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Kickin' DVD, Limpin' Movie
Enemy at the Gates (DVD)
Member Name: wampyrii
Enemy at the Gates (DVD)
Date: 02/07/03, updated on 02/07/03 (205 review reads)
Advantages: Good DVD if it works, You can pick it up for sub £8 new
Disadvantages: Not so good if it doesn't, Film seems to be something of an acquired taste...one I haven't developed
Never let it be said that Hollywood doesn't love a war. This particular easy money-spinner transports us back to Stalingrad during WWII...a period of history you'd have kinda thought Hollywood's head honchos just may have tired of milking by now but never cease to drag up again with increasingly underwhelming results IMHO. Anyhoo, this movie has absolutely no intention of looking at the broader perspective of the war but instead focuses upon a small band of (real and fictional) individuals and their personal involvement in the conflict. In some ways it works, in others...well erm, it bored my arse off to be perfectly honest but I've seen mostly positive reviews from other 'real' consumers so erm, each to their own I guess. ;o)
The movie opens well, with scenes which are reminscent to the opening of Saving Private Ryan which I now suppose will be an obligatory inclusion in all movies of this type until something else comes along to emulate. New recruits are bundled into crude boats and sent across the river into Stalingrad whilst heavy shelling decimates the city and aircraft swoop down picking off the newbies with the greatest of ease. Those who try to jump ship and swim to safety are shot by their own officers as deserters, those who make it into the city have a one in two chance of actually getting handed a gun or of being sent into the conflict weaponless and being told to follow someone else around until they get shot and they can pick up their weapon! It's a tough and bloody opening and it is an undeniably impressive start whatever my opinion on the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, in my opinion it goes downhill fast from then onwards. Perhaps from when the 'storyline' kicks in lol.
The centre of this story is the real life figure of Vassili Zaitsev(Jude Law), a whizz with a rifle who is recognised by political officer Danilov(Joseph Fiennes) as being a huge asset to the army and enlisted as a sniper. Rathe
r than forcing their troops into the affray and keeping them in order with the threat of a bullet if they should offer up and kind of dissention Denilov proposes to Nikita Khrushchev(Bob Hoskins) that they should instead give the men something to aspire to, something to motivate them and turns Zaitsev into a folk hero by reporting daily upon the number of officers etc. he has picked off through the daily propaganda leaflet drops. Soon the ruined city is awash with snipers and the German army finds themselves locked down by fear, replacing officers several times a day because as soon as one appears in view he ends up with a sniper's bullet in his head. They bring in their own sniper hero Major Konig(Ed Harris) to pick off Zaitsev for a little of their own propaganda and it is the battle of wills between these two which the movie then focuses upon...
...well kind of focuses upon. You see, mainstream cinema being what it is, we also have to throw in a stupid love triangle which is handled with all the aplomb of a soap opera subplot. Denilov wants Tania(Rachel Weisz), one of the Russian's many female recruits but she wants Zaitsev and he wants her so Denilov decides to collapse Zaitsev's reputation in revenge and ugh, sorry, 'tis awful nonsense which apparently has nothing to do with the real historical facts, certainly isn't worthy of any screen time and even more certainly not worthy of me writing too much about. Suffice to say, it succeeds in being very naff and takes up far too much screen time.
So, is Enemy At The Gates worth your viewing time? Umm, the battle scenes are excellent, the special effects are good and the opening 20-30 minutes bring the brutality of Communist Russia during wartime into really sharp focus but aside from that it's all rather mediocre. The casting I had something of a hard time with for starters. It was difficult to take it all that seriously when all the actors speak in rather plumby English ac
cents(arguably better than crap Russian accents but still off-putting for me) and then you've got Bob Hoskins as Nikita Khrushchev which I'm afraid made me giggle a little. Rachel Weisz is a constant thorn in the side of any serious movie seeing as she simply can not act and again proves it coming across as virtually the same character you saw in The Mummy but in a Russian army uniform. Hoskins just growls and shouts a lot(although does bear some resemblance to Khrushchev) whilst Jude Law does a reasonably good job of looking lost as you'd expect from a sheep farmer turned hero of the Russian army. Ed Harris on the other hand is absolutely magnificent as Major Konig but his the only really good performance of the lot of them.
I found the poor casting was one contributing factor to me finding it very difficult to get into this movie, not aided by the very impersonal directorial style adopted here which refuses to let you get close to the characters, certainly not close enough to care about them. The real people in the conflict are kept at arms length and it is obvious the love triangle element was thrown in to give American audiences something to latch onto in view of this(reminded me rather unfortunately of the similar tripe in Pearl Harbor) but it's all too clumsy to work. Furthermore, the very nature of it's main theme scuttles any attempt to generate the kind of tension you'd expect from a movie about a cat and mouse game played out between two top snipers, as you know neither is actually going to shoot the other until sometime near the end, if at all, or the movie will be over! Safe in that knowledge Enemy At The Gates becomes little more than watching two men stumbling around amongst the rubble with a silly love triangle thrown it to add something else to it all. Not my idea of fun and I was bored by the 60 minute mark with another 65 to go...
Sadly, this could have been a far more interesting movie if it had had the
intelligence to explore some of its more interesting themes. We are given a taste of the importance and the power of propaganda during war time and a sniff at history(albeit inaccurate as you'd expect but who cares) but this is glossed over in favour of a cat and mouse game with 60 minutes of enforced and obvious padding and some silly interpersonal canoodlings. "The action is powerful, the drama intense" according to the back of my DVD casing...erm, I expect, and not for the first time, that Jonathan Ross, from whose pen the quote comes, watched an entirely different movie to me, or perhaps was commenting only on the first 20 minutes in which case I would entirely agree...
Shame the rest is a bit pants though IMHO.
? DVD Features
As much as I wasn't impressed by the film itself, the actual extras are pretty impressive, especially when you consider the movie wasn't exactly doing over-time at the box office! It's fair to say that Fox have really excelled themselves here...apart from one big gripe, but we'll get to that later.
No, let's have it now:
This DVD does not work fully on all players!
I think that's quite important to point out. I have a Pioneer DV-454 (One of Amazon's top sellers at he time of purchase and on which has no problems playing any of my other DVDs) and neither of the behind the scenes featurettes work correctly as for some reason the background music is brought loudly into the foreground whilst the dialogue etc. is left as an inaudible background mumble. Bah! Apparently this isn't localised to this particular model because searching around the net I see that some Bush players have the same difficulties and there's probably more I'm yet to read about. Not a great start but anyway...
The picture quality of the DVD transfer is pretty darn good to my untrained eye. Presented in its original cinematic 2.35:1 ratio you'l
l find the transfer free from grain or other damage as you'd expect from a new movie and despite the purposeful washed out appearance of the images they are crisp and sharp throughout with perfect flesh tones and colour depth. No bleeding or edge sharpening here, it's a really excellent transfer. Picture quality is very good indeed whilst the sound quality appears to be good too. I say 'appears to be' because I'm without a particularly decent sound set-up here but there's nothing to provoke comment upon. You have the option of Dolby 5.1 or DTS or described action(someone describes the scene content as it happens) or plain English subtitles.
The menu which you'll use to navigate around the extras is equally impressive. You get a computer generated depiction of the ruined Stalingrad seen from the first person perspective as if you yourself were the sniper. A cross hair floats around the screen targetting your options whilst a montage of war images from the movie rage overhead. It looks great but it does mean that accessing the various sections is delayed whilst it plays through some of the effects. Submenus are accessed with a brief computer generated movie played as if you are moving through the rubble to aim elsewhere and...oh if menu's can be great then this is a great one! The initial look, sound and feel of the DVD is then very good, very polished and can't be faulted. Shame about the ferk up with the extras but there you go...
? Director's Commentary
An interesting directory from Annaud alone, no additional cast and crew for conversational commentary as you usually get, where he explains some of the history and some of the reasoning/interesting points behind his movie. All delivered in a very dry, matter of fact style but he never takes pause for breath throughout the entire movie so there's plenty of information to soak up should you be interested. Annaud is apparently som
ething of a history buff so there's a lot of history which gets poured out here which I found more interesting than his actual movie to be honest! I do like a little more joking around in my commentaries which makes them feel more like a friendly conversation over coffee as opposed to feeling like a lecture as this one occasionally does but it's a good, detailed commentary nonetheless.
Parlez vous francais? Pathe news footage in French documenting the German assault on Stalingrad, showing battle plans, strategies and the assault itself with plenty of footage from the time. Umm, it also shows Khruschchev and what a striking resemblance Bob Hoskins has to him in this movie! It's an interesting history lesson again.
? Deleted Scenes
It's always good to see DVDs including deleted scenes on their discs...even though their detractors always snottily comment on how "if they were any good they wouldn't have been deleted". No kidding? Anyhoo, there are nine of these here although it is never explained preceisely why it was decided they should be dropped from the movie. When you see a few of them though it is pretty obvious - they are undeniably awful in this case lol. Oh well, they are here and you can insert them into the movie if you sit there and hit the button when the star symbol appears. Personally, I saw the movie once and wasn't really interested in seeing it for the second time(well, third if you include watching the director's commentary) but others seem to love it so this option is here for them.
? Inside Enemy At The Gates / Through The Crosshairs
The two behind the scenes featurettes I couldn't play. Both run for around 20 minutes and give you background info. to the movie. Erm, looking at the actual video(without sound) they both look like extended promo trailers but I'm sure there are a few pearls to be found in here if you can actually hear anyth
ing but the music!
Just that. I never will see the point of watching a promotional trailer to a movie you have already bought and watched but there you go...it's here for those who want it(if the anorak fits, wear it my dear :oP).
Move the menu crosshairs over the star and shoot to be given a flipbook of their past work and dates of release. Nothing more, nothing less than written filmographies for the stars.
? Film Posters
As with the filmographies this is exactly what it says it is. A flipbook of posters for the movie from around the world. Interesting for a skim through but nothing more.
Another for a quick skim through. You get artists' scribbles on the left and the actual conceived and filmed scene shown on the right. There are only 14 scribble/scene match-ups but it's worth skimming through.
Erm, apologies for skipping through the last 4 extras but there really isn't much to say about them. They are included for anoraky completeness which is good because I'm sure someone will be extremely interested in them but there really is nothing there which most people will be in the slightest bit interesting in dwelling upon. Me included.
Well, that pretty much sums up the disc. There are the usual scenes selection options, subtitles and suchlike but nothing else to get excited over. It is all extremely well presented and there are lots of extras here which is impressive as, like I said, it didn't exactly whoop up a storm at the movie theatres. Personally, the movie itself just didn't do it for me and considering the disc is known to have problems on some players, mine included, I can't possibly give it anything above a 3 star rating, despite the great presentation and above average extras. If you like the movie then consider the disc but be aware of the potential problem with the extra