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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

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Released 22-Jan-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Train
Deleted Scenes-9
Featurette-Through The Crosshairs
Featurette-Inside Enemy At The Gates
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
dts Trailer-Piano
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 125:37
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:56) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jean-Jacques Annaud

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jude Law
Joseph Fiennes
Rachel Weisz
Bob Hoskins
Ed Harris
Ron Perlman
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music James Horner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, a cast montage in the early credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    When a certain big-budget World War II epic directed by Steven Spielberg was in the midst of its theatrical run, I went with a relative to see what so many critics and returned soldiers alike were raving about. Now, to my mind, this particular film started out well, with an introductory battle scene that was frightening in its horror and intensity, but the rest of the film lacked a certain something. It was bogged down by Tom Hanks and his fellow cast members having to get their share of great, poignant dialogue, or maybe it was the fact that Spielberg forgot that the primary reason people go to see films is not for the history lesson - it is to be entertained. This latter point was obviously not lost upon writer/director Jean-Jacques Annaud and writer Alain Godard, however, when they conceived Enemy At The Gates, for not only does it have a powerful insight into the darkest hour of recent history, it is also a ripping yarn that never has a dull moment.

    The broad story of Enemy At The Gates is set during the height of the Nazi empire, with the Germans having conquered all of Europe and only needing to gain control of Stalingrad in order to crush the Soviets, thus having mastery over all of Asia. The main focus, however, is upon a young soldier by the name of Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), who just happens to have an extraordinary ability as a marksman. The film finds him being herded, like many other young men from the Soviet republics, into a train bound for Stalingrad, where the bloodiest battle of the war is being fought. After a battle in which only half the Soviet soldiers are provided with a rifle, and all of them are saddled with the threat of being gunned down should they retreat, Vassili encounters a political officer by the name of Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). Displaying his markmanship skills before an astounded Danilov, Vassili survives to fight another day, while Danilov himself faces a rather terse man called Nikita Kruschev (Bob Hoskins), who has been sent by Stalin to supervise the city's defense.

    Danilov's theory about why morale in the Russian army is so low in the face of so many defeats, as he explains to Kruschev, is relatively simple: the Soviet army has no positive examples to rally behind, only a choice between being killed by the Germans or their own army. He is therefore commissioned to start printing the newspaper again, bringing the Soviet people up-to-date news on the daily kills that Vassili achieves, boosting the will of the city's defenders to keep fighting. During one slow day, however, our heroes encounter a young boy named Sacha (Gabriel Thomson) and his mother, Filipov (Eva Mattes), who soon introduces Vassili and Danilov to her semi-adopted daughter, Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz). News of Vassili's bravery in battle is spreading fast, and the Germans are at a loss to stop the tide of officers being killed until a Major by the name of Erwin Konig (Ed Harris) is sent in to take care of the problem. While Vassili is leading small groups of snipers, such as Koulikov (Ron Perlman) on a guerrilla-style battle, Konig is hunting him down with the dedication that only the best can bring.

    What makes Enemy At The Gates stand out is that the scenes with no dialogue are the ones that really stay in the mind, thanks to some tightly paced action and sublime acting from the leads. One can clearly see the strain Vassili feels when his comrades are dying all around him, picked off by an enemy he could kill if he could only get a clear shot, and one can even understand the motives of Konig as he does what he feels he must in order to win the battle. One of the best points in this film's favour is that it refuses to judge the combatants on either side of the line, instead presenting them as human beings in extraordinary circumstances. I find myself constantly returning to this film, and each subsequent viewing is just as tense as the last, with nail-biting action sequences that draw the viewer in like most action sequences cannot. This is an essential film in any collection, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who finds, like I do, that the mere fact that there are no American characters at all in this film, to be a big selling point. Or recommending it to anyone who loves films, for that matter.

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Transfer Quality


    Enemy At The Gates is blessed with a beautiful transfer that can be used as demonstration material, especially to those who are still viewing films on VHS.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced, as you would rightly expect.

    This transfer is razor-sharp, with the full ugliness of war-torn Stalingrad leaping off the screen in more detail than you might have wished. Fine details such as the blood on corpses, which feature quite prominently in this film, are rendered with an uncanny kind of precision. The shadow detail of this transfer is excellent, and there is no low-level noise.

    The colours in this film can best be described as ugly, with shades of grey featuring most prominently in the overall scheme, closely followed by the odd splash of red. The transfer captures this rather subdued colour scheme without any problems.

    MPEG artefacts were not found in this transfer, and indeed the compression looks totally transparent here. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a handful of minor aliasing artefacts, the most objectionable of which I found on a grille at 67:51, which in turn was only visible for a second. Film artefacts consisted of some minor black and white marks that were infrequently found on the picture, most of which were very difficult to spot because they blended in well with the colour scheme. The only seriously objectionable one I noticed came at 21:31, and I am willing to excuse it since I had to watch the transfer in slow-motion to properly discern it. Burned in subtitles are present at 5:45, 8:38, 14:44, 21:08, 33:39, 44:52, 49:06, 66:28, 110:00, and 116:10, which show dates, locations, or translations of the pieces of Russian text found at some points in the film.

    The English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles on this disc are very accurate to the spoken dialogue, and they are generally positioned in proximity to whomever is speaking a given phrase. There are a few words left out here and there that lose the essence of a line, but they are otherwise the best subtitles I have seen for a while.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 14 and 15, at 85:56. This is just after the sex scene, and while it is obvious, it does not disrupt the flow of the film too greatly.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Matching a beautiful video transfer is an audio transfer that will knock your socks off, not to mention a DTS soundtrack that will make you do something Bob Hoskins' character is fond of repeating.

    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, both of them renderings of the original English dialogue: a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, and a DTS 5.1 soundtrack with a bitrate of 768 kilobits per second. I listened to both of these soundtracks in their entirety. The DTS soundtrack offers slightly more fidelity and a more balanced soundstage, but the two soundtracks are otherwise more or less identical. Surprisingly, I found on my first listen that the DTS soundtrack actually seemed to have been mastered at a slightly lower level than its Dolby Digital counterpart.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, except that a lot of it is whispered and tends to sound a little subdued within this soundstage. This was the intent of the filmmakers, and it helps to keep the action sequences realistic, but one must bear in mind that this disc is very unforgiving of poorly set up systems. Another interesting point is that the filmmakers went out of their way to avoid using the stereotypical Russian and German accents, instead instructing the cast to speak in their normal British and American voices, which helps intelligibility and the humanness of the characters immensely. There were no discernable problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to James Horner, and it is a powerful beast, with a dramatic flair that keeps the action sequences exciting in spite of the fact that most of them are unbearably slow (and tense). Again, clichés and stereotypes were purposefully avoided, and the result is a score that, while sounding oddly familiar, seems to have very little in common with other scores for films that are set in Russia or involve Russian characters.

    The surround channels are aggressively, but subtly, utilised in order to create an extremely immersive sound field, with music, bombs, explosions, bullets, and the general sounds of battle all getting plenty of surround action. There are numerous scenes in which the surround channels have some sort of powerful effect coming out of them, although most of the time the surround channels are used to support explosions and tank rolls in the distance. The best use of the surround channels that I noticed comes at 41:52, when a squadron of German bombers passes overhead. While there is a small degree of front-heaviness about this transfer, even the most front-heavy sections of the film have some amount of support from the rears.

    The subwoofer is also used in an aggressive but subtle fashion, mainly to support the combat sequences and the distant sounds of bombs. It supported these effects with aplomb, blending into the soundstage nicely.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Quality rather than quantity is the emphasis here.


    The menu features a well-themed introduction, some nicely-themed animation, and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is easy to navigate.

DTS Trailer - Piano

   No matter how many times I hear this trailer, I never get sick of it for two basic reasons: it is short, sweet, and to the point, as well as being encoded at a similar level to the feature. Dolby Digital could learn a lot from how this trailer is presented.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Train

   A pox on the things.

Deleted Scenes

    When this option is selected, a listing of deleted scenes and a Play All option is displayed. The nine deleted scenes are presented as a featurette spanning eleven minutes and one second, in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and they are not 16x9 Enhanced. Each scene appears to have been taken from a later generation production source, although the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is rather rough and unremarkable.

Featurette - Through The Crosshairs

   This nineteen minute and forty-one second featurette appears to be a daytime television special, judging from the graphics it begins with, although its insight value should not be discounted. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with footage from the film in an approximate 1.66:1 ratio, and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Inside Enemy At The Gates

   This fifteen minute featurette contains interviews with the director and principal cast, and reveals some rather interesting tidbits about how the film was made. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with footage from the film in 2.35:1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and 16x9 Enhancement, this trailer is very good at selling the film without giving too much away.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies for Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, Rachel Weisz, and writer/director Jean-Jacques Annaud are presented under this menu. They are quite comprehensive and interesting, although the text still only has an annoyingly small amount of space allocated to it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    Given how hard this film pummels the average sound system, and how absurd this film would sound in French, there is no contest here at all. Region 4 wins due to the enveloping, crushing DTS soundtrack, not to mention the lack of 3:2 pull-down artefacts and the superior resolution of PAL, all three of which are essential features.

Addendum December 6, 2001: It has since come to my attention that the UK R2 version of this disc features a commentary track by director Jean-Jacques Annaud. While I have yet to hear any specific news about the censorship status of this title, it appears that this may well be the best version of Enemy At The Gates at this time.

Addendum February 14, 2002: It appears that the R2 UK version of this film also features a third documentary, a poster gallery, storyboards, and a full-bitrate DTS soundtrack. It has been reported that the R2 UK version does suffer some posterization, but this still tips the scales a fair bit towards the Region 2 version.


    Although I can't say this for certain, I am sure the real Vassili Zeitsev would be proud if he knew that his struggle helped preserve the freedom to make films like this one. Jude Law brings the character to life with a powerful, human performance that enables the viewer to forget decades of McCarthyism or Reaganism, and see the combatants as the human beings that they are. Films about battle seldom get any better than this, so get out there and buy a copy already.

    The video transfer is beautiful, and almost of reference quality.

    The audio transfer is powerfully enveloping, and almost of reference quality.

    The extras are light in quantity, but of excellent quality.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, December 06, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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