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MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Enemy at the Gates is a true-life ripping yarn from World War II that somehow managed to elude popularization until recently. It is a story of two snipers in war-torn Stalingrad. The Soviets and the Germans take and retake the city from one another. The Soviets make a hero of their sniper, Vasily Zaitsev (Jude Law), which prompts Major K├Ânig (Ed Harris), the head of a sniper school in Germany, to come to Stalingrad to try to outwit the Russian peasant.

This is a war story with a tight focus on two personalities, which makes for great drama and exciting storytelling. Their different backgrounds lets the story be bigger than just a battle of wits, but also a clash of backgrounds and ideologies. One sniper is young, one is old. One is a poor shepherd, one is an educated officer. One learned to shoot in the wild, one was trained and educated.

The snipers are Russian and German. The director of this international affair is a Frenchman (Jean-Jacques Annaud). So naturally the dialogue is mostly in British-accented English (except for some background characters). The language seems wrong at first, and I think it’s because we are introduced to the Soviets first. In the opening set piece, the disposable Germans speak German. So when the first Germans start speaking English later on, the language seems wrong again. You do get used to it, and I think there is some logic to it (primary characters speak English; Russian and German are used to convey non-understanding by the primary characters in the scene).

There is an interesting suplot that shows Russian woman served in their army. Rachel Weisz plays one; she’s educated and speaks German but prefers a gun to a typewriter. Her presence in the film is not simply a contrivance for a love interest but rather an illustration of Soviet military culture sixty years ago. Then again there is a love story, and the army setting makes for one of the more memorable and awkward sex scenes in recent memory.

Enemy at the Gates is not a huge blockbuster action movie; it’s a little bit more thoughtful than that. There is more going on in its head than just gunfire and explosions. Call it an action movie for the art house crowd, or a highbrow movie for the action crowd.

DVD Extras

The extras are recycled and definitely won't tax your Blu-ray player
The extras are recycled and definitely won’t tax your Blu-ray player

All of the extra features on this Blu-ray are from a previous DVD release.

Through the Crosshairs is so much marketing that it’s barely watchable. The whole thing screams “sales pitch.” Inside Enemy at the Gates looks like footage from a press junket. It’s not as unbearable as the other featurette, but you have to sift through a lot of dirt to find any useful or interesting nuggets.

The deleted scenes are almost worth watching. They are presented as-is, with no director commentary or introduction. You can play all ten (or so) and it will only take a few minutes. None of them offer any surprises, although one of them explains the wolf-shooting scene at the beginning of the film. Note that these deleted scenes are very low resolution. They are both letteroxed and phoneboxed. Some of them look like video output from a working print. These definitely won’t tax your Blu-ray player.

Picture and Sound

The sound on this Blu-ray is very good. The symphonic score has a hint of eastern Europe. There’s a great, memorable four-note motif conveying power and gravity, and it sounds great on Dolby TrueHD.

Picture quality is very good. I saw some film noise flash by once or twice, but it’s generally very good. The film has an organic texture to it. You wouldn’t call anything pristine or sharp, but you can see good detail in heaps of rubble and in the rough clothing of the weary soldiers. There isn’t much computer trickery, so it’s nice to see sweeping vistas of crowds in costumes, towering trains and crumbling ruins.

How to Use This DVD

Buckle in for a satisfying, tense adventure. Turn up the sound to catch that powerful score. Skip all the extra features except for maybe the deleted scenes.