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Several movies have been made about the crucial 1942 World War II battle of Stalingrad, including the international coproduction “Enemy at the Gates” (2001) and the German “Stalingrad” (1993).

This is the first 3D IMAX version, though the most striking visual effect is the English subtitles, which leap out at you and never lose their immediacy. The rest of the movie is less effective.

Although the narration-heavy script insists that Stalingrad was the “bloodiest battle in human history,” it neither justifies this claim nor demonstrates how or why the Russians won.

At times it seems to be suggesting that the Nazis were busy fighting lice, dreaming of invading India and incinerating Jews rather than defending themselves; at others it’s hinting that both sides were too caught up in twisted love affairs. One sequence begins with an apparently sarcastic chapter heading, “Hitler the Liberator,” then fails to follow up.

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“Stalingrad” was directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk, whose father, Sergey Bondarchuk, directed the Oscar-winning 1960s version of “War and Peace.” His hand tends to feel heavy, especially when he’s celebrating young love in wartime (shades of — ugh — “Pearl Harbor”), but the actors sometimes work wonders.

Thomas Kretschmann, the German piano lover in Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” is as charismatic as ever as a conflicted German officer. But perhaps only Bondarchuk can explain a bizarre prologue that compares a man-made battle to a volcanic force of nature.

John Hartl:

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