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Re-Creating The Battle

The Battle for Stalingrad is widely acknowledged as the turning point of World War II, and "the prospect of filming the battle scenes with seven cameras, explosions and hundreds of extras was very scary," producer Schofield recalled. "We had a week in which to .put hundreds of young men, many who had never seen a gun, through very vigorous training. In all honesty we thought most of them wouldn't come back, but they did. They all wanted to be part of the film."

The extras were put through their paces by stunt coordinator Jim Dowdall, who had nothing but praise for his novice soldiers.

"Initially we were working with a very inexperienced crowd of young men who were not aware of the potentially dangerous aspects of re-creating such a battle with multi-camera setups and explosive devices. But they threw themselves into the mud and took hits when they were meant to. They were magnificent. The dash across Red Square was a mad roar, a real rush of adrenaline. I think we really captured the tragic craziness of the whole thing."

The tragedy was that, during the real battle, thousands of young men — many of them unarmed and poorly trained -- were ordered to throw themselves into suicidal attacks against German positions. If they faltered or tried to flee, they risked being shot by Russian security forces blocking their retreat.

An essential support to Dowdall was his crew of stuntmen who led the battle charge across the square. These included a troupe of stunt performers who present live stunt shows as part of the studio tour at the nearby Studio Babelsberg, where the production was based.

Dowdall also trained the actors.

"All the main actors had to go through training in handling weaponry. They were trained in military fashion, starting with the basics, the loading and firing procedures until they became dexterous with their weapons. Jude Law was a fast learner, and Rachel Weisz was even faster. She was brilliant."

Aside from the human element, Dowdall had to contend with a high amount of hardware, which included German and Russian tanks.

"The two main German tanks we used were postwar Swiss army vehicles. They have very updated steering gear and brakes and are beautifully maneuverable, and that made such a difference to us in terms of safety. The hardware we used was very impressive, but it was quite frightening as well."

Another crucial aspect of the film was the costuming, which totaled 17,000 uniforms, all of which had to be specially made.

Costume designer Janty Yates says: "My main brief from Jean-Jacques was that the German and the Russian principal costumes must be different in concept. When you have a sea of brown and green in battle, it makes distinction difficult. Also as everybody had been in battle for months, their clothes had to reflect that, so a key part of the film was the 'breaking down' of the costumes.

"The main challenge has been the authenticity, making it look completely believable, making everything look as if it has been worn for years. For me it's always a bonus if it's a period piece, and this is such a fascinating period."

Principal photography began on location in Germany in November 1999 and was completed in April 2000 with final interior scenes filmed at Studio Babelsberg.


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