Enemy At The Gates [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (9th June 2009).
The Film

There aren't that many Hollywood films that focus on the Russian perspective of the second World War, "Enemy at the Gates" is sold purely from that perspective, long before the Russians were a threat to the United States they were fighting the Nazi's in a brutal manner trying to push them back from their front lines. The Russian chapter of the war would prove costly for both Germany and Russia, with casualties in high numbers. During this time it was prudent for heroes to rise into prominence, these figures provide motivation, drum up National Pride and create a personal reason to continue the fight among other things. Russia was in need of one such person and it would be Vasily Zaytsev, a sniper that had killed 225 soldiers and officers and became a national hero. This film tells his story as he becomes a key figure. His story was documented in the book "Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad" by William Craig and the duel with Nazi sniper Major König is depicted in David L. Robbins' book "War of the Rats," although this duel is debatable as to whether it happened. Vasily's story and duel with König is the major focus of this film and while it's entirely fictionalized the basis is steeped in actual happenings.

Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law) is a solider in the Russian army, when during the Battle of Stalingrad he's made an example of heroism by his friend Commisar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) and his sniper activities are chronicled for the people to read about his Nazi kills. He soon becomes a National hero, when the German's grow tired of his kills they send their best sniper to find him and finally put an end to his life. Major König (Ed Harris) is the teacher at the Berlin Sniper School and enters into a grueling cat and mouse game with Vassili behind the crosshairs.

Disregarding the film's historical inaccuracies of which the major plot points are attributed to "Enemy at the Gates" proves a entertaining war film, with incredible production design and battle sequences that place you amid the cold and unforgiving landscape of a crumbling Stalingrad. The battle scenes, primarily the opening sequence is some of the roughest and most realistic battle scenes since the D-day opening of "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). The film manages to play on the cruelty of battle and on the need for heroes to rise. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud balances the drama and action relatively well with a star studded cast of Hollywood elite all vying for precious screen time. While all cast members do an admirable job I found that Bob Hoskins was overacting as Nikita Khrushchev as he mugged for the camera a bit too much. Generally performances are pretty good across the board forgiving little things like accents.

While Annaud takes plenty of creative license, this provides for excellent dramatic purposes as the duel between snipers creates a great cinematic tug of war and provides for some thrilling set pieces including the department store scene and the factory sequence as Vassili is trapped behind a stove. One of the more disappointing elements of the film is the love interest sub-plot featuring Rachel Weisz's character Tania Chernova was largely unnecessary.

Furthermore I was annoyed by James Horner's blazingly cliched score that relies on the triumphant far too often and can at times be not only overwhelming but incredibly manipulative in tone. It's not his best work, but when looking at his filmography it's the same style (triumphant) he's done for many films... I guess he's comfortable with writing scores like this other than taking a chance with something memorable or unique.

If you look at the film as a piece of entertainment "Enemy at the Gates" is a fairly good film, the production design, battles and performances are all pretty good despite a few let downs and if you're going to nit pick about accuracies then go rent a documentary. Otherwise this film makes for a good rental, if you're a fan then an upgrade to this HD edition might be warranted.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression codec. The film's color palette is very dull, tending to lean towards the darker more murky colors. The transfer accurately presents this muted palette and enhances the textures and detail from the previous DVD release. The image features some grain and blacks are a bit noisy at times. But the overall print is clean and sharp, with natural skin tones, but one of my main problems with this transfer is that some shots appear rather flat, wide shots are an exception and feature some incredible depth showing off the gritty locations and production design.

Audio

Three audio tracks are present in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The sound mix is mostly active for a war film, with blaring music and well mixed action scenes that feel immersive. However the power was lacking, I expected something a little more aggressive. While dialogue is clear and distortion free, battle scenes make excellent use of the sound space and ambient sounds add to the immersive quality. While it needed some punch it does the trick for the most part.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

Paramount has released this film with a collection of two featurettes, a series of deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is "Through the Crosshairs" an EPK featurette that runs for 19 minutes 36 seconds and covers the basics of the production and features some behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and clips from the finished film all cut together. The clip covers things like the script, plot, tone, characters, shooting the film etc. There's not enough here to warrant repeated viewing.

Next up is another featurette entitled "Inside Enemy at the Gates" which runs for 15 minutes 1 seconds, this covers the historical content of the film as the cast comment on their roles and comment on their favorite moments in the film. It's another fluff piece that hardly has any meat on it.

The disc also features a collection of 9 deleted scenes, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option, and include:

- "The Pier" which runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds, Vassili tells Danilov about his Grandfather.
- "Sacha Dogtags" which runs for 23 seconds, Vassili shows Sacha the dogtag he collected.
- "Trenches" which runs for 2 minutes 21 seconds, an additional scene with Vassili and Danilov in the trenches about the importance of Vassili as a beacon of hope.
- "Soup Time" which runs for 45 seconds, Koulikov sends out Volodya for food.
- "Sleep Koulikov" which runs for 58 seconds, Koulikov informs Vassili that sleep is the number one enemy of the sniper.
- "Black Cats" which runs for 1 minute 40 seconds, Khrushchev and Danilov drink vodka as he tells Danilov of Hitler not accepting anything.
- "Tania Cries" which runs for 44 seconds, Tania tells Mother Filipov about the list of names she saw.
- "Hang On" which runs for 51 seconds, an angry Khrushchev on the phone wanting proper reinforcements.
- "Danilov's Report" which runs for 15 seconds, Danilov submits his report to the Captain during an offensive.

Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer and is the only extra in high-definition and runs for 2 minutes 28 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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