U-571 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (20th September 2008).
The Film

"Das Boot" (1981) is probably the greatest submarine war film ever made, it's ability to sink (pun intended) viewers into the world of underwater warfare is unparalleled and the characters were all interesting and relatable (even though they were Nazis). "U-571" tries very hard to be like "Das Boot" but never quite reaches those heights set by its German counterpart. The problem here is that "U-571" plays out more like a propaganda piece about the US Navy's heroes, ironic since it was the Germans so proficient in that tactic during the war. Furthermore the film is historically inaccurate, so for war buffs there's a huge bone to pick in that sense. While it has its problems, "U-571" certainly doesn't fail to entertain, the acting is fairly good, the action scenes are well shot and the tension built by the crew stuck inside the narrow shell that is a U-boat is ample and the film is shot well with a tone and style that puts viewers inside the wet and dingy environments of the crew.

"U-571" tells the story of a US Navy crew sent out to intercept a damaged U-boat, disguised as Germans they find the boat, intercept and successfully take it over, but during the mission their own sub is torpedoed and now the crew are stuck in a German U-boat trying to find their way home with the Enigma code machine. That's basically the plot of the film. Simplicity is a rarity these days in action/war films, often plot lines get convoluted and unnecessary sub-plots are explored. "U-571" doesn't suffer from this, which makes it easy to watch. Furthermore the cast's performances are all adequate, and to my shock Matthew McConaughey kept his shirt on! How crazy is that? There's no real stand-outs here, no scene stealers. Although I thought Bill Paxton and Thomas Kretschmann (Who seems type-cast into playing Nazis) were both underused. If there was one weak link among the cast it's Harvey Keitel as the Chief, he's far too old to be a member of this crew and not be the Captain, his performance was minimal and served as a sort of father figure-type dispensing advice to McConaughey. Paxton and Keitel should have reversed roles.

The film's pace and action scenes all add to the film's watchability, for a World War II film it moves at a rather quick pace moving the story and the audience along, so it's never boring. The film's action is rather exciting but as far as the sub-genre goes (submarine movie) there's nothing new here, we get all the staples: cramped crew workspaces, intense military dialogue that moves at a fast pace, underwater warfare, evading capture or destruction from depths charges, submerging farther than the sub was built for (add tension here)...etc. In order to make this film stand out it would have been necessary for director Jonathan Mostow to have developed the characters and focused more on them, but then it would cease to be a mainstream action/war film and be a character piece a with more Independent Film spirit, something I'm sure Universal didn't want.

The filmmaker's also tiptoed around the facts, the film depicts Americans capturing the Enigma machine when in actual fact the British Navy were the first to do so, and they did it before the US joined the war. Upon release of the film this cause some outrage in Britain and claimed that Hollywood was trying to claim the credit for these events, as a result you'll see some captions before the end credits role detailing the Royal Navy's achievements.

"U-571" may not be a perfect film, and it may not hold a candle to "Das Boot" but it's still an entertaining yarn, even if it is historically inaccurate (claiming that the US Navy was responsible for capturing the Enigma feels like a bunch of propaganda), is occasionally gung-ho, and doesn't offer anything new in terms of the genre.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and delivered on Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been created using VC-1 compression. This is the same transfer used on the now deleted HD-DVD release. "U-571" has had some fairly solid transfers across al formats and this HD presentation is no different. The film's sharpness is excellent, detail holds up well right down to intricate details, just check out the wide vistas shot on the ocean look magnificent. The majority of the film is fairly dark and set amid the confines of the U-boat, in this case depth is well presented, black levels are bold and colors feel natural, especially skin tones. I found no flaws in this transfer and presents the film incredibly well.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 presented at 48kHz/24-bit, as well as tracks in French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD track. Equally impressive as the image is the aggressive and punchy audio track. Dialogue is nice and clear, but it's the tacks ambience and aggression that wins the day. The environmental surrounds place viewers right in the U-boat in a intricate mix balancing all speakers in the sound field. The action scenes virtually explode off the screen and comes across with a powerful impact. Finally the film's music score soars through the sound field and doesn't really overwhelm dialogue, although there are occasional moments were the music was a bit overused.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal Pictures has released this disc with an audio commentary and a Picture-in-Picture commentary, below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length screen specific audio commentary with director Jonathan Mostow. Mostow gingerly glosses over the film's production covering various aspects including the casting and working with the ensemble, setting up the various scenes including shooting the action elements. Mostow starts the track with a decent amount of information but as the track progresses there are continuous gaps and he seems to loose steam. The track could have benefitted with the inclusion of other participants.

Also featured on this is a "U-Control" feature, a Picture-in-Picture commentary with the film's director Jonathan Mostow hosting a series of featurettes that have been ported over from the previous DVD and HD-DVD releases, this feature is only accessible with players profile 1.1 or greater and include the following: "Spotlight on Location" which runs for 13 minutes 25 seconds, "Enigma" which runs for 7 minutes, "Britain Captures the U-110" which runs for 9 minutes 40 seconds and "Capturing the U-505" which runs for 3 minutes 23 seconds. Unfortunately these extras remain unreviewed as at this time my player is profile 1.0 only and cannot access these features.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


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