Newest Review: ... pretty decent fictional piece of work. The movie was entertaining and for me that is certainly the most important aspect. It does have its... more
Enigma Variations on the truth
Member Name: Nibelung
Date: 30/01/01, updated on 30/01/01 (203 review reads)
Advantages: Fiction more entertaining than the truth
Disadvantages: Das Boot does the underwater thing better
Since this is my opinion on the Region 2 DVD of U-571, I won’t go into any great detail over the plot of the movie.If you’re anything like me, you have probably seen it at the cinema, before deciding to add it to your DVD collection.
For those who like to live dangerously, or have money to burn on taking a chance, here is a (very) quick run-down of the story.
U-571, (WW2 German sub) is crippled and drifting after mixing it with the Royal Navy, mid-Atlantic. Radio’s base for help. Message intercepted by USN Intelligence, who work up a team in a (thinly) disguised USN sub to board her, pretending to be the rescue mission, and steal the Enigma code machine. The plan gets torpedoed (literally), and the German sub is the last man standing with only a plucky USN skeleton crew on board, learning German by trial and error! For extra effect, there is one token German prisoner who turns out to be a pain in the "Sonars". Sub attempts to limp to England. Plucky crew abandon ship, and drift into sunset. Don’t believe the last bit? – see the movie!
There you are – how to ruin a film in one simple paragraph! Joking apart, you may have heard the furore when the film premiered. Many people thought that this was yet another US attempt to rewrite history, pointing out that the Royal Navy took the lion’s share of captured Enigma machines, in equally audacious attempts. Of course, the film gives credit at the end to “All those brave sailors who…….etc, etc”, but it leaves you wondering why they couldn’t have made the film about a real event.
The DVD extra material goes some way to explaining why they didn’t. Amongst the extras is an interview with the Royal Navy Officer present at the first seizing-at-sea of an Enigma machine. It appears that, as in the film, a German submarine was forced to surface, after the sinking of an Allied merchant ship. The Royal Navy board
ed her, and removed vital papers and the Enigma machine at gun-point. No Trojan Horse, no commando raid, no learning how to “drive” the thing. Just the taking of prisoners. Not much for Hollywood to get its teeth into there! The truth may be stranger than fiction, but it doesn’t necessarily give the opportunities for tension and 5-channel sound that Tinsel Town can.
Other material gives the USN view of the taking of Enigma machines, and why they were so vital, also featurette on the machine itself.
Coupled with this, there is a lengthy interview with the USN (Retired) advisor to the film crew. One amusing point concerned the fact that Harvey Keitel (the only person with USMC service) felt he couldn’t keep asking an Admiral questions! The rest of the cast had no such problem. I am always interested in seeing the cast interviewed, but only after the film. Beforehand spoils the illusion. A good example is to watch Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix interviewed before seeing Gladiator, which totally shatters the period feel of the movie.
All in all, I would say that the extra material contained on the DVD is an asset to your understanding of the Atlantic War, and if those who sought to silence the film as an insult to the Royal Navy were to have known this at the launch of the movie, many of them may have felt that honour had been satisfied.
On the technical side, the film has transferred brilliantly to DVD with 5-channel depth-charges appearing out the corners of my lounge, these being particularly effective. When it comes to the “claustrophobia, squalor and tension” bit, nobody, in my opinion does it better than Wolfgang Petersen with “Das Boot”, although this film gets close, sometimes.
Got the disk from Play247.com for £14.99, post-free.