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Paramount Studios presents
Enemy At The Gates (2001)

"He isn't dead and do you know why? Because I haven't killed him yet."
- Major Konig (Ed Harris)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: August 15, 2001

Stars: Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes
Other Stars: Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins, Ed Harris
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud

MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic war violence and some sexuality
Run Time: 02h:10m:57s
Release Date: August 14, 2001
UPC: 097363386247
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In autumn of 1942, Hitler's armies were at the height of their power. As they marched through the Soviet Union with hopes of domination one city on the edge of a river stood in their way. That city was Stalingrad, a turning point in World War II where the Russian army held Hitler's Third Reich back and stopped the dictator from advancing any further into the Soviet Union. Often referred to as the most horrific battle of this or any war, Stalingrad was also the setting for a duel between two snipers (one German, one Russian), which is the focus of Jean Jacques Annaud's tense, but flawed, film Enemy At The Gates.

At the start of Enemy at The Gates the German and Russian armies are in the midst of a horrific battle for the city of Stalingrad. Among the countless Russian soldiers being thrown into the battle in the city is Vassily Zaitsev (Law), a shepherd boy who has been shipped to Stalingrad to help with the fight. After saving the lives of both himself and political officer Danilov (Fiennes) with his amazingly accurate sniping, Vassily is quickly being touted as the savior of Stalingrad. As Danilov talks Vassily up to the visiting Krushchev (Hoskins), the leader agrees that the Russian army needs to build morale, and that Vassily is their best bet. At the same time, Danilov and Vassily are each falling in love with Tania (Weisz), though Tania's affections are focused solely on Vassily. After Vassily quickly becomes a hero among the citizens of Stalingrad by killing a large amount of German officers, the Germans provide a match for him in Major Konig (Harris), a sniper of equal talent and more experience. As the film goes on the two are locked in a deadly battle in bombed out buildings and factories all over the war torn city.

Director Jean Jacques Annaud has a history of making films that are fine up until a subplot takes the viewer away from the central story and on to less interesting situations. His last film, the Brad Pitt snoozer Seven Years In Tibet, was a fine film about one mans redemption until the focus of the screenplay shifted to the Chinese overtaking the people of Tibet. Here he runs into the same problem, his screenplay and direction create a perfectly tense and exciting film, that is ultimately saddled down with an unnecessary subplot involving a underdeveloped sappy love triangle.

That said, there is a lot to like about Enemy At The Gates, and on a technical level the film is an amazing achievement. From the computer generated Luftwaffe's that hover over the Volga river, to the production design by Wolf Kroeger, Enemy At The Gates is simply stunning to look at. The battle sequences in Enemy At The Gates are equally impressive, as are the bombers destroying the city as well as the opening combat scenes in the town square are both perfectly executed.

A small problem with the film is the fact that the characters are all of Russian or German descent yet the actors who play the roles each speak in either American or British accents. It is a small flaw to be sure, yet one can't deny that it is odd that the Rachel Weisz character, which is supposed to be Russian, has a thick British accent. Again, a small flaw, but certainly a distracting one.

Jude Law is terrific as Vassily, in a performance that could have been over the top, yet Law plays the character with an understated tone. Law is quickly becoming one of the best young actors today. Fiennes suffers from an underwritten part that never allows him to develop into a character that is interesting or that the viewer cares about, which may have been purposeful . Weisz also suffers from the same affliction as her character seems to be nothing more than a centerpiece to the love story. Harris plays Konig with a cool sensibility that while not over the top in its evilness has a chilling menace.

In the end Enemy At The Gates plays like a film that was made for chapter breaks. As long as your attention is focused on the central sniper story and not the unneeded romantic subplot or incorrect accents you'll enjoy it.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: With a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Enemy At The Gates looks nothing short of fantastic. From the snowy landscapes in the opening scene to the gloomy look of a war torn Stalingrad throughout the film, colors are perfectly rendered. The desaturated blues and greens of Stalingrad look great with black levels coming off well with no traces of grain. Edge enhancement is nearly nonexistent, and the print shows no flaws of dirt. This is a wonderfully done transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As has become the case with most war films that have made their way to DVD, Enemy At The Gates boasts a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 track, despite what I've read on the internet. I thought the bass amazing, and none too subtle split surrounds this is a mix that begs to be played loud. Perhaps the most impressive moments are the sniper vs. sniper moments with ambient sounds and music that sounds beautiful across the front speakers. Dialogue is easy to understand with no distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:22s

Extras Review: Enemy At The Gates has some nice extras. The most noteworthy is a set of nine deleted scenes, that while not needed in the finished film make for a nice one time viewing on the DVD. Each are brief clips or extensions of existing scenes and are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Two 15-minute featurettes are included, the first being the cleverly titled Inside Enemy At The Gates. While the featurette is promotional in nature it does feature interviews with Annaud, Law, Fiennes, Harris and Weisz that are informative, if not very substantial. Next up is Through The Crosshairs that deals more with the behind-the-scenes aspect of the production including the construction of the sets. Of the two Through The Crosshairs is certainly the more interesting.

Finally, the theatrical trailer is presented in Dolby 2.0 sound.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Enemy At The Gates is a terrific DVD in terms of video and audio quality, and the extra features are an added bonus. The film itself is a mixed bag, but the parts that are good are worth a look. Recommended as a rental for first time viewers, and a must buy for fans of the film.


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