Thankfully, Universal hasn't tried to change history and have released U571 in its theatrically correct aspect ration of 2.40:1 and have coded it at 1080P using the VC-1 system. And what a job they've done.
Right from the first scene, which is of U571 underwater, we have a reference transfer. Having never seen the HD DVD of this particular film, I can't compare the two - but comparing it to the SD DVD release is like comparing sparkling wine to Champagne.
Back in the first scene, the submarine is clearly visible in the murky waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Look closer and small details like rivets and the torpedo hatches become visible - detail levels are phenomenal. Black levels are spot on as shadow detail is clear and precise. The majority of the film is set in darkness or under red night vision light - and the transfer holds up well all the way through.
There seems to be a yellow tinge added to some scenes in postproduction - mostly during the outdoor scenes. This tends to give the film more of a World War II movie look and feel about it. Skin tones never suffer from washout or red patches in low light conditions and colours are strong and bold.
The nigh on perfect picture quality helps in the enjoyment of the film as well. In the abundance of close up shots, you can see every bead of sweat and every worry line of the sailors faces as they face death in yet another depth charge attack. This really is reference quality and is certainly up there with some of the best transfers I have ever seen
I'm pleased to report that this Blu-ray version suffers from no such problems and is the best soundtrack I have heard in my home theatre - period.
Presented in a lossless DTS HD Master Audio track in 5.1, the sound engineers on this movie just didn't know when to let up. If it's not the creaking of an ageing submarine hull filling your room, it's the deafening explosions of depth charges coming from all five speakers - plus the subwoofer - that will have you ducking behind your sofa.
I very rarely mention individual scenes when I describe the soundtrack of a certain film - but today, I just have to.
U571 is under attack by another Nazi U-boat. She has four torpedoes inbound and luckily three of them miss outright. The fourth one, however, gets a little closer and actually scrapes along the hull of the sub. We hear it from inside and the scrape goes from rear right to rear left - and as the camera moves around, front left and off to safety in the distance. It really is a brilliant piece of sound engineering.
I remember when the SD DVD was released. It was back in the day when there was nothing better to do than discuss what was better - Dolby Digital or DTS - on Sunday afternoons on forums the world over. This disc was released with both - and for once I jumped firmly into the DTS camp. It was brilliant. This is better. It's not the explosions or the gunfire. It's the way that the engineers have just made everything so real. I remember the bass in the SD DVD. Boy was it loud...but, home cinema has grown up in the past few years and now films like this are not all about turning it up to 11 and shaking ornaments from your shelves. The bass is still there - but it's more controlled. With the control of the bass, other sounds that were once drowned out by the sub can now be heard - like the debris from the depth charges hitting the decks of it's intended victim.
The dialogue problem that got me my money back those years ago has been all but eradicated. Speech is concise and clear - I certainly had no problems following the story via the dialogue. Surround steerage is spot on with front pans and effects coming thick and fast.
Again, as with the picture quality, this is reference stuff. I'm going to break with the norm again here - I could actually recommend this disc to home theatre fanatics (and why else would you be reading this review...?) on the strength and quality of the soundtrack alone - absolutely brilliant.
Directors Commentary comes straight across from both previous releases, and is still as hard going as ever. Jonathan Mostow has the enthusiasm of a schoolboy learning a new sport --but the presentation skills of one of my old history teachers - dull and boring. I must admit here - I totally lost interest after ten minutes. He does however, make no apology for changing history in that first ten minutes...but his love for this film shines through from the off...
U Control is where the clever stuff starts. You can activate the U Control before watching the movie and when there is an interactive piece to watch, hit the red button on your remote and you'll be presented with PiP material. However, the PiP material that you see has previously been presented on both HD and SD disc versions as featurettes.
Most of it is pretty good and I particularly liked the real story of the Enigma capture.
I have watched them before on the SD disc and I think I actually preffered to have them there available to watch in their entirety at any time I wanted.
Still - I can't fault Universal for embracing the facilities offered to them by the new format and the featurettes are still as good as always.
So - in reality nothing new from the studio. However, hats off to them for trying to make the ported extras different. I would have like the option to watch them at my leisure though rather than having to watch them via the U Control.
As a Blu-ray disc, Universal have tried to do something different here by recycling the extras package from the previous releases and incorporating their own U Control feature. The result is a little frustrating if you enjoyed the features on the previous releases and want to watch them again. You have to wait for the U to flash onscreen to bring up the featurette. But - at least they are there.
Picture and sound quality are both reference quality - indeed, the soundtrack on this disc is the best I have ever heard and I'm sure it's been re-engineered for this disc as there's just so much more going on.
Having never seen the HD DVD of this movie, I feel I have no right to be able to recommend a double dip - but those of you that held off from the HD DVD release because you had it on SD should run out and get this now. I can recommend it just for the soundtrack alone.
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