At home, U-571 has always suffered a reputation as a "demo disc" - the kind of movie you watch all the way through only on first viewing, then return to exclusively for the chapters with the best surround-sound effects. This American World War II submarine flick from 2000 might have earned more esteem if it weren't for the existence of Das Boot, the German WWII submarine flick from 19 years earlier. Critics prefer Das Boot because it's almost twice as long, it's not in English, and it doesn't star Matthew McConaughey.
However, viewers who appreciate a tightly plotted, no-nonsense action pic may well favor U-571. Sure, it's burdened with beneath-the-sea banalities: depth charges, sonar pings, a flooded bilge, malfunctioning torpedoes, and the fear that water at zillions of pounds per square inch might smash the protagonists as if they were jack o' lanterns on November 1. And sure, it makes 10,000 B.C. look historically accurate. But the suspense starts in the first few minutes and never ebbs until the last few - and you certainly can't say that about Das Boot.
Universal released its first high-def version of U-571 on HD DVD; fortunately, it has now seen fit to issue a Blu-ray Disc. Although the Blu-ray certainly looks sharper than the original DVD, the movie is no visual feast. When you confine all the actors to the inside of a sub, you don't get Lawrence of Arabia. Almost everything onscreen is dingy, dark, and dreary - but at least with Blu-ray, all the details are there.
It's the soundtrack that has made U-571 a hit with home theater enthusiasts. The Blu-ray version features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds subtly richer and more detailed than the DVD's Dolby Digital track. I heard the difference mainly in the breaks between the movie's 1,738 explosions - when the sub's crewmembers are whispering to each other while their ship creaks and groans around them.
When it comes to extras, though, this disc sinks to near the bottom of my collection. The DVD (besides providing a commentary by director Jonathan Mostow, also here) included a great making-of documentary that detailed how the subs were constructed and how the battle scenes were shot. For the Blu-ray, Universal has replaced this with its U-Control picture-in-picture feature, which brings up a window with actor/filmmaker interviews and the like. Sadly, this is rarely engaging.
Even if you never watch more of U-571 than its two intense sea battles, this Blu-ray Disc is a great addition to any action-movie collection. I know I'll pull it out anytime I'm in the mood for a good war movie but can't spend the longest day watching it.
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