It’s hard to imagine that U-571 is just two years short of celebrating its tenth anniversary since its theatrical release, but it’s true. Rarely does the film show its age either, a testament to not only how it was made but also the technology that was employed during its production. With fair critical acclaim, U-571 had no trouble making a fair impact on the box office domestically, although once it arrived on the home video format, it seemed to disappear from public view. Now with the Blu-ray format, U-571 has another chance to show itself off in a way that viewers have never seen it before.
No sooner does a U.S. Navy captain and his crew begin their 48 hours of leave when they’re immediately pulled back to active duty. Placed on a submarine on a top-secret mission, the crew learns, once they’re under way, the reasons for their quick departure. The crew of the submarine must disguise themselves as Nazis and infiltrate a damaged U-Boat currently stranded in the ocean due to a damaged engine. Once they get on board, the Navy soldiers head straight for the secret decoding device inside the U-Boat, but before they can return to their own submarine and destroy the U-Boat, their ship is destroyed by another U-Boat arriving quickly on the scene. Stranded in the water with a half-working U-Boat and a faulty engine, the crew and newly appointed Commander Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) must find a way safe way back to port with the decoding device.
While most stories that surround World War II are based off of true stories or events, as far as I can tell U-571 makes no attempt to ground itself into any specific tale from the World War II days. Honestly when I first started to watch the film I thought it was a modern tale, but being the fan of World War II films that I am, I quickly got into it as the film got underway. I’m not even a fan of McConaughey, but his role here was much stronger than his usual roles, which I often get tired and bored with after a few minutes. The film’s supporting cast was slim, with Bill Paxton and Harvey Keitel being the only “big” names in the film (unless you count Jon Bon Jovi who I just learned was even in this film after checking IMDb. Honestly, I don’t even remember him in the film) aside from McConaughey. This isn’t a bad thing by any means; I’d just as soon have no-name actors in the film rather than it being overburdened with big name talent, but it’s sadly the reason this film likely didn’t get as much exposure as it could have otherwise.
Admittedly the plot isn’t incredibly complex or emotionally moving as other World War II films, but it was certainly engaging to watch. The cramped quarters of the submarine and U-Boats made gave a claustrophobic feel throughout the film and it was one that rarely let up. When we weren’t crammed into a small room, we’re being bombarded with countless bombs and gunfire. The majority of the films two hours is, in fact, just a bunch of bombing and loud noises; I’m such an audio freak that I was completely absorbed by the films surround work alone.
So is there any substance during the film at all? Well, yes and no. From the start we get wind that McConaughey’s character isn’t happy with his commander (Paxton) not giving him his own boat to command. This sets up the inevitable death of Paxton, so it can thrust McConaughey into the captain’s chair to lead his crew out of U-Boat hell. When it finally happens, I either just didn’t care or just assumed he was going to do a fantastic job regardless, so I was never really worried about the crew’s safety. I just got so wrapped up in the action that I rarely gave the characters much thought.
This may paint the film in a bad light, but honestly I didn’t even know what to expect when going into the film and when I was given a beautifully done action piece, I really didn’t seem to mind the lack of depth that the film had. Not all films need to have twenty different layers and U-571 is just a fun, entertaining way to spend two hours. It feels like an authentic World War II era war film and is well done in just about every way…it’s just the script and characters are a tad bit hollow.
Either way you cut it, U-571 comes Recommended. I may sound like a broken record, but it’s just a very fun film to watch and while it won’t grip you the same way as, say, Saving Private Ryan, U-571 delivers in all the right (action packed) places.
Arriving as part of an “Action Pack” from Universal, U-571 is part of the second wave of Blu-ray’s to come out of Universal and I must say it is quite an impressive package. The set itself comes in a standard Blu-ray case with an insert advertising upcoming Universal releases and a reflective foil insert. The Blu-ray portions of the set comes inside of an AVC encoded 2.35:1 1080p transfer that can waver in-between astonishing and bland. While there are some absolutely fantastic interior sub shots as well as some ocean sequences, the opening of the film is entirely too devoid of detail and close-ups of actors faces are often overly waxed and soft in appearance. Thankfully the rest of the film is rather solid in quality, with few defects ever popping up (and even some actual grain!).
Audio quality is an absolutely stunning 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track that is constantly shaking the room with its deep bass. If anything it’s the audio that keeps ones interest in the film alive in-between sequences, as there’s constantly some surround work being implemented or some deep rumble emitting from the subwoofer. Warn the neighbors before watching this one—it will definitely wake them.
The extras on the set are embedded inside of the U-Control Blu-ray element and bring in some behind-the-scenes footage to check out as the movie plays. Kind of disappointing you can’t access this separately, as it gets to be kind of intrusive at times, but it’s still a nice little set of extra regardless. The only other extra here is the Commentary with director Jonathan Mostow, who keeps it enjoyable and intelligent throughout, offering up details about the script and production process along the way.
Overall this is a solid release and aside from the noticeably louder DTS-HD MA track, there isn’t much of a reason to upgrade from any previous DVD version you may have. It’s a fun film, but not one worth multiple purchases, so upgrading is up to the discretion of the individual.
Previous Owners: Skip It.
U-571 arrives on Blu-ray on August 26th.