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review added: 1/17/01



U-571
Collector's Edition - 2000 (2000) - Universal

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

U-571: Collector's Edition Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

116 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:03:16, in chapter 12), Alpha keep case packaging, Spotlight on Location: The Making of U-571 featurette, audio commentary by director Jonathan Mostow, 4 behind-the-scenes/historical featurettes: Creating and Constructing U-571, Inside the Enigma, Britain Captures the U-110 and A Submariner's WWII Experience, U.S. Naval Archives: Capturing the U-505, theatrical trailer, DVD-ROM features (including production notes, picture gallery, screen saver and historical specs on German and American WWII submarines), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

U-571 is director Jonathan Mostow's fictional retelling of the capture of the Enigma technology. The Enigma was a coding device that allowed the German Navy to communicate in secrecy with their U-boat fleet during World War II. This technology, along with other coding devices, allowed the Germans to rule the waters of the Atlantic (including the eastern seaboard of the United States). To be quite honest, there's not a whole lot of weight to the story of U-571. What you've read this far into the review is the basis of the story. The film also has the requisite big stars, who are there to get people to see the movie and to carry it from point A to point B - Harvey Keitel, Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bon Jovi (and a few others thrown in here and there for good measure).

Because this is a fictitious account of the events that led to the capture of the Enigma, the director (who also co-wrote the story) lets himself take quite a few liberties with the sequence of events. It was, in fact, the British that first captured the Enigma in 1942. The U.S. Navy DID capture the Enigma decoder, but it wasn't until almost two years after the British had done so. In effect, the director shoots himself in the foot by pointing this out in the footnotes that precede the rolling of the end credits. Does this alteration of events make the movie any less enjoyable? No, but shaky story-telling and a failed attempt at patriotism (none of the characters are performed or written in an exceptionally heroic manner) keep this film from being anything more than a handful of great action sequences sewn together loosely with a story that is nearly stretched beyond the breaking point.

On occasion, Mostow (whose Breakdown I thought was more fulfilling) loses sight of the story and gets caught up in the action. At a crucial turning point in the story, a good portion of the cast is lost in the midst of action, and we don't find out who's left until long after the smoke clears. This much of the story I didn't like. But what makes this movie worth watching are its tense, underwater action sequences. There are plenty of pumped up explosions and fiery battles to satiate the appetites of those who miss the days when Schwarzenegger made great action flicks. If you're in need of a good dose of testosterone-driven fluff, that's not going to clutter your brain with otherwise unnecessary information, then look no further than U-571. If you're looking for a great story to go along with that, then forget it. This isn't the movie for you.

Thankfully, U-571 is another tally mark on Universal's wall of great DVD's. For starters, we're given an outstanding anamorphic picture that vividly recreates the film's theatrical exhibition. The source print is free of conspicuous blemishes (scratches, dust, etc.) that would otherwise encumber a great image. The filmmakers worked with a color palate limited mostly to blacks, grays and blues, and much of the middle section of U-571 is drenched in blackness and solid, dark colors. These scenes retain a great deal of their clarity due to detailed black levels and faithful color replication, which are instrumental in creating a much-needed sense of depth for a very claustrophobic-feeling film. Once or twice, the CGI shots take on a muddy and slightly grainy look that doesn't translate so well to DVD, and the first shot in the movie exhibits some heavy digital artifacting. From that point on, however, the film looks remarkable. Universal has done a fine job of creating a good-looking DVD.

Universal's also offered up two 5.1 tracks on this DVD. The first is an exciting, sometimes jarring, Dolby Digital mix. Once the destroyers start dropping their depth charges, the mix really comes to life. There's quite a bit of lively movement in both the front and rear half of the sound field. Even the smaller noises - guns cocking, an egg cracking, water dripping - create a superior sense of space. The potent bass level in U-571 is an invaluable part of the sound mix. You'll definitely feel some rumbling that'll wake your neighbors if the stereo is cranked up too loudly. All parts of the sound field compliment each other and create a cohesive, energetic sonic experience. And if you have the great fortune of listening to this film in DTS, then you're very lucky indeed. Forgetting that the film has its flaws, it's almost forgivable when you listen to it in DTS. This has to be the very best track DTS has yet produced. It's incredibly detailed and sucks you right into the film. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed, as were the rest of the Bits' staff. You really have to hear this to understand how good it is.

On top of an already impressive video/audio presentation, Universal has also given us a worthy set of extras to sift through, most of it in the form of behind-the-scenes type information. The disc is anchored by the typical Universal Spotlight on Location mini feature, that takes a general look at the making of the film. It's nothing too in depth and most of its footage is taken from promotional EPK material, but it's got enough interviews with the director (and most of the leading cast) to keep the casual interest of the viewer. The commentary track by Jonathan Mostow is descriptive and gives plenty of information about his choices as a director. It's worth a listen but, I must admit, hearing him repeatedly refer to various portions of the film, performance or music score as "patriotic" got very old, very quickly. Creating and Constructing the U-571 is a self-explanatory featurette on the work that went into recreating a German U-boat for the film. The three remaining featurettes - Inside the Enigma, Britain Captures the U-110 and A Submariner's WWII Experience - are all informational shorts detailing the real-life experiences of this part of WWII history. They're all worth watching, particularly the last two, as they feature interviews with two men (one British, the other American) who were actually involved in the capture of an Enigma decoder. The film's theatrical trailer is also here, in non-anamorphic widescreen.

And for those with a PC DVD-ROM, there are a few things for you here as well, though most of it is geared toward the submarine aficionado. There's a healthy-sized set of production notes that reveals what went into the film, from the beginnings of constructing the story, to casting, filming and distribution. It's a lot of reading, but there's some good stuff there if you look. The picture gallery is composed of ten promotional pictures taken from the set of the movie. What I liked best about the ROM features was the primer course on German and American submarines of WWII. You get some brief text information about the subs, as well as a small schematic of their layout. The menus for both the DVD-ROM and DVD-Video portions of the disc feature exciting film-themed animation. It's a great way to tie together the movie with the extras.

Though I didn't much care for the way the story of U-571 was told, its worth as an action movie is undeniable. I can't really give it a full recommendation, because its faults as a film float right to the top of the water. They're obvious and they're a distraction at times. That said, I would definitely recommend the DVD. Its video presentation is pristine and near reference quality, the audio track is foundation-shaking, and the features are entertaining on a historical and behind-the-scenes basis. If you like the movie, you'll love the disc. And if you need something to waste time on a Saturday afternoon, you can't go wrong with this.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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