4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Matthew McConaughey plays U.S. Navy Lieutenant Andrew Tyler who overtakes the German U-571 submarine to retrieve the famous Enigma machine.
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4K Ultra HD, & Blu-ray; 2000; PG-13 for war violence and language
Best extra: Interview between writer/director Jonathan Mostow and World War II veteran British Royal Navy Officer Lt. Commander David Balme
DURING THE early years of DVDs, this old-fashioned World War II adventure in the tradition of “The Guns of the Navarone,” was heralded by critics and home theater enthusiasts as one of the top two DVDs with the best sound ever. And it should be. An Oscar winner for Sound Editing and nominated for Best Sound, the track literally rocked the house.
When it premiered on Blu-ray in 2008, praise was even more enthusiastic as the sound bit rate per second doubled, producing a more dynamic blast, with its original six-channel DTS mastered soundtrack bit-for-bit, with no compression.
With the European 4K disc and the Blu-ray (available in the U.K., France & Germany), the outstanding bass-heavy 5.1 DTS HD soundtrack was ported over from the previous Blu-rays and still has the same punch as it reverberates throughout your home theater. Obviously, a new Dolby Atmos or DTS: X would’ve expanded the soundstage, but those depth chargers still rattle your teeth as they blast the German U-boat. No worries – the dialogue is never lost, placed front and center, while Richard Marvin’s orchestrated score, with shades of composer Jerry Goldsmith (“Air Force One,” “Star Trek”), is nicely balanced.
(1&2) U-571 Capt.-Lt. Gunther Wassner (Thomas Kretschmann) and his crew hit an Allied merchant ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. (3&4) The U-571 crew prepares for Allied depth chargers. (5&6) One of the charges caused a fire in the engine room and Capt. Wassner learns the fate of his mechanics.
The 4K restoration was handled by European-based StudioCanal, who co-produced the film with Dino De Laurentiis Productions and Universal Studios who stored the original Super 35 camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio) in their vaults and scanned the 35mm footage in TRUE 4K. The 4K digital files were then shipped to Bologna, Italy, and digital restoration work was completed at the L’Immagine Rtrovita postproduction house. Overall 4K clarity is top-notch with plenty of natural film grain; the only reduction in resolution is during the original composite German subtitles.
One slight bummer – the encoding was onto a 66-gigabit disc, which keeps the video from the low 40 MB per second range for a brief second here and there. The majority runs from 60 to nearly 80 Mbps, keeping the film grain organic and structured.
HDR10 grading is a major upgrade from the old overbright and sometimes waxy-faced Blu-ray. Here, the tone is much darker and controlled with deeper blacks and more detail in the shadows, and balanced highlights from cinematographer Oliver Wood (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Face/Off”).
“U-571” opens with a title paragraph detailing the reality of the Battle of the Atlantic when German U-boats hunted and sank nearly 500 un-escorted merchant ships off the East Coast of the U.S. in early 1942. After the fall of France in 1940, Germany deployed ‘Wolf Packs’ of submarines to stop shipments of military ammunition, fuel, and humanitarian goods to the U.K.
The crew of the U.S. Navy S-33, a vintage World War I submarine, is called into action to capture the famous Enigma machine, the backbone of the German coding system. Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Interstellar”) plays Lt. Andrew Tyler, who desperately wants his own submarine, and his Commander Mike Dahlgren played by Bill Paxton (“Aliens,” “Apollo 13”), are ordered to escort two Naval Intelligence officers Major Coonan (David Keith) and Lt. Hirsch (Jake Weber) to the crippled German U-571 sub, stuck in the middle of the Atlantic under the command of Capt.-Lt. Gunther Wassner played by Thomas Kretschmann (“The Pianist,” “Wanted”).
Writer/director Jonathan Mostow’s (“Breakdown”) fictional story is based on historical facts revealed by James Bond author Ian Fleming. While serving as a British Intelligence Officer during World War II, Fleming worked up a plot to steal the famous Enigma machine by infiltrating a German patrol boat in the English Channel. The plan was complex: the Brits were to use a salvaged German bomber and fake a crash landing with the hope of being picked up by the Germans.
Fleming’s mission was never deployed. But Mostow changed the storyline to an American submarine converted to look like a German U-boat, with crewmembers who spoke German. Their mission was to take over a damaged German sub and capture the Enigma. Historically, the British Royal Navy captured the first Enigma in May 1941; 15 more-times codebooks and machines were snagged. Only twice did the U.S. Navy grab the Enigma from the U-505 and U-744, both late in 1944.
(1) The majority of the U.S. Navy S-33 submarine crew celebrate the marriage of Ensign Keith Larson (Matthew Settle) and his bride (Valentina Ardeatini). (2) Lt. Tyler gets a letter from the Commander of the Submarine Force for the Atlantic Fleet, that says he's been passed on getting his own submarine to captain. (3) The S-33 is being converted at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to look like a German U-boat for its upcoming mission. (4) Capt. Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) tells his crew their liberty has been cut short and they have two hours to get stowed for sea. “Gentlemen it’s our turn.” (5) Dahlgren reads over the special operation orders from Naval Intelligence. (6) Right, Naval Intelligence officer Major Coonan (David Keith) tells Lt. Tyler and Lt. Pete Emmett (Jon Bon Jovi) about the mission.
The enclosed Blu-ray (Region B coded) houses the majority of extras including Mostow’s interview with Lt. Commander David Balme, who recounts that sunny day on May 9, 1941, when two merchant ships his lead destroyer was escorting and were struck by German torpedoes. “They sank very quickly,” Balme says. But his destroyer and two others made sonar contact with the U-110, and for 20 minutes they dropped an endless stream of depth charges, which eventually blew the U-boat to the surface.
They opened fire on the submarine and the U-boat crew abandoned the vessel. “The bombardment noise must have been terrifying,” Balme says. He and eight sailors armed with pistols rowed over to the submarine, where they found the U-boat completely empty. He quickly gathered up anything that seemed valuable for intelligence. The destroyer took on the U-110 crew, planning to tow the U-boat to Iceland, where British ships would refuel. But the submarine took on water and sank just after one day. Some days later, after arriving in Scotland Balme, realized he had found Enigma.
The story of the U-110 was kept under wraps until the fall of the Soviet Union, as Balme was ordered by British MI-6 to keep silent, told that if anyone made contact about the Enigma or U-110 he was to forward the information.
Another featurette details the construction of the U-571 since none of the actual WWII submarines were sea-worthy in the late 1990s. So, the production built a 600-ton full-size replica, which they filmed in the Mediterranean Sea near Malta. At the beginning of WWII, most of the U.S. Navy subs were decades old, while the German U-boats, based on the U.S. design and built in the 1930s, were much newer and more sophisticated.
The Blu-ray also provides four additional publicity interviews taped 20 years ago with McConaughey, Paxton, and rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who plays Lt. Pete Emmett. You’ll have a tough time recognizing him with short hair.
Mostow also provides another interview, talking about his $2 tour of a WWII U.S. submarine at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, sparking his love of submarines. “I was hooked and fascinated with who would have the courage to go out to sea in these tin sardine cans, let alone go against the enemy and depth charges.” The survival rate wasn’t good – especially on the German side where 75 percent of the U-boat crews didn’t come home. “These were iron coffins,” he says.
The director also provides an informative commentary (4K & Blu-ray), highlighting historical and fictional points, while detailing the production that spent five months in Rome at Cinecittà Studios, the open waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and the studio’s massive open water tank.
“U-571” may not be in the best submarine war film category like six-time Oscar-nominated “Das Boot” (1981), but it clearly holds its own with “The Hunt for the Red October” (1990), “Run Silent, Run Deep” (1958), “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002) and “Crimson Tide” (1995).
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) The converted S-33 looks like a German U-boat and heads toward the open waters of the Atlantic after leaving its home port of Norfolk, Virginia. (2) Major Coonan and a small band of the S-33 crew dress in German uniforms as if they are mechanics to repair the U-571. (3) Lt. Tyler and others of the Special Op crew prepare to board the U-571. (4) Right, CPO Henry Klough (Harvey Keitel) and two other S-33 crew members take control of the U-571. (5) The S-33 explodes after being hit by a German torpedo. (6&7) The surviving crew of the S-33 maneuvers the U-571 between depth charges from a German destroyer.