Having said that, this film has been savaged by critics in Germany and abroad. I've read many of the negative reviews, and they don't attack the cinematography or the talent of the actors. The criticism is of the historical accuracy. They say that the whole espionage affair that took place during the flight of the Hindenburg is pure speculation, not based on facts. The critics just don't get it. It isn't supposed to be a documentary of a disaster. It's a work of fiction that just happens to take place at the same time as a historical event. To compare it with "Titanic", which is admittedly a strong influence on this film, nobody complains that Jack Dawson and Rose never existed, even though they were shown dining with Molly Brown, a real person. I think the problem for the critics is that while Jack and Rose were historically insignificant characters, the fiction in "Hindenburg" involves people who would be of high political importance, if they really existed.
Let's get the facts out of the way first. The Hindenburg was the world's largest airship. After making journeys safely for over a year, it burst into flames shortly before landing in New York on May 6th 1937. It was close enough to the ground that people who jumped from the windows survived. While the reason for the fire isn't 100% certain, the most commonly held theory is that it was caused by a gas leak ignited by static electricity. The fire completely destroyed the airship within 37 seconds.
The film has to do with a plot to blow up the Hindenburg. At the risk of giving spoilers, the bomb on board the Hindenburg is found and the ship is saved, so the actual explosion takes place due to the accidental causes of gas leak and static electricity.
Edward Van Zandt owns an American company that produces non-inflammable gas. The Zeppelin company that made the Hindenburg needs this gas, but is unable to buy it due to an American trade embargo against Germany. For this reason they are forced to use inflammable gas. The German government makes a plan to destroy the Hindenburg while it is moored in America to raise public opinion against the embargo. Edward's wife Helen is responsible for making sure the bomb is on the Hindenburg. She flies from Germany to America, secure in the knowledge that the bomb won't explode until a few hours after the landing. Unfortunately the Hindenburg is delayed by bad weather, meaning the bomb will explode while they are still in mid air.
And now for the love triangle. We need one of those! Merten Kröger is one of the engineers responsible for designing the Hindenburg. Shortly before the flight he meets Jennifer Van Zandt, Edward's daughter, obviously out of his league, but he pursues her anyway. Her lover is Fritz Rittenberg, an aristocratic German industrialist, who is also an important member of the Nazi party. Fritz is also involved in the plot to destroy the Hindenburg. Following the "Titanic" formula I just knew there would be a sex scene between Merten and Jennifer before the disaster happened, but I had to wait until late in the film.
I have a warning for my English speaking readers: the Hindenburg DVD released in England and America is a shortened 106 minute version. If you want this film on DVD, buy the original German release, which contains the full 183 minute version, and it includes a dubbed English version. The American Blu-ray release contains the uncut version, but it's extremely expensive.