The 1970 movie “Waterloo” was one of the most intricately filmed war movies of all time. A story about Napoleon’s famous last stand could not be told accurately without battle scenes on a grand scale. But these were the days before CGI and other computer wizardry, so Dino De Laurentiis had to get the extras — lots of them.
To save on production costs, necessary to build everything seen in the movies – from palaces to artillery – De Laurentiis decided to film the movie in the Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War. The USSR agreed to allow the filming of the movie in Ukraine and also gave access to Soviet men and equipment. The Red Army offered up some 16,000 men to the filmmakers, along with honest-to-Lenin cavalry and civil engineers. The civil engineers recreated the entire Waterloo battlefield, including roads, thousands of trees, and Belgian farmhouses. They even bulldozed a few hills, cultivated rye, barley, and wildflower fields, and piped in water via an irrigation system to recreate the mud of the battlefield.
Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk housed the troops in tents near the battlefield and trained them in the infantry tactics and weapons of the time, 1815. The men were able to grow their facial hair and live like Napoleonic-era troops. They were more than just glorified battle re-enactors, they became bona fide Napoleonic Warriors, learning drills as well as saber and bayonet tactics.
The total price tag of the film came to a whopping $40 million – $247 million adjusted for inflation. The resulting battle scenes are worth every penny. Aside from a few anachronisms, the battles are epic depictions of the French Empereur’s last 100 days.
Take that, Peter Jackson.