort of cheesy fear porn. There is a German version and an English version which are fundamentally the same with minor differences.


The film begins with a “cold start” in which the US and USSR are launching nuclear strikes. The narrative then shifts to “nine months earlier”, late 1989, telling the events that lead up to the nuclear exchange.


The USSR is going through political and economic crises. Some wish to “turn back the clock” whilst General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev is open to change. Meanwhile, the East German population’s discontent with hardline communist rule is growing with many making their way to the West.


From there, the situation deteriorates, though not as rapidly as some may predict. Thankfully, this is not some silly production in which the narrative jumps into mindless military action at the 15-minute mark. The West and USSR play their game of one-upmanship, of one sort of salami tactic or another. The structure is nonetheless tight and the pacing is fast.


For example, before the 10-minute mark, Gorbachev resigns from office due to “ill health” with (fictional) hardliner General Vladimir Soshkin (Boris Sichkin) taking over in a coup. Eventually, it does escalate to a full-scale conventional war between NATO and the USSR.


Many of the events are obviously allusions to history, which makes the narrative recognizable and plausible. No doubt this is also a practical decision as any file footage of interviews and speeches used cannot be for something totally different. In these respects, the writing is clever.


On balance, the film makes good use of file footage—such as news, interviews, speeches and military exercises—by seamlessly editing and blending them with original footage such as interviews, thereby cleverly twisting the file footage out of its original context to fit this story.


Boris Sichkin as General Vladimir Soshkin, Boris Leskin as former Soviet Foreign Minister Yuri Rubanov and Klaus Schleif as East German Army Colonel Wolfgang Hecker give good performances, and David McCallum is a perfect cast as the English-speaking narrator. Most of the other performances are good, although some are below par but not to the point that it ruins the work.


The film is serious, it is not satire. But, as already mentioned, it is not so serious that it becomes fear porn nor does it become some pretentiously dark anti-war film. The references to history (and, to a degree, current events) are recognizable so it is intriguing and draws in the audience.


It has an obvious distaste for communism, and rightly so, but it is arguable whether it is pro-West “propaganda”. Its criticisms of the West are relatively subtle at times. For example, Christopher Wynkoop plays US National Security Advisor Martin Jacobs as the stereotypical arrogant Amercian, which Wynkoop overdoes, presumably as directed. Soshkin is presented as inaccessible to Western media and his interview is presented in an unflattering manner, not entirely dissimilar to the recent interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin. There is even the public outcry against the British insistence on deploying its forces to West Germany to counter the Soviets.


Indeed, the entire film uses Western media footage and is presented as a Western documentary in such a way that admits Western media is a form of propaganda against everyone else.


Perhaps the only real weakness is that as the film imitates a mainstream documentary, it does not delve into the deeper layers of political and economic control or the conspiratorial view of history.


There can certainly be more criticisms of all parties and whilst it need not extensively delve into the conspiratorial view of history for it to be a decent film, a few hints of it would improve the work tremendously. Either way, whilst it could be argued that the film is somewhat shallow (which isn’t necessarily bad), it is nonetheless amusing.

 

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