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U-571: Collector's Edition

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War stories have been a staple of movies for many, many years. In fact, the very first Oscar best picture, Wings (1927), went to a war film. From those humble beginnings the technology has improved to where your home theater can transform your home into a battlefield. The current best of this genre is U-571. The story concerns an American submarine that is ordered to undertake a top-secret mission to intercept a crippled German U-boat and capture the Enigma code device. This device did in fact exist. It permitted the Germans to send and receive coded messages that the Allies could not break. Capturing it without letting the Germans know we had it was a turning point in the war. While the story is very loosely based upon real people and places, the story is not accurate. Many take this as a real downside to enjoying the film. Remember that this is only a movie and not a documentary so lighten up. Part of the war film genre in the USA is to re-tell war stories with the Americans always on top. If you view this as more of a forties war film than a semi-documentary so popular today than you will greatly add to your enjoyment. Simply permit yourself to suspend belief for a couple of hours. The main story is augmented by some personal conflicts. The Executive Officer, Lt. Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) wants a commission of his own sub. His Captain, Lt. Commander Dahlgren (Bill Paxton), blocked his promotion feeling that Tyler lacks the ability to make life or death decisions. Tyler finds his problems have just begun when the American sub is destroyed, his captain killed and he most get the device back in a crippled enemy sub.

The group of actors assembled for this film is exceptional. McConaughey provides a realistic characterization of an ambitious young officer. Is tends to be very good in these types of roles. A role where the character is forced to face a reality he previously was unaware of. Bill Paxton as the Captain is just shy of nailing the role. His is gruff and commanding but something comes across as missing in his performance. Not much but enough to notice after watching the film a few times. The best of the lot is Harvey Keitel as the COB, Chief of the Boat, a non-com that basically runs everything on the sub. He reminded me of the old tough sergeant role made famous by Aldo Ray. This portrayal provides a real cinematic link to the great war films I saw as a child. Films where the men resent the young rookie office but because of the support of the loyal chief he can gain the trust of the men.

The director is Jonathan Mostow. He has little experience as the boss of a movie but does an extremely good job here. Perhaps he is best known for directing the last episode of the HBO classic, From the Earth to the Moon. Mostow has an attention to detail better than most directors do. Each scene is well crafted and lit with the action choreographed. The commentary tracks help the viewers to understand his process in the production of the film.

The DVD is fantastically authored. It contains both Dolby 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. The DTS version provides a bit more in the way of a three-dimensional sound field. From the very start of the film you find yourself in a U-boat under attack from depth charges. It sounds like your living room is under attack. I looked at my walls half expecting to see water rushing in. Every little creak, shell casing dropping and movement is audible, crisp and clear. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video transfer is of the highest quality. This is especially notable since a lot of the action is in very dark sets. The extras include the real story of the boat u-505, a making of documentary and information about how the sets were designed and created. This is a DVD to show off your system. Where the Matrix took us in 1999 U-571 brings us for 2000. It is the must have calibration quality disc of the year. Well, at least until the next blockbuster comes around. Get it and enjoy it.

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