Discussing the old school DVD’s that still sound and look great in the era of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD technology.
The submarine film is tough to improve upon. With classics such as Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, and even Crimson Tide, the submarine film genre is chock-full of movies with intense drama and claustrophobic action.
But then again, for every highly revered submarine film, there is a Below and Down Periscope.
So where does Jonathan M…stow’s U-571 fit in?
I’d say somewhere in the middle.
U-571 lacks the epic plot and scale needed to thrust it into the next level of greatness (the same thing can be said of Mostow’s otherwise enjoyable take on Terminator 3). Mostow is more concerned with the claustrophobic nature of submarine battle, and the people involved. This is fine, if the film wasn’t peppered with clichéd dialogue and situations that are familiar to anyone who has seen more than one submarine film. You know that at one point in the film, torpedoes will be fired at our heroes — only to miss by inches, the captain will be forced to take the sub as deep as it can go — resulting in the sub creaking and groaning as the pressure threatens to crush it like a beer can, and you can also count on the sub’s steerage to break down — causing our heroes to be sitting ducks in the middle of a fierce battle.
While the clichés can be a bit tiring, the film does sail along at a smooth pace. The action scenes are piled one on top of another, and the actors are all likeable enough that we don’t want to see them killed.
In the end, though, U-571 fails to set itself apart from a hundred other war films that have more emotion, more grandness, and more relevance.
What does set U-571 apart, however, is the treatment it receives on DVD.
Filmed in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks great, and handles the steely gray color palate of the submarine’s interior. There is no fuzz or grain, which is nice considering the film is almost 7 years old.
The audio track, as usual, is where this DVD shines. It receives a stellar DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 track that will shake your house. In the opening scene, a German U-Boat is being stalked by an American destroyer. It drops depth charges that slowly grow closer to the sub, and the explosions eerily get louder and louder as they draw closer. You’ll swear these explosions are happening in your house as the depth charges go off right on top of the submarine.
Scenes with gunfire, especially the scene where the Americans take over the stranded German U-Boat, crackle with depth — and are separated nicely across the sound field. Explosions are also given nice detail, with enough bass to make you feel them as much as you hear them.
In scenes with dialogue, the submarine always feels alive, as the natural ambient sounds of pipes and bulkheads creak and groan in the surround speakers as the submarine dives deeper into the ocean.
One disappointing aspect to the soundtrack is that the score never fully takes over the film at any time. Instead, it is relegated to the background, only existing to highlight the drama and tension of emotional scenes. I also think it is pretty generic and forgettable. It’s definitely a throw-away score if there ever was one.
Scenes 15 & 16 are the best demo-quality scenes on the disc, as the Germans repeatedly drop depth charges on the Americans. At one point it feels like the explosions will never end, which does become somewhat annoying. After about a dozen depth charges, we know what to expect. If you’ve heard one close-range depth charge explosion, you’ve heard them all. After the fiftieth depth charge explosion, it does become a bit redundant.
Which leads me to soundtracks one flaw — it’s repetitiveness. U-571 largely takes place on a submarine, so the sounds you’ll hear throughout the film are largely limited to the depth charge explosions and the subtle ambience of the submarines interior. We’re not going to get much of anything else. And after a while, it does grow tiring. But if it’s depth charges you want to hear, look no further than U-571.