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U-571 (2000)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/26/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/25/2008

Many film critics have written about how film genres run in cycles. This idea states that certain types of movies fall in and out of vogue and will see a resurgence from time-to-time. We've seen westerns, superhero films, and slasher films go through these cycles. But, what about the submarine movie? Nobody ever talks about that trend. However, we had Das Boot in 1981, The Hunt for Red October in 1990, and in 2000, we saw a big Hollywood production, U-571. (And let's not forget about the underrated Below in 2002.) U-571 has now come to Blu-ray Disc.

U-571 is set in 1942, during the height of World War II. At the outset, we are told that the Germans have gained the upper-hand over Allied shipping lanes in the Atlantic, and that thanks to unbreakable codes used by German ships, the Allies are nearly defenseless. At a Naval shipyard on the Eastern seaboard, Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) has just learned that he's been denied a position as a submarine captain. He's not given much time to sulk though, as he's quickly asked to scramble his crew for a secret mission. Reporting to Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren (Bill Paxton), Tyler learns that Lieutenant Hirsch (Jake Weber) and Major Matthew Coonan (David Keith), both intelligence officers, will be joining the crew. They have learned that a German submarine (or U-boat) has been damaged in battle in the Atlantic, and can't move. The plan is to disguise the U.S. sub as a German one, and convince the Germans that they are a rescue party. Once on board the ship, they will take the coding device, known as The Enigma. Soon, the sub is under way, and the first half of the mission goes off without a hitch. However, Tyler soon learns that boarding and commandeering a German U-boat was only half the battle. He finds himself trapped on a strange sub with a skeleton crew with enemies closing in from all sides.

U-571 is an interesting mixture of the old and the new. Hollywood has been churning out World War II films since, well, World War II. The bulk of these came during the 1950s and 60s and U-571 has a similar feel to those films. It focuses on the military men being strong heroes and rising above the odds to complete their mission. I don't remember noting any gratuitous swearing and the violence is never overly graphic. This throwback approach is combined with very modern special effects. The movie never shies away from showing the submarine and U-boat in action, and there are many underwater shots (which utilized huge miniature subs). The gritty, documentary feel of the action inside of the sub is made all the more real by the amount of footage showing the U-boat moving through the water.

The overall quality of the film is also a mixed bag. Writer/Director Jonathan Mostow, who made the underrated Breakdown, creates a palpable sense of tension in the film, especially in the depth charge scenes. Through fast editing and angled shots, he's able to reproduce the claustrophobia of being inside of a sub...for a while. The bulk of U-571 takes place either inside of a U.S. sub or a German U-boat and after 117 minutes, the premise of being inside of a submarine ceases to be anxiety inducing and become tedious. This is further hampered by the fact that the second half of the movie turns into a series of "what else can go wrong" scenes, as the sub begins to malfunction. While the movie drags at times, there's no denying that the battle scenes are well-done.

So, you sit through U-571, and it's a pretty-good, well-made war movie, and we cheer for the American soldiers, and then we get to the epilogue text, which tells us that none of this really happened, but that some British soldiers did something similar to the events in the film. What? The whole thing was made up? Yes, U-571 is history as scene through a skewed lens. It takes a series of facts and then creates an entirely new story which is obviously tailor-made for U.S. audiences. This shouldn't take away from the overall effect of the film, but it does, and we walk away feeling cheated somehow.

U-571 dives, dives, dives onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc holds a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 19 Mbps. This is a very nice transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear. I noted only a slight amount of grain in the few daytime exterior shots and no defects from the source material. The depth on the image is very nice, and in the close-quarters of the sub, the image has a 3-D effect. The detail level is good and skintones look fine. Colors look realistic and the image never gets too dark in the sub. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. U-571 was Oscar nominated for Best Sound and it won for Best Sound Editing, so one would want a good audio track here, and this Blu-ray really delivers. As with the other Universal Blu-rays released so far, the audio here is excellent. Simply go to the 75 minute mark and listen to the depth charge scene. This mixture of silent moments and wall-shaking audio will make for a great demo. The sub effects are nearly scary and the stereo and surround effects are non-stop. We hear every minute sound happening inside and outside of the subs. This is truly the way to view this film, as the audio makes you feel as if you are there.

The U-571 Blu-ray Disc contains two main special features. Director Jonathan Mostow provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. Mostow speaks at length throughout the film, and it's clear that this is the commentary from the original 2000 DVD release, as he mentions how CGI wasn't advanced enough to use in the film! Other than that, he talks about the cast, the location shooting, and the special effects. The other extra is the "U-Control" feature, which provide Picture-in-Picture pop-ups throughout the film. This brings us interviews with Mostow, the cast, and other crew members, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. (This seems to have been created using materials from older featurettes.)

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long