The Gentlemen | Film & 4K Blu-ray Review

Film: A

Guy Ritchie has had one of the more varied careers in Hollywood. Not in terms of artistic content, mind you (all his films seem to share an entertaining, though familiar, style and eccentricity), but in terms of success. While he’s had some considerable highs (i.e. Aladdin – 2019 which way did better than even the highest of expectations, and Sherlock Holmes – 2009), he’s had quite some lows as well (i.e. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which bombed quite fantastically at the box office). With The Gentlemen, he seems to be going a bit back to basics, to a more pure and unadulterated “Ritchie” style.

Michael Pearson (aka Mickey), played wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey, is getting out of the business. After spending the longer part of his life creating and building an empire from scratch by selling ‘puff’ (i.e. weed, marijuana, bush, or skunk-a-mola white widow super cheese), he wants to get out of the business and live a more wholesome and domestic life with his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery). He already has Matthew (Jeremy Strong) in mind as the buyer, who, although they’re main competitors in the business, have always shared a certain level of mutual respect. Not a few days have passed after Mickey has proposed this to Matthew that Dry Eye (Henry Golding), another mafia boss of a very different set of vices, gets wind of it and wants to take it. From then on things get quite complicated as Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a reporter, has documented all these exchanges, and is asking Ray (Charlie Hunnam), Mickey’s right hand guy, to give him a hefty sum of money if he wants him to keep the evidence from making his way to his boss, who has had a grudge against Mickey after he ridiculed him at a party.

The Gentlemen is heavy on plot and characters. Things start off quite simple, but soon enough, there’s quite the number of plot elements with various characters moving and playing a part within them. While this makes for quite an exhilarating story, it also prevents deep character development, which brings us to The Gentlemen’s biggest drawback. With so many characters and plot devices moving around within the story, it is obvious there was very little time to spend with each character to develop them beyond what most people would call ‘acceptable’ . They all have their own quirks and personalities, with each of them thankfully materializing as unique people. However, besides maybe a few moments with Mickey and Dry Eye, all the characters end up the same people they were at the beginning of the film. It is a weird criticism, but The Gentlemen gets so many of its elements right that it is hard to not notice perhaps the only thing that prevents it from becoming what most would consider a perfect film. Having said that, The Gentlemen is undeniably one of the best films to come out in 2019, with its plot, acting, directing, and style overcoming that drawback in the story.

Guy Ritchie knows how to direct. Say what you will about his box office failures, the man has style. It can feel a bit too familiar at times, but he carries it out to such a silky smooth effect that it is hard not to be charmed by it and enjoy it, especially here. The dialogue is rich, with all the different lines, songs, scenes, and editing blending together so well that it almost feels like you’re watching and listening to a two-hour-plus song with the perfect rhythm and pacing. The cinematography and costume design is also very praise worthy. Were it not for one of the plot elements involving phones, this could easily be ambiguous in its time period. It harks back to the 50s and earlier decades, with the warm, almost cherry-brown color palette adding to the style which pretty much becomes a character in of itself.

As a film, The Gentlemen is actually a very enjoyable crowd pleaser. Besides the style, the story is also very well constructed, reaching a crescendo about two thirds into the film that is actually quite nicely sustained until the very end. It may not be big on substance or character development, but it is quite undeniably one of the most enjoyable gangster films from recent years. It does not have the substance of the more famous gangster films from say Martin Scorsese, but it is also ten times more enjoyable without the post-watch conflicted feelings of watching a terrible person, or persons, self-destruct while obtaining power.

Picture: 4.5 / 5

The HDR10 encoded 4K picture look quite gorgeous. The film was reportedly shot in 3.4K and finished at a 4K DI (if IMDB is to be trusted). Even though it was shot on digital, the picture went through some post-processing that added grain, and it looks quite convincing, to the point that I first wondered whether this had been shot on 35mm. The grain looks quite natural, and on 4K it look very refined and actually beautiful. Fine detail is very well displayed. Some sequences in the film were shot in an interesting way, in which there are various shots in which two or more characters are within the frame at two different planes in space (i.e. someone is closer to the camera while someone else is further away), and seemingly as a stylistic choice, the camera is focused on the space between them, making the people on camera look a tiny bit out of focus. That takes slight hit on the fine detail, but on other shots with character closeups or outdoor medium and wider shots, detail does hold up quite well, with stitching and patterns on clothing, letters on a chalkboard, and pores and hair on people being very apparent defined. The scene in which Dry Eye is trying to convince Mickey to sell to him is a showcase of skin pores and hair, and is a great example for how fine detail on face closeups should look on the higher format. It is also worth mentioning that grain is more readily resolved thanks to the higher definition, helping the image maintain its more filmic intended look.

The colors and HDR compliment the 50s style quite well without calling too much attention to itself. The higher dynamic range is readily apparent from the opening scene, as the various lights inside a house at nighttime carry some nice punch that go beyond SDR levels. Outdoor scenes in the sunlight also look appropriately brighter, with greens popping off quite nicely. Colors are perhaps where the picture shines its best, with other colors, such as red and yellow also looking punchier and more natural. Red from the blood has that darker but deeper shade that is harder to capture on the narrower dynamic range and color palette of standard blu-ray. And the different yellow shades on the different types of clothing (such as on Rosalind and Dry Eye’s shoes) help realize that style even better. I’d be curious to see how the warmer and browner color palette fares against the SDR version. Black levels are nice and deep with plenty of shadow detail and nice separation between them, such as on the various suits the characters wear. There is also more shadow detail in darker areas, with less crushed blacks while still being deeper than on the SDR standard blu-ray. There are a few scenes in which things look a bit murky and black levels are not as deep, but these are intended and appropriate for the respective scenes. Compression is top notch, with no visible artifacts whatsoever. On the whole, the HDR is deceivingly subtle but it is nonetheless unmistakable, and once you start analyzing it you see much more it enhances the picture while keeping it true to the intended film style that the filmmakers were obviously going for.

Audio: 4.5 / 5

The Dolby Atmos track is quite excellent, but shy of reference quality due to the nature of the film. Clarity, surround use, and dialogue intelligibility are outstanding. The only thing that could keep it from being understandable are the thick accents of some of the characters. There isn’t a ton of action, but the film does have a few spurts of intense violence which the track handles perfectly with great support from the subwoofer. An explosion and different scenes with gun shootings sound and feel quite realistic and authoritative. Cars sweeping from the sides and back, voices from characters off-screen, and fight scenes with various people are carried with perfect directionality from the surrounds. Separation across the front stage is also great, making the everything sound spacious and bigger. More atmospheric effects and music are not forgotten, and the track uses them in the whole soundstage to achieve a high level or realism and immersion. The heights are sparingly used as far as discrete effects go, mostly limited to music and atmospheric sound that carry over from the rest of the soundstage. Given the nature of the story, this is not surprising, as the bulk of the film is more dialogue driven and the action on screen stays at ear level.

Bonus Features: 1 / 5

Unfortunately, the package is quite low on extras.

  • Best Gentlemanly Quips – Featurette
  • Glossary of Cannabis – Featurette
  • Behind the Scenes of The Gentlemen – Featurette
  • Photo Gallery

The only actual interesting one is the Behind the Scenes, but it is quite short. The other two are fun, but they’re basically snippets from the film spliced together to form the theme of the each respective Featurette. They all total to only a few minutes of extras.

Overall:

Guy Richie has achieved a highly enjoyable gangster story with loads of style. It is not high on character development but the film mostly overcomes this thanks to the aforementioned style, the acting, excellent dialogue, and machinations of the plot which all work together and result in an extremely entertaining film. The HDR10 encode compliments the visual style extremely well and is just shy of perfection. The Dolby Atmos mix is excellent but held back by the nature of the on screen action. Both are excellent, however. Even with the lack of bonus features, the film and excellent technical qualities of the disc are too high to say anything negative about the overall package. Highly recommended.

Below, you can click on each link to see a slider comparison between the standard, 1080p blu-ray and the 4K disc, and even though the ones from the 4K disc were converted to SDR, you can get an idea of the higher dynamic range with better black levels, better shadow detail, more fine detail, and more refined grain:

Look at the smaller patterns on the bartender’s collar, they’re practically missing on the standard blu-ray, but more clear and better resolved on the 4K disc:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=8e603070-848c-11ea-a879-0edaf8f81e27

Look at the detail on the patterns on the chair, and the fine grain in the darker portions of the image:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=87853f7e-848d-11ea-a879-0edaf8f81e27

And finally, look at Charlie Hunnam’s glasses and his eyes here, they’re more defined on the 4K disc, capturing his facial expression better:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=31a39076-8490-11ea-a879-0edaf8f81e27

Note: The screenshots above (including the ones from the slider comparisons) were converted from 10 bit HDR to 8 bit SDR.

Review Equipment:

Display: LG OLED77C9 TV | 7.1.4 Sound: Denon AVR-X4400H, Sony Stereo (amp), Klipsch: RP-440C, RP-250F x 2 (fronts), RP-150M x 4 (surrounds), RP-140SA x 4 (heights), R-10SW | 4K Disc Players: Oppo UDP-203 (Region Free & Dolby Vision), Panasonic DP-UB820 | Streaming Player: Apple TV 4K | Video-Game Systems: Xbox One X, PS4 with PSVR, & MSI GS65 Stealth with NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB in Razer Core X; Valve Index VR | Remotes: Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control with Hub and iPad App

Underwater | Film & Blu-ray Review

Technical Specifications:

  • 1080p / SDR @ 26.4 Mbps
  • DTS-HD MA 7.1 English @ 5.2 Mbps
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish @ 448 kbps
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 French @ 448 kbps
  • English, Spanish, and French Subtitles
  • Running Time: 95 min

FILM: B

The best way to describe Underwater is probably through other films, as it borrows quite heavily from a few that also fall within the sci-fi and/or horror genres. With that in mind, Underwater has the claustrophobia and agoraphobia of Gravity and the creature horror of Aliens. While the script is actually quite solid, it is also a few portions low in character development compared to those two other films. That is its biggest fault. However, practically everything else about it is quite entertaining and enjoyable.

While cleaning up after another night shift in Kepler 822, Norah hears what seem to be abnormal groans. Seconds later water starts dripping from the ceiling on her hand, and suddenly the whole underwater facility is shaking, with the different hallways and corridors imploding and getting destroyed while seawater starts rushing inside. She and another co-worker, Rodrigo, barely make it beyond a corridor, sealing it behind them to prevent the whole facility from flooding. That fix is short-lived, however, as during the initial shakes and flooding, the facility was affected beyond repair, leaving the survivors only a short amount of time before the whole place gives in to the pressure and is destroyed. As they make their way through the remains, they encounter a few more survivors, and together they must venture outside in the depths of the ocean while mysterious creatures seem to be stalking and following them.

I think it is safe to say that Underwater is not Oscar-worthy outside a few technical categories. But even then, I’d be hard-pressed to say that I did not have a great time watching it. Not a full five minutes pass after the opening credits before all hell breaks loose in the facility. And from then on the whole movie is practically non-stop until the credits start rolling. While character development is on the low side of things, the script does not give you anytime to even notice it. If our characters are not trying to evade and survive from the mysterious, Lovecraftian creatures, they are facing low-oxygen levels in their suits, possible implosion through the glass of their helmets from the high pressure at the bottom of the ocean, or other logistical nightmares that put their lives in immediate danger.

Even though there’s not much character development, the script finds brief moments amongst all the horror, suspense, and chaos to give a small backstory to a few of the main characters. Dialogue is also quite strong as character exchanges are believable, and the dialogue even manages to give witty lines of humor to a couple of characters while staying aware of the danger they are facing. Even though they are not laugh-out-loud moments, they do help the audience relax and rest a few seconds before they are thrown into another sci-fi/horror survival situation. Directing is also great, with Eubank (the director) showing he is very apt at handling the heavy mixture of action, suspense, destruction, and even horror. Even amongst all the chaos that happens underwater in murky and low-light conditions, he knows how to use and move the camera around so we can understand and see what is happening while also maintaining the uncertainty and thrills high. I was honestly somewhat impressed. Acting is great across the board, with Kristen Stewart doing for a believable mechanical engineer thrown into extreme situations. It may not be original or have much beyond its surface, but as far as entertainment value goes, Underwater has gallons and buckets of it. With strong technical qualities, a decent script, intense thrills, and a neck-breaking pace, Underwater is a pretty solid entry in the underwater monster sub-genre of cinema.

Picture: 4.5 / 5

While the nature of some of the photography holds Underwater from being reference quality, it looks overall excellent, with some scenes actually do looking demo-worthy for standard blu-ray (sadly, there is no sign of a 4K disc being released anywhere anytime soon). Contrast is perhaps the picture’s strongest asset, with suit lights, flashlights, interior sources, and other devices piercing the darkness in the depths of the ocean to great effect. Fine detail on ‘dry’ scenes (i.e. not outside in the water) is exceptional, with the various imperfections on the suits, like scratches and chipped paint, looking very real and worn. Close-ups on faces also reveal a high level of detail such as pores and individual strands of hair, facial or otherwise. Outside in the depths of the ocean things do look a bit murky and more monochromatic due to how the light plays with the darkness in the water as well as with fine particles such as silt and debris that are floating around, with everything having a strong push towards dark green and blue tones. Objects in these scenes still look detailed but not to the same level as the stuff that takes place in dry places. Contrast does stay strong though, allowing the picture to stay punchy. The picture does not pop in terms of colors, but that is intentional and true to the source. Most of it stays within shades of murky green, grey, and white, which, given the setting, I am not surprised about, and it does reinforce the look and feel of the story, making it feel appropriate.

In terms of compression, I noticed a few instances of mild banding in the harshest of shots which take place in the water with various objects and varying degrees of light and gradations inside the frame. These are infrequent, however, with the rest of the codec looking superb. Digitally shot, there is no film grain of any kind, but the picture does look very cinematic. Overall, not perfect but excellent. I do wish this had gotten a 4K/HDR transfer on disc as I’m sure the contrast and fine detail would have improved. Maybe an indie label will pick it up to release it on 4K disc down the line.

Audio: 5 / 5

The lossless 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix on the disc is quite impressive. As mentioned above, the film takes a mere couple of minutes to get the action started, and from then on the audio stays in practically reference-quality mode throughout. As soon as the first shakes and implosions occur, you can feel the high quality of dynamic range, immersiveness, and bass of the track. The walls around Kristen Stewart (who plays Nora) explode with high intensity, with both the mid-range, likes voices, and the lower-end frequencies, like the debris flying and crashing around, staying crystal clear, with the bass giving out a hefty amount of tactile effects. The four surrounds channels are also used to great effect. A few seconds before things go crazy, you can hear the groans and other sounds of the facility struggling to keep itself together, with the surrounds and back speakers making sure you hear them around you. Afterwards, you can hear pieces of metal, concrete and other matter flying next to you. Other things like the score and screaming also manage to come through clear and well defined despite the chaos. In quieter moments, the mix stays impressive as well, with more subtle things like machinery and computer devices giving the setting a very realistic feel.

For those of you with height speakers, you’ll be glad to know that the 7.1 mix upmixes quite well with the DTS Neural:X sound mode (if you have a receiver that handles 3D audio, chances are it’ll also have it). Music and other more discrete effects like the PA system come through the height channels very convincingly. According to Dolby’s website, Underwater has a native Dolby Atmos mix, but as of this moment, it is not available anywhere, neither on streaming nor on disc. I’m sure it would have sounded better given the nature of all the action, but as it stands, this 7.1 mix is still demo-worthy.

Bonus Features: 4.5 / 5

Thankfully, Disney/Fox have not skimped on the extras, providing a pretty good selection of them:

  • Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary (available through the digital copy)
  • Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary:
    • Rock Garden
  • Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary:
    • Crew Suit Up
    • Gantry Exit
    • Baby Clinger
    • Midway Station
    • Ocean Floor Walk
    • Smith Departure
  • Featurettes:
    • Real Bunny Montage
  • Making Underwater
    • Design
    • Production
    • Creatures & Visual Effects
  • Feature Audio Commentary by William Eubank, Jared Purrington and Phil Gawthorne

Overall:

Sadly, Disney decided to dump Underwater in January with little marketing and fanfare, resulting in a poor box office, and to be honest, it deserved much better imo. It might not be very original, but it is quite well made and very effective. It’s obvious the whole cast and crew put a lot of mental and physical effort into making it, and the results speak for themselves. Highly recommended.

Review Equipment:

Display: LG OLED77C9 TV | 7.1.4 Sound: Denon AVR-X4400H, Sony Stereo (amp), Klipsch: RP-440C, RP-250F x 2 (fronts), RP-150M x 4 (surrounds), RP-140SA x 4 (heights), R-10SW | 4K Disc Players: Oppo UDP-203 (Region Free & Dolby Vision), Panasonic DP-UB820 | Streaming Player: Apple TV 4K | Video-Game Systems: Xbox One X, PS4 with PSVR, & MSI GS65 Stealth with NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB in Razer Core X; Valve Index VR | Remotes: Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control with Hub and iPad App

More Screenshots:

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith | Film & 4K Blu-ray Review

FILM: B+

Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is the definite best of the prequel trilogy in the Star Wars Saga, and arguably, it almost reaches the same levels of great storytelling of the OT (Original Trilogy). It still has its share of drawbacks, but they are considerably less than both of the previous chapters of the trilogy.

What makes Revenge of the Sith more compelling and a standout are the different grey moral areas in which various themes of the story and characters are carried out and developed. This is the most evident in the character arc of Anakin, who tries very hard to do the right thing through the wrong means, letting his fears lead him to the Dark Side. It is quite riveting to see how such an innocent and pure kid can go from such naiveness and positive potential to carrying out a massacre and becoming one of the most iconic villains in the history of film. And not just him, but various characters around him deal with difficult and heavy moral dilemmas, but what defines them at the end are the ultimate decisions and actions they carry out despite things crumbling down around them with a great deal of uncertainty and emotional, and sometimes even physical, pain.

You can pretty much pinpoint the second Anakin decides to turn to the Dark Side. He tells Mace Windu about Palpatine’s double identity, and at the very last second his fear of seeing Padme die gets the best of him, ultimately deciding to save Palpatine to be able to have a way to save Padme. The scene in which the three of them face off culminates in various moral dilemmas in different grey moral areas. Palpatine represents pure evil, using the Dark Force for no other reason than to have absolute power. On the other hand, the moral dilemmas of Mace Windu and Anakin are more complicated. Anakin wants to save Padme, but he knows acquiring the chance to do so will turn him evil. Windu realizes that Palpatine is pretty much the leader of the galaxy now, and accusing him of evildoings, and of being the current leader of the Dark Side, will likely only have a negative impact on the Jedi, while still allowing him to stay free and at the top of political power. Thus, he also realizes that the best chance of removing him from such power is to kill him. Unfortunately, he ultimately decides to kill Palpatine, catalyzing Anakin’s decision to turn to the Dark Side by defending Palpatine and have a chance to save Padme. They all ultimately make bad decisions. Windu’s decision is somewhat justified, but he should have known to make the more morally-correct decision, especially as a Jedi, and let Palpatine live while having him stand trial. And at the end it is both ironic and devastating that the decisions Anakin makes to prevent the premonition from coming true are the same decisions that lead to that exact same fate. It is a classic staple of films with characters that know the future and are trying to prevent it from coming true, and here it is carried out with substance while seamlessly integrating it within an epic-sized story, which directly leads to the OT.

While Anakin’s character arc is carried out to almost perfection, it seems Padme’s character is reduced to allow his character to become Vader. It is a little disappointing, and imo, it could have been avoided if they had come up with a better script. At the end, Padme does stand up against him, but for the majority of the movie she seems to be in the background, allowing her emotions to cloud her judgment and remain passive. That is not the Padme we came to know in the previous two films.

While Anakin’s character arc is carried out to almost perfection, it seems Padme’s character is reduced to allow his character to become Vader. It is a little disappointing, and imo, it could have been avoided if they had come up with a better script. At the end, Padme does stand up against him, but for the majority of the movie she seems to be in the background, allowing her emotions to cloud her judgment and remain passive. That is not the Padme we came to know in the previous two films.

Besides that, there are only a few other minor drawbacks, and again, it comes down to George Lucas’ affinity to CGI. While it is a good improvement compared to the previous two chapters, some of it still ends up looking a bit cartoonish, especially Yoda and General Grievous. They both get a good mouth of action and battle scenes, and while the choreography is pretty solid for both, the cartoonish quality can take you out of them a bit.

Thankfully, John Williams score is as good as always, elevating everything in the film, and alleviating some of those awkward moments with the cartoonish CGI. One thing they seem to have finally learned from the previous prequels was the humor on CGI characters just does not work, and they have left that out of the film. Which is also more appropriate given the darker tone of the story which ultimately ends on a devastating climax with just a glimmer of hope for the future. It is considerably more serious, and thankfully the creators approached the story with a more serious tone, leaving that childish and immature humor out of it.

Besides that, the action is as good as always, with the film having some of the most intense battle sequences. Be it through the Force, Lightsabers, blasters, or spaceships in outer space, they are all quite thrilling, intense, and epic, with great camerawork which makes them easy to follow and allow the audience to get excited and involved in them.

Overall, this an extremely solid, even if not perfect, entry in the Star Wars Saga. The character development of the main villain is one of the best I have seen on film, and even more so in a franchise as big as this one. Anakin’s arc from Episode I to here is done to excellent results, allowing us to see how a child can become such an evil being due to difficult circumstances and bad personal decisions. And as always, world building and the scope of the story is as broad and epic as always, with big, thrilling action and great story telling. Despite the reduction of Padme’s character, this is the best of prequel trilogy, and a worthy prequel to perhaps the most popular sci-fi/fantasy trilogy of all time.

Picture: 4 / 5

Now this is more how a movie on 4K should look. It is not overall perfect, still being held back a bit by the source, but, some of its attributes are demo worthy. The whole thing was shot with higher quality digital cameras at 1080p resolution and high chroma, and if any filtering was done it’s so subtle that it’s not noticeable, meaning fine detail is considerably improved, and thankfully, fine detail is way more apparent on this transfer compared to both Episode I and II. It is not outstanding, mind you (it does not rival the fine detail you can get from film or even other high quality 2K DIs), but it does, at times, show a bit more detail than what standard blu-ray can render. Fine detail is still held back on CGI, which also looks better overall than the previous prequels but which still does not rival recent productions that also use it. To be clear, fine detail on live-action footage fares the best. Not demo-worthy, but still pretty good. Pores, makeup-covered acne, and other imperfections on face closeups are readily apparent. CGI does have more attention to detail, but what makes it lag behind more recent productions is still some clipping in highlights and lighting which sometimes looks a bit artificial (animation can also look a bit off).

However, the whole picture is elevated by the more extensive use of HDR, reaching reference quality contrast and range. Blacks are deep and solid. Not pitch black like the best of transfers, but excellent on the whole, with good shadow detail and only mild crushed blacks. Even in the shadows, Anakin’s hair is easier to make out, and his darker robes also show different black gradations, even when lighting around him is low. Bright highlights are quite impressive throughout. This is immediately apparent in the first lightsaber fight between Anakin, Obi Wan, and General Grievous. The primary colors (red, green, blue) from the lightsabers pop with great intensity and vividness against the darker backdrop of the inside of the spaceship. The same holds true for the duration of the film, with explosions, fire from the different spaceships engines, and internal lights in buildings and ships showing remarkable contrast in brightness against the black backdrops of space and other darker settings. Other commendable elements are the specular highlights from live-action photography, such as light reflecting off C-3PO. It pops quite nicely while still looking natural. Perhaps the most impressive use of HDR is the shot of Anakin and Obi Wan fighting against the lava backdrop as the structure collapses under them. The orange-red intensity of the lava is very nicely contrasted against the vividness of the blue lightsabers. It is a pretty wide shot at a far distance, but the intense colors and higher dynamic range make the lightsabers standout despite how small they are relatively to the size of the shot. It makes the whole fight even more epic.

Besides the lightsabers and a few colorful lights, Wider Color is used sparingly with the exception of one shot. When Palpatine calls for execution of Order 66, there is a planet made of colorful vegetation that really catches the eye with a variety of luscious tones that make good use of the wider color palette. That is more the exception rather than the rule, however, with the bulk of the film staying in shades of black, grey, and brown, achieving a more monochromatic look appropriate for the themes of the story. Despite the more monochromatic color palette, the picture still ends up looking quite punchy and strong thanks to the more extensive use of HDR which more obviously pushes beyond SDR levels, unlike the transfers of the previous two chapters.

Despite the excellent use of HDR, the picture still has a few drawbacks besides the low use of Wider Color and resolution, which is good, but hardly pushes beyond great 2K levels to actual 4K resolution. There is still some clipping on CGI objects on film. Both bright and specular CGI objects have poor attention to detail, such as the reflection of light off the different droids and the fire from spaceships engines. The HDR makes them look more punchy, but they lack fine detail. There is also some mild aliasing on a few of the CGI elements. I did spot some very mild, refined noise on clear backgrounds, and I am not sure whether this was from the compression or the source. Either way, it kind of makes the picture look a bit more cinematic. But besides that, I did not spot any compression artifacts. Overall, it is obviously the best looking of the prequel trilogy, with good, not great, fine detail, sporadic use of Wider Color, but extensive, excellent, and punchy HDR.

Audio: 5 / 5

The lossless Dolby Atmos mix of Revenge of the Sith immediately lets you know it means business, opening with a big space battle, incorporating every sound element to great effect. Dynamic range is broad, with the mids, highs, and lows separated quite nicely. The bass is palpable and hefty, making you feel every explosion, crash, and rumble of the action. Even the buzz of the lightsabers use it to add a bit of physical effect. Surrounds and backs are used nonstop throughout the whole film, with spaceships, shootings, and other intense discrete effects zooming all around you. Other more atmospheric effects are not lost in the shuffle, with droids, chatter, music, and even clapping during a theater presentation coming off subtly but clearly from them.

And then there’s the height layer. It is used heavily and extensively from beginning to end. Even in the opening scene you can hear the buzz droids crawling above you and causing mayhem on Obi Wan’s ship as they try to disable it by messing with the electronics of it. The spaceships themselves also make full use of extra layer as they move from ear level to the heights, vice versa, and then front to back and vice versa as well. A ship crashing near the end of the opening scene has the crash traveling from the center channel to the sides and to the front heights, achieving a very convincing and enveloping effect. The yells of the creature that Obi Wan rides, during the battle in Utapau, has them traveling to the front heights as well. Even the buzz of the lightsabers as Grievous spins them when he first fights Obi Wan in Utapau travel above your display, making you feel their presence and danger as he approaches the camera. Music and other atmospheric effects also use the heights to create a very immersive sound stage. Overall, this is an impressive, energetic, complex, and very precise mix. It should go without saying, this Dolby Atmos mix is reference-quality from beginning to end, rivaling even recent films with native 3D audio mixes. It will give your setup quite a workout, making sure every channel is used to its full potential. I’m glad to see Disney be less apprehensive to use the height layer. Let’s hope this trend continues for future catalogue releases and brand new ones as well.

Bonus Features: 5 / 5

Standard Disc 1 (Film):

  • Audio Commentary: George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, and Roger Guyett. 
  • Audio Commentary: Cast and Crew (Archival).

Standard Disc 2:

  • NEW! Conversations: The Star Wars That Almost Was 
  • NEW! Discoveries from Inside: Hologram & Bloopers 
  • Legacy Content 
    • “Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III” Feature-Length Documentary 
    • (new) The Journey Part 1
    • (new) The Journey Part 2
    • (new) ILM Episode III Siggraph Reel
    • Star Warriors
    • Star Wars Tech
    • InterviewsCoruscant Overview, Samuel L. Jackson Interview, Utapau Overview, Mustafar Overview, Natalie Portman Interview, and Kashyyyk and Order 66 Overview.
    • Deleted/Extended ScenesGrievous Slaughters a Jedi/Escape from the General, Elevator Antics, Escape Through the Hangar, Changes to the Constitution, A Plot to Destroy the Jedi?, Seeds of Rebellion (Padmé’s Apartment), Utapau Chase Animatics, Kashyyyk Attack and Order 66 Animatic, Anakin Kills Shaak Ti, Jedi Imposters at the Temple, Senate Duel Animatic, Mustafar Duel Animatics, Mustafar Duel/Lava River Animatics, Yoda Communes with Qui-Gon,and Exiled to Dagobah.
    • The CollectionSeparatist Cruiser Model, ARC-170 Starfighter Concept Model, Jedi Starfighter Concept Model, Count Dooku Lightsaber, Palpatine Gray Trade Federation Costume, Anakin Costume and Headset, Boga with Obi-Wan Maquette, Utapau Sinkhole Maquette, Utapau Landing Platform Maquette, General Grievous Maquette, Tion Medon Costume, Obi-Wan Lightsaber, Anakin Lightsaber, Mustafar Landscape Maquette, Burnt Anakin Head, Wookie Tree Maquette, Felucia Maquettes, Chewbacca Costume, Darth Vader Costume, Imperial Officer Costume (With Coat), and Imperial Officer Costume (Without Coat).

OVERALL:

With great storytelling, pretty solid, even if still not overall reference quality, picture, and impressive, demo-worthy audio, it is hard to not recommend getting this disc. The only minor drawbacks are CGI that still be a bit spotty at times, and detail that is decent but hardly pushes to 4K levels. Otherwise, the extensive use of HDR makes the picture shine. This is a very worthy upgrade to 4K. Highly recommended.

Note: The screenshots above were converted from 10bit, 2160p HDR to 8bit, 2160 SDR (without the top/bottom black bars from the original picture). Please do not take them as proper representations of the picture quality. To view them in full resolution, right-click and open them in a new tab.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones | Film & 4K Blu-ray Review

FILM: B-

Like Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Episode II – Attack of the Clones’ biggest flaw is its insistence on drawing out scenes for longer than needed. For the majority of them, the bulk and substance lies in the middle of each scene, but again, like in Episode I, George Lucas still seemed a little too excited with the CGI, using it left and right and everywhere else he could possibly use it. One particular scene where this is almost painfully obvious is when Obi Wan is investigating and finds out about the army of clones in Kamino. The camera lingers on the aliens and atypical setting of the building where the army is being made. It’s interesting for the first minute or so, but afterwards, the camera keeps lingering on the hallway, the room, the aliens, the room again, the hallway again, and finally the alien again. It feels both repetitive and redundant. Ewan McGregor, bless his heart, does an outstanding job in making us believe he is actually there despite the needlessly long scene and the fact that he is the only thing there that is not CGI.

Another flaw, which thankfully is not as obvious, is that the film can feel a little tone deaf at times. The scene in which Anakin’s mother dies is sad and touching. No more than ten minutes pass and Anakin is already smiling at some dumb joke between him and Padme. That’s the only scene where the tone-deafness sticks out like a sore thumb. There are a few others scattered throughout but the jumps in tone aren’t as jarring as those few scenes.

Thankfully, the weird and awkward humor is considerably dialed down compared to the previous chapter. There are still a few scenes in which it falls flat and feels forced, but it also seems the creators were more aware of the fact that it did not work as well as they initially thought it did in Episode I. Some of it actually works, but these are mostly in scenes with more subtle, and dialogue driven, exchanges between Anakin and Obi Wan, i.e., the ones with real people, and not CGI creatures.

Something I quite enjoy from this episode is the mystery surrounding the attacks on Padme’s life. It takes the Star Wars epic universe and seamlessly integrates that mystery with that same sense of epic scale. I might be wrong, but this is the first time I saw these two genres (mystery and epic) mixed together so compellingly in a film. Even with the longer running time (it could have really benefited from shaving 20 minutes or so of needless shots), this mystery aspect helps it stand apart quite well, and thanks to that, and the few lessons learned from Episode I, this chapter ends up more enjoyable and entertaining.

Acting is, again, top notch from Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, both doing excellent jobs despite all the CGI in the film, making us believe they are actually surrounded by such fantastical creatures and places. And this is quite important because the CGI then was still not very great, and while it is a little better than the previous chapter, it is not a substantial improvement. It’s a good one, but nowhere near to the point that it blends as seamlessly as in more recent films. On the other hand, Hayden Christiansen (Anakin) has a bit of a rough time with his role. Part of it is the script, which, as mentioned above, has some tone-deafness, and it also has some lines that are just not the best (he hates sand). I’m not sure if they were simply having trouble developing him more as a character now that he is an adult, but for whatever reason it seems he was the only one to get the bad lines of dialogue. To be fair, it’s obvious he was not the most experienced actor in the film, but, some of the bad acting definitely traces back to the weird jumps in tone and bad dialogue involving Anakin. On the positive side, we do start to see the internal conflict in Anakin which eventually leads to his big story arc at the end of Episode III. The romance between him and Padme is not always totally convincing, but, it is enough that it brings out his internal conflict to the surface, allowing us to see how small his path to the Dark Side began.

The score is as phenomenal, making the different lightsaber and Force-based fight scenes feel both pivotal and full excitement. Unfortunately, some of the action can be a bit too reliant on CGI which can take you out of the movie a bit, but the score manages to alleviate some of that and still make those scenes somewhat enjoyable.

Once the mystery is uncovered and revealed, we can easily see how well this sets up Episode III and we get an idea of how that will lead to the OT (Original Trilogy). While the story definitely does not feel like it wraps up here (because it really is only half of it), it still feels overall more satisfying, showing an obvious relevance to the overall bigger story arc of the OT and especially of Episode III. Once the credits start rolling, you can really see how this mystery and the details behind it lead to perhaps the most popular sci-fi/fantasy trilogy of all time. It’s definitely not a perfect film, but its relevance and tighter storytelling do put it a few notches above Episode I.

picture: 3.25 / 5

Like story, the picture of Attack of the Clones is a decent, but not substantial, improvement from The Phantom Menace‘s 4K disc. The overall picture quality is more inconsistent, but this is actually a good thing as most of those inconsistencies come from shots and scenes that have better quality. The worse ones look as bad as Episode I’s (waxy and near-blurry objects and details, especially on CGI), but others look better, with enhanced contrast and better color that provide a little more punch.

Make no mistake, this is nowhere near reference quality either for any of the pictures attributes (fine detail, HDR, or Wider Color), but the improvements are welcome. Lightsabers, explosions, and other bright objects enjoy punchier tones with a little more pop and more saturated colors. The punchier colors of the lightsabers during the fight between Anakin, Obi Wan, and Dooku feels more epic. The different lasers shooting off the blasters also make the war between the droids, aliens, and clones look more intense and just better during the climax. Clipping on CGI bright objects and specular ones has been reduced, with flames from the explosions, and reflections off the different spaceships, looking a little more detailed. Some of them are still blown-out quite badly (look at a ship landing on Tatooine), but it is not as recurring as in Episode I.

Blacks are pretty solid, with more stable shadow detail, and, thanks to the higher contrast, makes the picture pop a little more. I’m not sure the contrast and highlights push much beyond SDR levels, but they are at least closer to using the higher available range of the format. Wider color is used sporadically a few times but nothing that stands out.

Fine detail is still lacking. Even though the whole thing was shot on digital cameras, it seems some filtering was applied nonetheless. This takes toll on the textures and delineation of objects, as well as pores and imperfections on the actors’ faces, which look waxy. They do not look as smeary or video-y (I had mentioned that Episode I looked like it had been shot on HD videotape), but the amount of fine details is still levels below what 2K can accomplish, let alone 4K. There is also a bit of aliasing throughout, less apparent and obvious than in Episode I, but some is still there. I did not notice any compression artifacts.

Overall, there are a few places where the picture seems to take advantage of the better format (mostly light use of HDR), but most of it will probably look very similar on standard blu-ray. It’s relatively not bad, just ends up averaging to a pretty mediocre 4K presentation that does not make much use of the available benefits of the format. If anything, it ends up looking like a ‘good’ standard blu-ray, but the lack of fine detail would still prevent it from being even an ‘excellent’ 1080p / SDR transfer.

Audio: 4.75 / 5

The audio fares much, much better. Say what you want about the picture (I know I did), the new Dolby Atmos mix is, at times, demo-worthy material. Again, like all Disney mixes you do have to turn up the volume, but once that’s done this is quite the 3D audio experience.

For starters, there is great dynamic range throughout the whole film, with the bass doing quite a bit of heavy lifting. Explosions, crashes, and other destruction elements both on land and in space sound heavy with a very good amount of rumbles that will have your couch vibrating. Surrounds and backs are used pretty much nonstop, be it clear, directionally-heavy effects like spaceships zooming from front to back (or vice versa), or other more subtle atmospheric effects like chatter or background traffic. The heights have moderate-to-heavy use throughout. Other than ships (which fly very convincingly above you in all directions) there are other standout moments that really makes this an excellent Atmos mix. Lightning from a storm comes clearly and naturally from above. Rock debris from inside a cave, while Yoda and Dooku use the force to fight, cracks and breaks off impressively from the height layer. Music is also more enveloping thanks to the additional layer, and the score itself sounds pretty phenomenal. Throughout all that everything stays very clear, and dialogue is not lost amongst all the action, being nicely prioritized without compromising the dynamic range of the mix. Had the height layer been used more, this would have been a completely reference-quality mix. It’s very, very close to that though.

BONUS FEATURES: 5 / 5

Disc 1 (with movie):

  • Audio Commentary: George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll, and Ben Snow. 
  • Audio Commentary: Cast and Crew

Disc 2:

  • (new) Conversations: Sounds in Space
  • (new) Discoveries from Inside: Costumes Revealed
  • (new) The Art of Attack of the Clones
  • Legacy Content:
    • (new) “From Puppets to Pixels: Digital Characters in Episode II” Feature-Length Documentary 
    • (new) State of the Art: The Pre-visualization of Episode II Documentary 
    • “Films Are Not Released, They Escape” Documentary 
    • (new) Episode II Visual Effects Breakdown Montage (Siggraph Reel)
    • InterviewsCoruscant Overview, Ewan McGregor Interview, Naboo Overview, Tatooine Overview, Geonosis Overview, Hayden Christensen Interview, and Blue Screen Acting.
    • Deleted/Extended ScenesExtended Speeder Chase, Jedi Temple Analysis Room, The Lost Twenty, Anakin’s Nightmares, Padme’s Parents’ House, Anakin and Ruwee, Obi-Wan & Mace – Jedi Landing Platform, Dooku Interrogates Padmé, and Raid on the Droid Control Ship & Extended Arena Fight
    • The CollectionDexter Jettster Maquette, Zam Wesell Speeder Concept Model, Youngling Outfit & Helmet Costume, Zam Wesell Costume, Shaak Maquette, Anakin Outland Peasant Costume (With Cloak), Anakin Outland Peasant Costume (Without Cloak), Padmé Outland Peasant Costume (Without Cloak), C-3PO Costume, Tusken Raider Woman Costume, Tusken Raider Child Costume, Geonosian Maquette, Acklay Maquette, Nexu Maquette, Reek Maquette, Padmé Trip to Geonosis Costume (With Unused Headdress), Jango Fett Costume, Super Battle Droid Maquette, Geonosis Arena Maquette, Republic Gunship Model, and Clone Trooper Maquette.

OVERALL:

While it is hard to recommend the disc based on the picture quality alone, the audio is quite a substantial, and at times, demo-worthy Atmos mix which makes use of all the sound elements to great effect. And even though this chapter is still not top-tier Star Wars, the story does feel more relevant and substantial, providing an origin to the big arc of the saga that starts with a mystery and ends up with galactic and epic-sized battles and other political conflicts. Since Disney 4K discs never really go down to sale prices, it is hard to recommend getting it that way which would have been a more appropriate way to do so. As reality stands, YMMV: it is worth getting provided you do not mind the low-use of HDR, but, if you have a 3D audio setup, the Atmos mix alone makes this worth getting.

Note: The screenshots above were converted from 10bit, 2160p HDR to 8bit, 2160 SDR (without the top/bottom black bars from the original picture). Please do not take them as proper representations of the picture quality. To view them in full resolution, right-click and open them in a new tab.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace | Film & 4K Blu-Ray Review

FILM: C+

Perhaps the biggest distraction of the production of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which is obvious from just watching the film, is the CGI. Many of the visuals and objects are heavy with it. From backgrounds, to creatures, and sometimes people too. Even some shots are completely made up of CGI with no real objects in the frame. And that is not necessarily the problem. CGI can be a very useful tool to add effects that practical ones cannot provide, or which if they can, could be cost prohibitive. The problem with The Phantom Menace is that while it was very innovative for its time, it’s obvious George Lucas was too excited to show off his brand new toy. Because of this a lot of shots last longer than they should, with a lot of them lingering on the CGI longer than they should, with no real purpose to the plot or to moving the story forward. Some of them are meant to be funny, trying to add comedic effect. Unfortunately, the great majority of these attempts at humor fall flat. They are awkward and feel forced (Boss Nass’ mannerisms, who is completely made up of CGI, display such a childish, immature humor I almost felt secondhand embarrassment for the artists that had to create him and voice him). And worse still, even some of them are arguably borderline racial stereotypes, or at the very least racially insensitive (i.e. Jar Jar Binks). It’s almost as if Lucas was trying to show off this new element of movie making and justifying it with humor and action. Some of the action works (although the CGI itself has not aged very well), but most of the humor just feels weird, padding the running time and adding another twenty minutes or so that are not needed whatsoever to properly tell the complete story in this chapter of the epic saga.

It is not a complete loss. Thankfully, and despite the fact that this world had already been explored in the OT, world building is inspiring. Truly achieving an epic scale of storytelling that it is not easy to achieve. From different planets, to creatures, environments, settings, and just characters in general, the great majority flows well. Yes, as mentioned above, some of these scenes linger for longer than they should, but the problem is not that the scenes themselves feel redundant, but rather, that they last longer than needed to move the story, action, or character development, forward. Regardless, the world feels expansive and it is just plain fun to see all those different locations and alien species interweaved with the story.

Another strong point of the film is the acting. Regarding the main characters, the actors do a top notch job, taking this fantastical world and story seriously, lending enough gravitas and suspension of disbelief that we get involved in the story despite all the fantasy elements and heavy special effects. The standouts are really Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi and Natalie Portman as Queen Padmé. Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Jake Lloyd (young Anakin Skywalker) do not necessarily standout as much as Ewan and Natalie do with their acting, but nonetheless they give very solid performances.

Action is perhaps the film’s strongest element besides the world building. Maybe it’s just the little kid in me, but the lightsaber fight scenes suddenly make me want to get a real lightsaber and play with it. They are very well choreographed, looking both intense and just cool. Spaceship attacks, blaster shootouts, etc., they all provide very entertaining and engaging action, even if a few are slowed down by the weird humor mentioned above. Some of them might not be necessary (the pod race in Tatooine feels especially redundant) but nonetheless they are still entertaining to watch.

As part of the Star Wars Saga, The Phantom Menace does have a bit of a struggle justifying its story which is already elongated longer than needed, even as a stand-alone film. It does setup our various characters nicely which are really the ones that create the next story, which the OT starts with and which even Rogue One borrows from for its own. However, besides setting up these characters, the story itself in this chapter feels disconnected from the overall arc of the Star Wars Saga. It’s overall entertaining with great action, very solid performances, and excellent world building, but the needlessly longer running time, awkward humor, and disconnected plot make the film rank as the lowest of the prequels. Still, within the grand scheme of movies, you could do worse, much worse.

Video: 2.5 / 5

The video, well, the transfer certainly makes full use of the word as a lot of it looks like it was shot on HD videotape. It’s arguably not all that bad, but, it almost gives you the impression that it was finished at 720p instead of 1080p (which it, in fact, was). In reality, it was shot with a mixture of 1080p digital and 35mm cameras. Unfortunately, the 35mm footage has been severely filtered to match the quality of the 1080p and CGI content, which do not look great. Digital cameras and CGI have come a long way since then, but since The Phantom Menace was one of the very first films to use those technologies (especially CGI to this extent), it’s obvious they were not up to par to what we can get now.

Fine detail is missing from practically the whole picture. Faces look smeary and waxy, with not a pore or imperfection on sight. Objects fare a little better but not by much. Some of it is due to the CGI, which as mentioned above, is clearly outdated, making trees, buildings, and grass created by it look like an older video game, with blurry outlines, poor attention to detail, and clipped highlights on bright objects and specular areas such as explosions and the sun reflecting off the metallic surfaces of the spaceships. The objects on live-action footage look better, but not by much. Practical effects like the small buildings on Tatooine do look more realistic and lived-in instead of that glossy, smeary sheen from CGI. Even some film grain tries to sneak in on clear backgrounds (look at the screenshot below) like the sky of Tatooine, but that just makes the digital filtering more apparent. As far as the decision to filter 35mm footage goes, I cannot say I totally disagree with it. While it obviously takes a heavy hit on the portions which would have provided the most detail (especially given that this is on the 4K format), it does make it blend more seamlessly with all the CGI used as well as the 1080p digitally-captured shots, which with both combined are a lot. If it had not been filtered to match it better, I strongly believe it would have made those jumps in quality quite jarring, pulling you out of the film. There is some aliasing scattered throughout. Another result of the early CGI and early digital finish of the film.

HDR and Wide Color are unfortunately also nowhere to be seen. I do not have the exact numbers in terms of nits (brightest and darkest tones), but this is one of the most lackluster HDR presentations I have seen. Again, my guess is this was a limitation of the source, since adding HDR to it would have revealed further imperfections and the outdated CGI would have become more apparent. Unlike contrast (which can vary and can be expanded and modified if the information is there), Wider Color is absolute. Either the objects in the picture have it, or they don’t. And in this case, most, if any, do not have it, resulting in practically no use of it.

On the positive side, black levels are pretty consistent, deep, and solid. Not the inkiest I have seen, but good nonetheless, with mild crushed blacks but still some decent shadow detail. The whole picture also manages to somehow look cinematic despite the lack of detail and heavy use of CGI, mostly thanks to the cinematography and mixture with live-action footage. While Wider Color is not really used, colors do look natural, even if some of the objects, such as the lightsabers and explosions, would have looked better with HDR and Wider Color. The best scenes are the ones that take place in darker settings, such as the underwater sequence towards the end of the first act and the outer space scenes scattered throughout the film. Thanks to the stronger blacks levels and consistent contrast, those scenes pop nicely. I doubt they push beyond SDR levels, but they still look good overall, and better than most of the brighter scenes. As far as compression goes, mild banding tries to sneak in once during the underwater sequence, but otherwise I did not spot anything else in terms of compression artifacts.

Audio: 4.5 / 5

Thankfully, the Dolby Atmos upgrade is a big one, making the jump to the 4K format relatively worth it for this film. Dynamic range is broad and expansive. Yes, like all Disney discs, you have to turn the volume up, but, once you do, it ends up being near-reference quality material. Low-end is pretty active throughout, providing some nice tactile effects to the various explosions, crashes, and even some of the less impactful effects like the buzzing of the lightsabers and music. The heights are moderately used throughout, which, to be quite honest, really surprised me as Disney hardly every uses the height layer to this level. Ships fly above you regularly. Be it pannings from the back surrounds, to the back heights. and to the front heights, or simply from the side channels and up to the front heights. All depending on the on-screen action. The effects are very convincing. Music is also used more in the height layer. Atmospherics are more subtle (as they should be) but all these combined together do create a more substantial immersive environment, especially given the heavy sci-fi/fantasy elements in the story. Surrounds are not forgotten, with explosions, pods, and shootouts, etc, making extensive use of them, moving seamless around with the fronts. They are especially used during the pod race scene, helping it make more thrilling and incrementing the stakes. Voices stay pretty clear throughout even amidst all the heavy action.

Bonus Features: 5 / 5

Standard Disc 1:

  • Audio Commentary: George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, and Scott Squires. 
  • Audio Commentary: Cast and Crew (Archival).

Standard Disc 2:

  • (new) Conversations: Doug Chiang Looks Back
  • (new) Discoveries from Inside: Models & Miniatures 
  • (new) George Lucas on the Digital Revolution
  • Legacy Content 
    • (new) “The Beginning” Feature-Length Documentary
    • (new) The Podrace: Theatrical Edit
    • Archive Fly-Through
    • InterviewsNaboo Overview, Liam Neeson Interview, Tatooine Overview, Rick McCallum Interview – Podracers, Rick McCallum Interview – Filming in Tunisia, Coruscant Overview, and George Lucas on Preparing to Write Episode I – 1994.
    • Deleted/Extended ScenesTrash-Talking Droids, The Waterfall Sequence, Extended Podrace Wager, Complete Podrace Grid Sequence, Extended Podrace Lap Two, Anakin’s Scuffle with Greedo, Battle on the Boarding Ramp, Bail Organa of Alderaan, The Battle Is Over, and Anakin’s Return. Note that the bolded scenes appear to be new to Blu-ray for this release. 
    • The CollectionJar Jar Maquette, Trade Federation Battleship Concept Model, Republic Cruiser Concept Model, Queen Amidala Throne Room Costume, Full Sized Battle Droid, Naboo Starfighter Concept Model, Sando Aqua Monster Maquette, Darth Maul Costume, Palpatine’s Shuttle Model, Queens Royal Starship Concept Model, Eopie with Anakin Maquette, Watto Maquette, Sebulba Maquette, Dud Bolt Puppet, Anakin’s Podracer “Tabletop” Model, Sith Speeder Model, Coruscant Air Taxi Model, Queen Amidala Senate Costume, Pre-Senate Address Costume, and Senate Guard Costume.

Overall:

Despite the drawbacks of the film, I found myself enjoying it more than I had years ago. I am not sure if that was due to lower expectations, but, while it does not rival the OT and it is the ‘worst’ of the prequels, it still provides some decent entertainment with excellent world building, great acting, and an epic sense of storytelling. The drawbacks could have easily been avoided if they had been more careful with the script and more conservative with the use of CGI, but nonetheless it’s a decent, if overall unremarkable, sci-fi/fantasy film. Sadly, the picture is very limited by the source and compromises made to make it more seamless, not to mention the outdated CGI. It still manages to look cinematic, but short of remaking the whole thing, I do not think it can look much better. Thankfully, the audio is quite a big upgrade, with very good use of the heights, expansive dynamic range, and pretty solid bass which will have your couch rumbling at times. YMMV on whether you should upgrade to the 4K disc. The video is mediocre at best, but if you have a 3D audio setup, the Dolby Atmos mix might make it worth it. I would have recommended to get it during a sale, but it is pretty rare for Disney 4K discs to actually go down to sale prices, so it would not be useful to recommend that. Thus, I would still recommend it, just with some reservations.

Note: The screenshots above were converted from 10bit, 2160p HDR to 8bit, 2160 SDR (without the top/bottom black bars from the original picture). Please do not take them as proper representations of the picture quality. To view them in full resolution, right-click and open them in a new tab.

4K Streaming Wars: What is the Best 4K Streaming Service Right Now?

As sad as it is, streaming has become the most popular medium to access entertainment. From movies and TV shows to music, people prefer the ease of access and convenience of streaming over the higher quality of physical media (mainly blu-rays). While streaming can look pretty decent, it is nowhere close to the quality of physical media. That is beside the point of this post, however. The fact is that streaming is not going anywhere, and given the current public health situation with the coronavirus, and how it is forcing basically everyone to stay at home for longer periods of time, streaming will only become more popular. And not only that, but, some content is now exclusively available only through streaming as well (i.e. not available to physically own in any way or form), and, with virtually all theaters closing their doors until further notice, major studios have begun to release some of their films directly to streaming to minimize monetary loss since, well, the great majority of the box office came from movie theaters.

While I lament these truths, it also forces me, and other physical media enthusiasts, to face the fact that we are having to stream content if we want to adapt to current times, keep up to date with entertainment, and stay current in our conversations and other social gatherings with family, friends, and co-workers. Not to mention the fact that there is some pretty good content that is only available through streaming (Disney+‘s original content like The Mandalorian, for example). The repercussions of that deserve a whole other different, and lengthy, discussion in another blog post, but for now, I am focusing on the quality available from streaming services to help you readers make better informed decisions with your money and where you pick to stream your content from. Because of this, I decided to make a comparison of the quality among the different services. Thanks to Apple TV 4K’s Playback HUD (available when you connect it to Xcode with a Mac), I was able to see the streaming details of the services. This mainly includes the amount of data (bitrate) used to provide the picture and audio of whatever you are watching. At a very simple level this basically means that the higher the numbers, the higher the picture and audio quality you are getting, especially if you have the equipment to enjoy it.

So without further ado, here are the results in order of best to worst:

RankProviderVideo BitrateAudio BitrateFormats Supported
1iTunesAverage: 25 Mbps

Peak: 31 Mbps
Audio: 770 KbpsHDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos
2Movies AnywhereAverage: 25 Mbps

Peak: 32 Mbps
Audio: 640 KbpsHDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos
3Disney+Average: 17 Mbps

Peak: 29 Mbps
Audio: 770 KbpsHDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos
4NetflixAverage: 17 Mbps

Peak: 25 Mbps
Audio: 770 KbpsHDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos
5VuduAverage: 14 Mbps

Peak: 17 Mbps
Audio: 580 KbpsHDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos
6Amazon PrimeAverage: 10 Mbps

Peak: 13 Mbps
Audio: 190 KbpsHDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos

At the top we have iTunes. While the results for it come very close to Movies Anywhere’s (and Movies Anywhere actually had a slight edge in the Video Peak), I decided to put iTunes first as it provides better audio and it is also more consistent at procuring the better formats available for each movie. For example, while A Quiet Place is available in 4K and HDR in both iTunes and Movies Anywhere, iTunes has Dolby Atmos available for it while Movies Anywhere is currently limited to Dolby Digital 5.1. Movies Anywhere does support Dolby Atmos, but the number of movies with an Atmos track available is far lower when compared to the number of movies with Dolby Atmos available on iTunes. I did not compare services like Hulu or FandangoNow due to specific limitations they have. Hulu supports 4K on very, very few titles and series, and it does not provide surround sound of any kind for no good reason (I mean, it’s 2020 right?). FandangoNow has some weird caveats, and 4K is limited to very few TVs.

One caveat to these numbers is they are specifically for the Apple TV 4K, and it is for ‘most’ movies in those services, but, there will be variations from movie to movie. However, those variations are pretty small and not something you’d notice with the naked eye. I did quite a bit of research to see if I could pull similar information from other streaming devices but unfortunately there’s currently no way to get results using the same methodology, which would be necessary for fair and consistent results. However, after trying many different streaming devices (Roku, Shield TV, Xbox One X, PS4, etc.) the Apple TV 4K has been the one with the best quality (comparing with the naked eye), as well as the one with the best and most user-friendly interface; meaning that overall, at least in my experience, it provides the best overall quality and it is also the easiest to use among all the available streaming devices. It is pricey, but you get what you pay for, at least in this case.

Another caveat to these results is you can’t just pick one streaming service to stick with given the myriad of exclusive content in the different services. There’s also the fact that iTunes does not currently support 4K, Dolby Atmos, or any flavor of HDR for Disney movies due to some disagreements they have with them. If they did support those better formats for Disney films I would suggest just sticking with iTunes and a few of the other services that have that exclusive series you just can’t live without. But since they do not, my suggestion would be to buy non-Disney movies through iTunes, and get a Disney+ subscription to have access to their library in 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos. As you can see from the table, they’re actually third on the list. So at least relatively speaking, their quality isn’t too bad.

But what if you despise having to make those monthly subscription payments and just want to be able to buy something instead of depending on that subscription to have access to it? Well, then things require a bit of a process, but it is nothing complicated. But basically, you’d use iTunes to buy all your non-Disney movies, and, you’d use Vudu to buy Disney movies, but, and here is the slight complication, you will stream them through Movies Anywhere to get better video quality. And how would that work since you’re buying them on Vudu and not on Movies Anywhere? Well, the thing is Movies Anywhere is not really a store of any kind. It is basically just an aggregator service that you connect to movie streaming stores to be able to watch your movies in one place. So if you buy a movie from iTunes and another one from Vudu, and you have them connected through Movies Anywhere, you can watch those movies in all three places even though they were bought through different stores. So, you’d buy the Disney stuff on Vudu, but stream it in better quality through Movies Anywhere, and, you can even download them through iTunes to your iPhone or iPad to watch them on the go thanks to Movies Anywhere.

Connecting those services to Movies Anywhere is actually not difficult. You create a Movies Anywhere account and then it will ask you which stores you want to connect, you pick them (iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, etc.), and then all you have to do is login to them through Movies Anywhere, and voila, you’re done.

Nothing can be perfect, so just like with anything else, there’s a caveat to this as well. Paramount and Lionsgate (two of the major movie studios) do not participate in Movies Anywhere for unknown reasons, so if you buy a movie From Paramount or Lionsgate through Vudu, you won’t see it on iTunes even if you have them connected through Movies Anywhere. My suggestion would be to simply stick with iTunes for these since they have the best quality.

So, basically, if you do not mind a monthly subscription, I’d suggest buying your non-Disney movies on iTunes, and subscribing to Disney+ to get the best quality of 99% of the movies out there. If you’d rather own instead of subscribe, I’d suggest buying your Disney movies through Vudu but connecting it to Movies Anywhere for better quality, and then use iTunes for all other movies.

Obviously, exclusive movies like Togo and Noel (on Disney+), cannot be bought anywhere, but at least for the great majority of movies right now, you can get them in pretty decent quality by streaming them via those suggestions outlined above.

Screenshots supporting my results (I tried matching the same content, but since there is not a single movie available in all the services in 4K, I had to pick a couple of different ones, and trying different content in each service yielded very similar results anyway):

Suspiria | 4K Blu-ray Review & 1080p Blu-ray Comparison

I watched my copy last night and I was thoroughly impressed with both the picture and the Dolby Atmos mix. This is like Sony-levels of 4K disc quality.

For my thoughts on the film itself and Synapse’s 1080p transfer click here. Note the first four screenshots are from the standard blu-ray (1080p). You can see direct comparisons of the 4K against the 1080p version at the bottom.

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Picture: 5 / 5

I never thought Suspiria could looks this much better when the 1080p disc looked so impressive already. There’s more fine detail for sure, but the big upgrade comes more from the expanded and more punchy highlights as well as the expanded color. The whole thing is breathtaking. The 1080p disc looked great already but this is taken to the next level. Bright objects and specular highlights are beautiful. The various flower-shaped ornate lamps throughout the halls of the academy are brighter, bringing a new level of realism (surrealism?) to the picture, with clearer and more refined gradations. Reflections off the fancy furniture and ornaments look immaculate, bringing way more pop to the picture. The primaries (red, blue, yellow), which the cinematography uses consistently, look more natural than the standard blu-ray. The brightness is lowered, but none of the saturation is lost, and if anything, the colors are more intense with more gradations and nuances. If there were any drawbacks to the standard blu-ray they were minimal clipping and colors that looked a bit too bright, but those were mild trade-offs which I was fine with given the limitations of the format and the overall finished result and effect. This dials them back in without compromising either element thanks to the wider color and range of HDR.

Fine detail is an improvement as well. The stitching and patterns on Susie’s clothes are crisper and clearer. The textures and artistic works of the walls and floors throughout the academy are clearer and easier to make out. The film grain is oh so exquisite. The refinement thanks to the higher resolution makes it so organic and delicate I was drooling. Black levels are deep, not pure inky black but as deep as they could have been without compromising shadow detail, which thankfully, there is plenty of, with more separation between the different black levels and clearer definition in those darker highlights. I saw zero compression artifacts. No banding, no macroblocking, no noisy grain, zero, nada. Top notch compression work here. The whole thing is jaw-dropping, and the only other older horror film that has come close to this level of upgrade on 4K disc is probably Christine, but this edges it.

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Audio: 5 / 5

Who knew a horror film from the 70s would make for such a fantastic Atmos mix? I sure did not. I expected an upgrade, sure, but not to this level. The mix literally and figuratively adds another dimension to the audio. Yes, 4.0 mix sounds great, but, this is like it was made with Atmos in mind from the very beginning. I’m not sure how Synapse did it, but this is one of the most impressive Atmos mixes I’ve ever heard. The only limitations come from the age of the film and those are mainly clarity and crispness, but even then, they are only noticeable a few times, and I cannot fault it for that given the age of the film.

Haunting whispers travel all around the soundstage. Moving from the front to the heights, to the surround channels and then again all around. The ornate and colorful glass ceiling during the first murders cracks, shatters, and then rains from above and finally disintegrates at ear level. The storm during the beginning and ending of the film makes the rain come from all around, with the lightning sounding from the heights, adding more realism and dimension to the audio. Voices emanate with impressive directionality. For example, during one of the police questionings, Madam Blanc’s voice emanates from one of the surround channels while shes is off to the side and back of the camera. The score is a whole other thing. The instruments and vocals travel all around the soundstage with impressive immersion. The whole track is very immersive and just impressive throughout. Overall, clarity is excellent, and dynamic range is impressive. The low-end is used well throughout for both the score and sound effects. Synapse did not waste a single opportunity and squeezed probably everything they could have out of the audio elements. They went pretty crazy with it while only augmenting the effect and realism of the sound.

Bonus Features: 4 / 5

The bonus features are the same ones included in the standard blu-ray edition. While this package does not include the standard blu-ray of the feature, the commentaries are included on the 4K disc, and the bonus feature disc is included as well. For my thoughts and review of the extras included in this 4K package click here.

Overall:

This is a pricey package, sure, but this a clear case of you-get-what-you-paid-for. Honestly, this is demo and reference-quality on both video and audio. The sides of the picture are a little soft due to the anamorphic lenses, but that’s original to the source and nonetheless the picture gains an upgrade in detail/definition (not to mention color and range). The Dolby Atmos mix is so dynamic, immersive, and full that it was hard to not keep being impressed by it. Both technical qualities are admirable, and if this the level of quality we can expect on 4K discs from niche labels, then it’s a win-win for everyone.

Screenshots
These were taken with my cellphone (iPhone 11 Pro), and while you can get an idea of the upgrade in definition (and slight idea of the upgrade in dynamic range), you really can’t see and appreciate it until you watch it in HDR, so please take this only as an imperfect, partial, and incomplete representation of the upgrade the 4K disc brings (click on the images to see larger versions and the differences better, or better yet, go the Slider comparison links below to see a more direct comparison):

Look at the front grille of the taxi:

Slider comparison:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=804ae79e-0b17-11ea-b9b8-0edaf8f81e27

Look at the stitching patterns on Susie’s nightgown, and the lightbulbs:

Slider comparison:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=17e1647a-0b18-11ea-b9b8-0edaf8f81e27

Again, pattern of stitching on Susie’s clothes and the lamp:

Slider comparison:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=ad0ca744-0b04-11ea-b9b8-0edaf8f81e27

And finally, the dust particles in the air, and ornate patterns on the red wall on the lower left:

Slider comparison:
https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=ad0ca744-0b04-11ea-b9b8-0edaf8f81e27