Little Dieter Needs To Fly

Little Dieter Needs To Fly (1997)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog
Extras: Production Notes, Werner Herzog Biography

Dieter Dengler was a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany when a flight of American fighter aircraft swooped down on his quiet Black Forest village and opened fire. One plane flew so low past Dieter’s attic window that he was able to make eye contact with the pilot. Ever since that day all Dieter wanted to do was fly.

But the abject poverty of post-war Germany made it impossible for him to pursue his dream in his homeland so when he turned 18 Dieter Dengler left for the United States with 37 cents in his pocket and very little English under his belt. Arriving in the States, Dieter enlisted in the Air Force where he spent the next few years doing just about everything but working with planes.

After his service was up, Dieter enrolled in college, became a U.S. citizen, and then joined the Navy as an aviator. At last his dream of flight had become reality. But no sooner had Dieter earned his wings than he was sent off to war in Southeast Asia.

On February 1, 1966, Dieter Dengler’s Skyraider was shot out of the sky over North Vietnam and he crash-landed across the border in Laos. There he was taken prisoner, tortured, and finally escaped backed to freedom after a nightmarish month on the run through the jungles of Laos.

"Little Dieter Needs to Fly" is not a typical documentary by any means. Directed by Werner Herzog, Dieter Dengler’s tale is told through a combination of flashbacks, return trips to important locations, and surreal imagery. The narrative moves back and forth between Dieter himself and the director. What is clear is that both Herzog and Dengler shared many similar life experiences and it’s the director’s intimate familiarity with Dieter’s state of mind that makes this film so focused and illuminating.

Be sure to stick around for the end credits as Werner Herzog has added a sad ending to the story. On February 7, 2001, Dieter Dengler succumbed to ALS and this brief postscript offers some footage from his military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. A very moving and sad end to a gripping tale.

The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. The image quality is fairly good with only a few minor imperfections. The picture is a tad soft and has a fine layer of film grain but there are very few physical blemishes on the print and colors are accurate and stable. Some of the stock footage is in worse shape but that is to be expected.

Audio is a solid, if unassuming, <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 mono mix. Dialogue is always clear and the diverse musical score comes across very well. This is, after all, a documentary so a real whiz-bang soundtrack is out of the question.

The only extras on the disc are some in-depth production notes and a biography of Werner Herzog.

"Little Dieter Needs to Fly" is an excellent film that transcends the limits of a typical war hero documentary to become an allegory illustrating the power of dreams. Dieter Dengler’s tale is told through his own dreams — both literal and figurative — and through these insights into one man’s soul Werner Herzog reveals as much about himself and humankind in general as he does about one lone naval aviator.

The new DVD from Anchor Bay offers up solid audio and video quality and fans of Werner Herzog and stories affirming the power of the human spirit will likely find "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" to be a moving and memorable experience.