Blu Ray Title: U-571
Disk Release Date: August 26, 2008
Screen format: 1080P, 2.35:1 High Definition Widescreen
First theatrical release: 21 April 2000
Previous releases on disk: Multiple, including a May 23 2006 HD DVD and an October 2000 DVD Collector’s Edition
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon bon Jovi, Jake Weber, David Keith, Matthew Settle
Sound Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French & Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 hour, 57 Minutes (BD-25)
Subtitles: English, Spanish & French
U-571 is a polarizing film because it takes significant liberties with an important period in world history in an effort to create a more rousing movie, especially for the American audiences it was primarily aimed at. In order to enjoy this film one has to employ some serious suspension of disbelief, but if that is possible for you, you will find a fun roller coaster of a popcorn-munching summer blockbuster film.
Lieutenant Andrew ‘Andy’ Tyler (McConaughey), Executive Officer (XO) of a US sub is awaiting his promotion to Commanding Officer (CO) when he receives word that this order has been denied. The only way he could have been passed over is if his ships current CO had ‘submarined’ him, and he gets word from Lt. Commander Mike Dahlgren (Paxton) that he did in fact put the kibosh on it, because he feels that Andy is not ready to make the hard decisions that will put his men’s lives in jeopardy. Their next mission will prove just how right Dahlgren is and will serve as the impetus for Andy to make that leap.
As their crew is pulled from a shortened leave, they learn that they are being sent on a top secret mission, one which will require them to find a crippled German Sub (U-571) while posing as German rescuers. Once they reach U-571 they will need to recover an Enigma Code machine, which will allow the allies to break the German’s encrypted broadcasts, providing a serious upper hand. Of course things do not go as planned and Andy and Dahlgren are split up, with Andy taking charge of the crippled U-571 and taking on the charge of getting his crew back to safety without the Germans knowing that they have been tricked.
What follows is a series of cat-and-mouse encounters between U-571 and the real rescue team, requiring the Americans to remove the German’s radio capabilities and eventually incapacitate them, while having very limited resources including only one torpedo. It’s a taught and gripping tale, if a bit over the top and wrapped up just a bit too neatly, but that is exactly what one can expect from an action blockbuster such as this.
The acting is a bit hammy too, but that can be dismissed as par for the course in an action flick, but David Keith’s Major Coonan, a special ops agent, Harvey Keitel’s tough seabird “Chief” Klough, and Jon Bon Jovi’s acting debut as Lieutenant Pete Emmet are notable. In the end I was able to enjoy this film for what it is, and not get too wrapped up in its obvious and notable flaws. If one were to think of it as the naval equivalent of ‘Twister’ you’d be on the right track and if you can find enjoyment in that then I’m sure you can do so for U-571 as well.
Sound Quality: 5/5
If nothing else, U-571 has the most bass heavy soundtrack that I have ever listened too, and it is QUALITY bass at that, ranging from subtle rumbles that precede bigger events all the way to full scale explosions that literally had my whole house shaking. Loudness should be considered if one is comparing this DTS-HD MA track to the Dolby Digital Plus of the HDDVD. When normalized the apparent differences between the tracks shrink considerably but I did find the BluRay version a bit more appealing. I’ll leave it to those with more golden ears than mine to judge just how big the difference is or isn’t but I found a lot to like here.
Outside of the bass action, the surround effects are also top notch, with the stress and fear of being under constant threat of horrific drowning being punctuated by the creaking and groaning of the subs. Musically the score by Richard Marvin focuses squarely on military marches and some breezy seagoing themes, but it holds it own quite nicely in the action sequences as well.
Visual Quality: 4.5/5
Visually the film is moderately sharp and quite colorful especially when the action is not confined to the interior of a submarine. The opening sequence in a reception hall and the exterior sea battles are quite stunning. In the interior scenes the detail level is dialed back quite a bit, but still looks great. This is a high quality transfer, with no print damage tho I did spy a few occurrences of mild edge ringing, but these would only be distracting to those actively looking for them.
Extra Features: 2/5
There are only two extra features. First up is a feature length commentary with Director Jonathan Mostow, which allows him to hold court on a lot of issues around the film and his perception on the actors and action sequences. There’s a bit of dead air and could use some additional voices but overall it’s not the worst commentary I’ve heard. The other extra is a Picture in Picture U-Control experience. These sequences can be set to turn on automatically or selected scene by scene, which is not as useful as it sounds. To be fair the PiP provides some decent behind the scenes looks but the execution of it still rankles me, as do most lame interactive for the sake of interactivity features.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
The bottom line is that if you want to hear what your subwoofer is capable of producing you simply must own U-571 on some format. If you already own the DVD collectors edition moving to this version will result in a few missed extras, and moving from either previous version will net a full uncompressed soundtrack. Whether or not that is sufficient for a double or triple dip is going to be a hard sell. Also adding to this is the contrived (and historically inaccurate) storyline, but overall I find it a fun film and am not ashamed that I can put aside these problems and just enjoy the adventure, and the terrific booms help in that regard as well.