What To Do In Case Of Fire

What To Do In Case Of Fire (2002)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Til Schweiger, Klaus Löwitsch, Nadja Uhl
Extras: Bonus Trialers

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has a number of international titles in their library and so once in a while we get to see some great foreign films on DVD – through the presentation quality of those international films is oftentimes unpredictable. Fortunately, being a brand-new German production "Was tun, wenn’s brennt?" is presented in a sparkling version on this DVD.

During the 80s, in some of the metropolitan cities like Berlin and Hamburg, social issues boiled over quite frequently. Rows of old apartment buildings that had been dilapidating over the years were the target of modernization. They were scheduled for tear-down to make room for new apartment complexes that would create much higher rental profits for their owners. Well, certain people did not like that way of commercial thinking and almost anarchic groups began fighting the proletariat, settling in those empty buildings to prevent the tear-downs. That’s the backdrop for "What To Do In Case Of Fire" where we witness one such group of house-squatters, Group 36, doing their thing in the heart of Berlin. They were militant and subversive, targeting everything and everyone who they considered materialistic to the point that they bomb wealthy people’s houses for the sake of it. But one of their bombs doesn’t go off.

Fast-forward 12-years. The bomb still hasn’t exploded and it hasn’t been discovered either because the mansion in which it was placed had been abandoned for all these years. When a potential buyer takes a look around the building he sets off the bomb and with it a police investigation. Suddenly the members of Group 36, most of whom now lead very different lives, find their existence threatened by the system once again. They know that before long the authorities will identify the bomb as theirs, and them with it. They have to do something… but what?

Immediately striking is the look of "What To Do In Case Of Fire" as you will notice. Using Berlin as its setting, the film’s backdrop offers a harsh quality, especially when it takes you into the run-down neighborhoods where anarchic graffiti still graces the walls and calls for lawlessness – a relict of a time long gone. At the same time it shows us a high tech world with designer offices and brand new Mercedes Benzes lined up in the parking lots. And to make its point, the film shows us the characters moving between those different worlds, like shadows oftentimes, subverting the status quo. Especially the parking lot scene in which Tim is ripping of the stars of every Mercedes he’s passing is so meaningful in that respect.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment brings us "What To Do In Case Of Fire" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD in the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is absolutely clean and clear and the transfer reveals very good definition. Colors are nicely reproduced with very faithful skin tones and overall good color-balance. Blacks are deep and solid adding to the natural look of the presentation. No notable edge-enhancement is visible and compression has also been applied carefully without distracting artifacts.

The German <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track is also of top-notch quality with very good surround usage and a clear integration that is free of distortion. The frequency response is wide with good basses and clear high ends. Dialogues are well integrated and never sound harsh or artificial. The dialogue is firmly placed in the front and never drowned out by the punk rock music that accompanies the film. The movie makes good use of the surround channels and engulf the viewer in a sea of noises at times, while creating a subtle ambiance at others.

No extras can be found on this disc other than a few trailers for other films.

"What To Do In Case Of Fire" is a refreshing film that has a very different look and feel than our everyday Hollywood fare – though just as formulaic in many ways. Starring a great cast the film is entertaining and thought-provoking. While the movie lacks some background information – which clearly targets it at the German marketplace where its socio-political background is universally known and understood – I think it still a film of interest for American audiences. While ultimately the ambitions of groups like Group 36 were laudable, their means were oftentimes out of control in their violent youthful outpour. In a humorously tragic sense, the film shows us how we all change, how we give up ideals and how we try to find our place to society – one way or another. The movie is a nice snapshot of a period in Germany where Punk was a way of life and not a fad. Not necessarily a good one, but a way nonetheless.