1984 Blu-ray Review

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"Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past."

by Casimir Harlow Aug 12, 2018 at 7:33 AM

  • Movies review


    1984 Blu-ray Review

    1984 Film Review

    Famously written in 1948, George Orwell's classic novel 1984 was actually adapted in 1984 into a small Brit flick, distilling many of the classic ideas into an equally prophetic look at a totalitarian future dystopia.

    It's strange to think that 70 years ago a novel would be written which, in contemporary society, feels anything but antiquated. Orwell's classic foretold a society governed by Big Brother watching over it, using propaganda to keep the populace in check, fuelling eternal, almost mythical wars with no intent but to control society.

    The film establishes this stark premise, introducing us to Winston, whose day job is to rewrite the news so that it conforms to the Party line, but who secretly questions the damage being done to society - as new dictionaries come out reducing the vocabulary of the population in an attempt to narrow their ability to think independently. Striking up a forbidden relationship with a young woman, his interest in the revolution may well be his downfall.

    It does well to capture the spirit of Orwell's masterpiece.

    Driven by a tortured character study from the late John Hurt, and featuring a memorable last performance from the great Richard Burton, 1984 is best remembered for its extended scenes of physical and psychological torture, positing a very bleak look at this dystopian society and championing the very same prophetic concepts that drove its source prose. Ultimately it feels like but one shade of the palette afforded by the richer book, underdeveloped and underexplored, but the core message is still the same and it does well to capture the spirit of Orwell's masterpiece.

    It's an undeniably limited budget affair which actually went wildly over budget, despite the benefits of an early shoot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049), and the competent work of Brit director Michael Radford; a British production whose stylisation would later be embraced by everything from Brazil to Twelve Monkey (unsurprisingly both by Terry Gilliam) - it will be interesting to see whether the upcoming remake remembers the core principles whilst updating the look, and whether it will be as starkly portentous in its look at aspects of future-now society.

    1984 Blu-ray Picture

    1984 1984 Blu-ray Picture
    The HMV-exclusive UK Blu-ray bow of 1984 delivers a solid MGM disc which provides a strong, at times exceptional, 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.

    A very strong presentation.

    Inherently limited by the source material and the budget of the same, there are plenty of dodgy shots plagued by softness and haze, but there are also an equal - if not greater - number of fantastic looking sequences that leave the footage looking better than ever, revelling in skin detail and background textures and affording the piece a hitherto unseen level of clarity.

    Shot by Deakins and afforded the relatively unusual process of bleach bypass to give it that washed-out, grim dystopia look (he originally wanted it to be black and white, and this is the closest alternative they found), the colour scheme has scant moments of vitality, often on the other side of dream sequences where we see a lush green hillside. Black levels remain strong but not unimpeachable, with the intentional washed-out processing unintentionally affecting them too, but overall its a very strong presentation, with bouts of stunning clarity that belie the source content's limitations.

    1984 Blu-ray Sound

    1984 1984 Blu-ray Sound
    1984 has quite a troubled history in terms of its soundtrack with the co-production studio Virgin insisting that their commissioned soundtrack by electro-pop band The Eurythmics be used on the final cut. The director disowned this version, publicly railed against it, and elected not to have the film enter the Bafta running in protest of it, wishing his original orchestral score to be used instead.

    Somewhat ironically, the US release of this title afforded both tracks as alternatives, whilst this UK release only provides the Eurythmics score (even more curiously, on the foreign language options, if you play the Spanish dub you get the orchestral score). Nonetheless it's arguably a much more memorable contribution, only very occasionally threatening to feel at odds with the production and - for the most part - lending an added level of suitably futuristic sci-fi bent. The film is awash with large swathes of score-less material in any event, and still boasts strong orchestral cues that give the totalitarian aspects a more military vibe, whilst the Eurythmics' work is subtle and frequently effective.

    Hardly stellar, it's a strong and faithful effort nonetheless.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is a solid and faithful representation of the source material, inherently limited both by that and by the nature of its narrow mono scope, but nonetheless delivering clear and coherent dialogue throughout - from the shouts to Winston's whispering narration - whilst effects involve momentary bouts of gunshots and chaos, the sound of rumbling armoured vehicles and even a brief explosion, and the aforementioned score plays out in the background softly, adding further flavour to the piece. It's hardly stellar, demo material, but it's a strong and faithful effort nonetheless.

    1984 Blu-ray Extras

    1984 1984 Blu-ray Extras
    Nothing but a trailer.

    1984 Blu-ray Verdict

    1984 1984 Blu-ray Verdict
    It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming remake will be as starkly portentous in its look at aspects of future-now society.

    The HMV-exclusive Blu-ray bow of 1984 delivers strong video and solid audio - albeit without any audio options allowing for the alternative, director's preferred score, and without any noteworthy extras to speak of. Fans will still want to check it out.

    The Rundown



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