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Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 2000 / 117 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: August 26, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Editor's Note: Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our HD DVD review of 'U-571.'
If you're a fan of 'U-571' you should probably skip this section and just jump down to the tech sections below. I don't know if it was just the mood I was in or what, but I laughed all the way through this movie. It's not that the subject matter is silly, or that the film is poorly made, or badly acted. Instead, it's something about the whole tone of the film, its jingoism and relentless provincial myopia that makes it feel like a parody you'd see if Mel Brooks decided to do 'The Producers 2' about the movie business, substituting 'U-571' for 'Springtime for Hitler.'
The plot can be summed up with one quick phrase: Thank God for the U.S. Navy! When a German U-571 is seriously damaged, apparently its crew are too stupid to know what to do. So the U.S. is called in to save the day, not out of any sense of human obligation of course, but because our military realizes it can seize the "Enigma Coding Machine," which will allow the Allied naval forces to locate and track submerged German U-Boats. So the Navy sends in a crack team of U.S. seamen disguised as Germans to "rescue" the sub. But when the evil Germans send reinforcements, the mission goes awry, and our brave American soldiers must use every last ounce of their wits and training to survive.
I know, I know -- I'm going to get hate mail calling me a traitor for what I just wrote. And I am aware that the makers of 'U-571' never claimed their film was historically accurate (in fact, it was the British Navy that captured the Enigma codebooks, months before the U.S. even entered the war). I am also not slighting the real-life bravery of our armed forces during WWII, nor am I against mindless Hollywood entertainment. But 'U-571' is another one of those wish-fulfillment fantasies where only the Americans show any sense of wit, wisdom, intelligence or courage, and are painted in such broad strokes as idealized supermen that any sense of reality, plausibility and authentic heroism is thrown out with the bathwater.
What also makes 'U-571' so funny to me is that it is so lacking in subtlety. The film seems to want to be the American brother of 'Das Boot,' the German classic also about soldiers trapped inside a claustrophobic submarine environment. But compare the way in which director Wolfgang Petersen dramatized 'Das Boot's ideological clashes and interpersonal conflicts with restraint, nuance for character and a powerful use of silence, versus 'U-571' helmer Jonathan Mostow's sledgehammer approach, where pretty Hollywood actors scream platitudes at each other, blow lots of stuff up and wax philosophical about the Importance of It All. I also liked the way none of the American soldiers could read German, yet easily took command of the German sub and its technology. Man, these guys are good.
Also humorous is that Mostow and the cast apparently have never seen Quentin Tarantino's now-famous "'Top Gun' is the Gayest Movie Ever" monologue from the 1994 indie flick 'Sleep with Me.' Because if they had, they may have re-thought their PC approach to the sub's crew, who never utter a single misogynist, homophobic or racist comment, despite the fact that there is no female love interest in the film, every guy on the boat looks like he just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad, and nearly the entire sub crew is improbably, hilariously Caucasian. If 'U-571' was meant as a camp parody, it would have been brilliant.
I could go on, but I guess I should just say I didn't get this movie and leave it at that. Again, I know some of you out there likely love it and find it a fine tribute to the bravery of our Armed Forces. So enjoy away. But for me, all that was needed to turn 'U-571' into one of the best comedies I've seen in years was a Mel Brooks song 'n' dance number.
Universal just seems to love 'U-571,' at least whenever it wants to launch a new format. It's been one of the studio's first releases on just about every one imaginable -- DVD, D-VHS, HD DVD, and now Blu-ray. The studio's trust is not misplaced, however, as 'U-571' remains terrific high-def demo material.
Given its past D-VHS release as well as via frequent broadcasts on HD cable channels, the quality of this transfer will likely not surprise fans of the film. I've kept my old D-VHS and HD DVD copies, and there the master is obviously the same. Universal also presents 'U-571' on Blu-ray as it did on HD DVD, with a 1080p/VC-1.
Regurgitated or not, 'U-571' looks exceptional. This is a sparkling source with rich blacks, excellent contrast, and rock-solid color reproduction that packs a wallop. I was especially impressed by how spot-on the fleshtones appeared, as well as how adroitly this transfer handled difficult colors. Note the smooth reds in the film's opening sequence, a hue which is traditionally hard to resolve on video yet there is no fuzziness or noise here. Further elevating 'U-571' to the level of greatness is how extraordinarily three-dimensional and detailed the picture is. This has that picture-perfect look of the best transfers, where you feel like you could reach out and touch the images on the screen. 'U-571' is filled with tons of close-ups of things like sweaty-browed soldiers, and you can see every bead of perspiration. It is also a film of visual contrasts -- the dark, low-lit interiors and the bright, panoramic daylight vistas are rendered with equal astounding clarity. The encode is also nice and clean, with the smooth look typica of the VC-1 codec, and no obvious compression artifacts. Great stuff.
I remember watching 'U-571' on HD DVD and thinking it sounded fantastic. This was also before high-res audio became de riguer for next-gen releases. Today, standard Dolby Digital and DTS just don't cut it. Luckily, Universal has upgraded 'U-571' to DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround, and it blows away the previous HD DVD. This is a reference-quality mix.
The film's sound design remains up there with the most aggressive, sonically enveloping mixes you are likely to hear on home video. As a listening experience, 'U-571' is all about the action. Shots are fired, missiles are launched and subs are blown up. And it all sounds spectacular. The sound design here is highly immersive and creative -- all five channels are used almost non-stop during the battle scenes. I loved the level of directionality and how seamless it all feels, with imaging between channels about as transparent as it gets. And dialogue-driven scenes are no slouches, either -- I liked that there are many fairly subtle uses of atmospheric effects during scenes when crew members were simply talking to each other. Very effective. Even the film's rather heavy-handed score comes across very nicely in the mix, with the spacious dynamic range revealing many fine instrument shadings in both the mid- and high-range.
If I have any complaint about this mix, it's that dialogue is balanced too low in the mix. To be fair, it's considerably improved over the previous HD DVD, where I often struggled to hear background dialogue. I had to adjust my volume levels far less frequently here to compensate, but there were a few occasions when I just couldn't make out key lines. Low bass is also so intense at times that I was distracted -- sure, it's fun to hear your subwoofer almost groan under the strain, but the bombast is so turned up that any subtlety is lost. But let's face it, we're listening 'U-571' on Blu-ray to be blown away, and this soundtrack certainly does just that.
Universal has taken an interesting tack with the extras on 'U-571.' Though they've retained the audio commentary from past video releases, they have dropped the video-based extras as stand-alone supplements and repurposed them as an Blu-ray-exclusive picture-in-picture track. This might disappoint some who prefer to watch making-of material as a linear extra, but in total there is little real supplementary footage lost here.
- Audio Commentary - The only standard extra that remains is the screen-specific audio commentary with director
Jonathan Mostow. Though his somewhat monotone voice and slow pace made this
one a slog to sit through at times, he certainly is passionate about his film.
Growing more lively as he goes on, Mostow starts by focusing primarily on the
historical background of the film (and I use the term "historical" loosely), then goes more in-depth on the film's many production challenges. I can't say I cared that much in the end, but if you like the film this is a pretty good if sometimes dry commentary.
Gone are the standard DVD making-of featurettes, but here they are in a new form, a Bonus View-enabled (profile 1.1-required) "In-Movie Experience."
- Picture-in-Picture - Director Jonathan Mostow returns to host this track, which combines material from four of the featurettes found on the original DVD and HD DVD releases: the 13-minute "Spotlight on Location" (a pretty lame EPK), plus the historical pieces "Enigma" (that offers insight on the central element of the film's story, and explains why the device was so integral to the world's efforts in stopping the Nazi regime), "Britain Captures the U-110" (the real story behind the Americanized events depicted in the film) and "Capturing the U-505" (essentially narrated archival footage that's akin to a newsreel). I like all of this material, which is joined by a smattering of on-set cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage I didn't see in the original featurettes. However, the pacing remains quite slow -- I found the frequent dead gaps a bit boring even if I appreciated having all of this detail in one place. It probably would have been preferable that Universal just included the original featurettes along with this PIP version, but as it stands, you get the same data in a much more digestible and cohesive form.
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I thought 'U-571' was so earnest it was campy. (Maybe I'm just guilty of treason?) Whatever the case, while I can't recommend this film, this is such a great looking and sounding Blu-ray release that it earns a recommendation purely as demo material. Universal's decision to repurpose the making-of material found on past releases into a new picture-in-picture commentary may be debatable, but at least the studio is exploiting the Blu-ray format for its interactive capabilities. If you want some great high-def eye and ear candy, 'U-571' is your disc.