ENEMY AT THE GATES (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 19, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“One of the most realistic looking war movies since ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘ENEMY AT THE GATES’ features an epic demonstration of the bleakness of War and the destruction of surroundings around them during ‘The Battle of Stalingrad’ during World War II. Powerful war imagery and also outstanding performances by Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris.”
TITLE: ENEMY AT THE GATES
DURATION: 131 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish
RATED: R (For Strong Graphic War Violence and Some Sexuality)
COMPANY: Paramount Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 19, 2009
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Based on a nonfiction book by William Craig
Written by Jean-Jacques Annaud and Alain Godard
Executive Producer: Alain Godard, Roland Pelligrino, Jorg Reichl, Alisa Tager
Produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud and John D. Schofield
Music by James Horner
Director of Photography by Robert Fraisse
Edited by Noelle Boisson and Humphrey Dixon
Casting by John and Ros Hubbard
Production Design by Wolf Kroeger
Art Direction by Peter Francis, Neil Lamont, Steven Lawrence, Dominic Masters
Set Decoration by Simon Wakefield
Costume Design by Gudrun Leyendecker and Janty Yates
Jude Law as Vassili Zaitsev
Ed Harris as Major Konig
Rachel Weisz as Tania Chernova
Joseph Fiennes as Commisar Danilov
Bob Hoskins as Nikita Khruschev
Ron Perlman as Koulikov
Eva Mattes as Mother Filipov
Gabriel Thomson as Sacha Filipov
An all-star cast lights up the screen in this riveting epic hailed as “a vivid dramatization of one of history’s titanic turning points”. (Gene Shalit, TODAY) The year is 1942 and the Nazis are cutting a deadly swath through Russia. Under the leadership of Kruschev (Bob Hoskins), the citizens of Stalingrad are mounting a brave resistance, spurred by the exploits of their local hero, Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law). An expert sniper, Vassili’s deeds have become legendary – thanks to propaganda produced by Vassili’s best friend, a political officer named Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). To stop Vassili, the Germans dispatch their best sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris), to Stalingrad. When Vassili and Danilov both fall in love with a beautiful soldier (Rachel Weisz), Danilov deserts his friend, leaving Vassili to face his German counterpart alone. As the city burns, Vassili and Konig begin a cunning game of cat and mouse, waging a private war for courage, honor and country.
In March 2001, a World War II film adapted from a 1973 nonfiction book “Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad” by William Craig was released in theaters.
Featuring a screenplay written and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (“Wings of Courage”, “L’Amant”, “Seven Years in Tibet”, etc.) along with co-writer Alain Godard (“Wings of Courage”, “Der Name Der Rose”, “Palace”, etc.), the film which had a budget of $68 million, went on to make over $96 million worldwide.
“ENEMY OF THE GATES” is a fictionalized story about the Russian sniper hero Vassili Zaitsev. Known for killing hundreds of Axis soldiers using a Mosin-Nagant rifle but also a symbol of success for the Russians in their use of training of snipers.
The film begins with a young Vassili being taught by his grandfather how to shoot a fox that is about to hunt down a horse. We are then taken to World War II where Vassili (Jude Law) is a Red Army soldier and is traveling in a cattle truck with soldiers and civilians. He immediately takes notice of a beautiful woman (Rachel Weisz).
The cattle truck is then turned to a military convoy headed to Stalingrad, which is being under attack from the Germans. We see soldiers trying to cross the Volga getting gunned down and slaughtered as the Germans have airplanes to take down the ships in the sea.
The Russian military issues the warning that if anyone from the Red Army attempts to run or retreat, they will be killed. The groups are split into two groups. One that is assigned with a Mosin-Nagant rifle, while the other carries ammunition. Vassili is given the ammunition.
Because of misinformation of how far the control the Germans have of the city, members of the Red Army end up being slaughtered by their own military for violating the rule.
We then see a car driving through the streets and becomes under fire from the German, eventually knocking the car over. The driver, Commissar Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) hides amongst the bodies of other Russians. As the Germans come and make sure all Russians are dead, a few of the Nazi military leaders start to relax while one takes a shower outside of a destroyed building.
Commissar Danilov gets one of the rifles but he is not a real soldier that knows how to fire guns but one of the Russian survivors, Vassili tells him that he will take all five of the Germans out and he does so by using a rifle with one shot each. Danilov is grateful that Vassili was there to take them down and is amazed of what courage this young man had in taking on the Nazi’s literally by himself.
Meanwhile, Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate defense strategies. Because of the constant lead changes between the Russians the Germans, morale is down. To improve morale, Commissar Danilov offers Khrushchev a suggestion that the Russians need to have a hero. When asked if he knows of one, Danilov suggests Vassili.
Commissar Danilov who has the job of boosting morale through media like newspapers and propaganda fliers has took his new friend Vassili and made him the major hero throughout Russia. Wherever Vassili shows up, the Russian soldiers are inspired to have him around. Vassili is now transferred to the Russian sniper division.
As the film progresses, Vassili ends up at the home of Mother Filipov (Eva Mattes) who lives with her son Sacha (Gabriel Thomson). That is where Vassili is reunited with the beautiful woman he saw when he first became a soldier. The woman is a soldier named Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz) who learned German.
Vassili is happy to see Tania but so is Commissar Danilov who seems to have fallen for the soldier as well. He immediately tries to convince her that her knowledge of German can help the Russians intelligence decode German communication.
Meanwhile, Vassili’s fame continues to grow as he and the other snipers are killing off German soldiers and officers. The Germans who are aware of the Russian hero, Vassili decide to bring their top sniper to go after him. His name is Major Erwin Konig (Ed Harris), an excellent sniper and the head of the German Army Sniper School.
While Vassili and other snipers are out on a mission, Major Konig takes out two of the snipers that accompanied Vassili. Immediately, Vassili knows that Kong’s precision and his way of hunting is excellent and feels that he may not be up to the job to take him on.
Danilov knowing that his friend is feeling a bit down about the situation, brings in Koulikov (Ron Perlman), a sniper who trained under Konig before the war. Koulikov then trains Vassili on the ways Major Konig thinks and behaves.
Thus begins the cat-and-mouse game between Vassili and Major Konig and who has the skills and experience to take each other out. Meanwhile, the relationship intensifies for Tania and Vassili but what will happen when Commissar Danilov who also has fallen for Tania finds out his friend Vassili (who knows that Danilov is smitten with her) is also going for her behind his back?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“ENEMY AT THE GATES” receives its 1080p High Definition transfer (2:35:1 aspect ratio) which looks absolutely wonderful when watching the war unfold. Just watching the war in the first half hour as chaos erupts during a cold, cloudy day with this bluish tinge showing bleakness was well captured by Director of Photography (Robert Fraisse).
With that being said, the majority of the shots during days of overcast and conditions were not colorful and vibrant. Indoor scenes showcase a yellowness as natural lighting and places where there are no electricity shows the amber effects with blacks all around the characters.
“ENEMY AT THE GATES” is not a film to expect color vibrancy, its a film depicting war with many lives lost, times when the Russian forces feel they don’t know themselves if they will live another day. I didn’t notice any compression artifacts and even in times of darkness, I think I saw may a little speckle but overall, the transfer to HD was well done.
As for audio, the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD transfer (also featured are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks) was great but not excellent. There is very good use of direction of sound from the ongoing bombings throughout the city which utilizes the low frequency of the subwoofer, then during scenes where there are many Russians around, you can hear those people talk in the fronts while dialogue is coming straight from the center speaker. Sniper shots and rifle shots are also done well as you can hear the bullets zipping and hitting its target on impact. But if there was one weakness that I found, I did not notice any usage of the rear surrounds.
This was surprising because you hear the front channel and subwoofer being utilized but I was putting my ear right next to my rear surrounds during several scenes and I didn’t hear anything. Made sure to switch to another film to make sure that things were working correctly and surround utilization was fine, switched back to “ENEMY AT THE GATES” and no rear surround usage. Overall, audio use was very good but it would have been even better if the rears were utilized effectively.
Subtitles are featured in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
“ENEMY AT THE GATES” features several informative special features which include:
- Through the Crosshairs – (19:35) Interviews with Director Jean-Jacques Annaud, producers and talent. How they wanted the right people to accomplish their goal for this film. How they looked at different spots in Europe to film the battle sequences and settled in Germany and for the river scenes right near the Polish border. And then dissecting several scenes such as the many lead changes between the Russians and Germans during the Battle of Stalingrad. How the talents had to train with a rifle and how 600 extras were used, 250,000 pounds of smoke oil and the challenges they had since the extras spoke different languages and they had to time the explosions and the extras correctly. A very informative special feature.
- Inside Enemy at the Gates – (15:01) Interviews with Director Jean-Jacques Annaud and the four major talent. How the cast studied a little about World War II and the involvement of the Russians, being trained with a rifle and their impression of their characters and working witch each other. Then each discussing their favorite scenes from the film and also how difficult it was for Jude Law to have the love scene with Rachel Weisz knowing that many people were around them.
- Deleted Scenes – (10:13) A total of nine deleted scenes. Two key deleted scenes showing the closeness of Tania Chernova and Mother Filipov when discussing her parent’s death and also Vassili talking about sleep deprivation and Koulikov telling him that its the worst thing for a sniper. But also a key scene which shows what happens with Danilov’s final report about Vassili.
- Theatrical Trailer HD – (2:27) The original theatrical trailer in High Definition.
“ENEMY AT THE GATES” is a very impressive war film. Around the time this film came out, I was impressed by the amount of extras utilized for the film but to see body parts and blood spatters (in one scene it gets on the camera). This was filmed wonderfully!
I was also impressed with the performances with all four major talents. Jude Law did a great job as Vassili, and on one side we know he is the great sniper of Russia but when not on the battlefield, he was a man in love. Ed Harris who plays the antagonist is just a wonderful actor and did a great job playing Major Konig. And the performances by Rachel Weisz and Joseph Fiennes are absolutely fabulous.
If you take the film on its own as a fictionalized story, then you can probably enjoy the screenplay as it shows the bleakness of war but how, during war, love is found and how love was lost. It’s a powerful film… But its a powerful film that can be marred by the fact that certain scenes are embellished for the sake of the story. This is not a factual story.
There were protests in Russia of how Russian soldiers and officers were being depicted. For example, soldiers who were forced by their officers to attack Nazi machine guns in a suicide attempt and if they retreated, the officers shot and killed their own. For Russians who honor their war heroes and those who lost their lives at “The Battle of Stalingrad”, they have every right to have been upset with how the soldiers were depicted.
But this is a fictional film inspired from three pages of the original book by William Craig. It’s indeed a powerful film with strong images of war and a film featuring wonderful performances from the talent. The Blu-ray HD transfer is well-done and fans of the film may want to double dip if they have own the original DVD release solely for picture quality and lossless audio.
I enjoyed “ENEMY AT THE GATES” and I definitely recommend it on Blu-ray!
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