U-571 HD DVD

As submarine movies go, U-571 is far from a classic. It includes scenes we've seen in countless other submarine films, and its history is warped (implying that the U.S. Navy and not the Royal Navy captured the Nazi Enigma machine and broke the German naval codes—though the end titles do correct the record).

Still, the movie has a clever plot with exciting action sequences, as American sailors find themselves in possession of a German U-Boat when their mission goes awry. They still have the Enigma, but the way back to home base is now more complicated than they had planned on. Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, and Harvey Keitel star.

U-571 was always an audio- and videophile favorite, with good reason. Even on the DVD, it produced a sharp (perhaps just slightly too sharp) image. And its depth charge attacks exploded in many a home theater demonstration when the film first appeared on video in 2000. Those attacks do go way over the top, but if director Jonathan Mostow's intent was to shake loose your fillings, he succeeds.

This HD DVD is one of the best-looking titles I've seen to date (along with, in no particular order, Apollo 13, The Perfect Storm, The Phantom of the Opera, Training Day, Unforgiven, and—ulp, help me Rhonda—The Chronicles of Riddick). Every detail is clear and crisp but without obvious edge enhancement (a flaw that affects many an otherwise excellent, standard DVD). The dark scenes in the sub also come off well, and the daytime above deck action looks terrific. The only flaw I see was also visible on the original DVD; the early scenes at the wedding party are rather pasty and flat-looking. The rest of the movie looks so good that the only logical conclusion is that the problem was in the source material.

The sound, in common with most of the HD DVD's I've auditioned so far, is outstanding. Particularly notable is its smoothly rendered detail, a likely result of the higher sampling rate used in the Dolby Digital Plus track that I auditioned for this review. Yes, it's converted in the player to PCM and then to DTS for the digital output, but there are convincing arguments for why this will still be superior to straight Dolby Digital or even DTS.

The disc also includes a DTS track. I'm taking my time deciding which track sounds better, as there are variables that I still need to account for (such as relative loudness levels). But with both options on the disc, you get your choice. If you're a long-time DTS fan, that's fine, but the inclusion of Dolby Digital+ (even though the latter is converted to high bitrate DTS on the way to your receiver when you use the player's digital output) makes this a new ballgame, so don't automatically assume that the DTS track on the disc will be the better choice.

Video reviewed on a Yamaha DPX-1300 DLP projector, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player set to 1080i. Audio evaluated via the player's digital output to an Anthem D1 pre-pro, Proceed AMP5 amplifier, and Revel F52/C52/M22/B15 loudspeakers.