Picture21 may not be the most obvious candidate for a breathtaking Blu ray visual experience. Although it is a thriller, it is not one that relies on showy set pieces, or large explosions. However, it is a pleasure to report that this is one of the best transfers I have seen in a while
We are presented with a theatrically correct 1080P transfer, and in the same way that the film has two distinct sections, so the picture can easily be broken down into the same categories.
So, in the Massachusets scenes, the picture has to deal with slow languid shots concentrating on bringing out the best of a naturally vibrant landscape, and the detail in stunning university architecture. This, the picture excels at. Whether the shot is taken from inside the university halls, or outside in the snowy landscape, the picture is always rock solid. Colours are muted, but this seems to be a deliberate choice of the filmmakers. Detail is astonishing. The details in the school scenes, whether it be inside a lecture theatre or the brickwork outside is always deep and impressive. The depth of field is also excellent. In a large class, details are clear right to the back row, and you really do get the sense that you are standing right inside the room.
The Vegas scenes, if anything, are even more impressive. There is a considered choice here to present as much contrast between the two environments as possible, so whereas the film in other areas uses a muted colour palette, in Vegas the colour simply drips off the screen. The colours are bright, realistic, and clean without ever being garish or seeming over processed. The camera pulls off some dizzying and fast moves, but never does the picture suffer from any blur or indistinctness, everything is sharp and clear, with even the low light scenes showing off a great deal of detail.
Over the whole film, facial detail is excellent and skin tones are realistic and natural. The film source is impeccable with no flaws visible. Grain is minimal and there is only just enough to give the film a pleasing natural look.
Overall, 21 is one of the best transfers I have seen this year. It deals with a wide variety of challenges without breaking a sweat, and gives the home viewer a really immersive experience. Highly recommended.
Sound21 wowed me with it's video and I had similarly high hopes for the TrueHD soundtrack that is provided. Sadly though, whilst not exactly bad, the sound mix never really took off for me the way the video did.
The good points are that the mix is exceptionally well balanced. There was no need to fiddle with the balance at all, as the dialogue is always clear, however many whizzy effects are going on around you. The score is integrated nicely, and the sub gets an excellent work out.
My problem with this mix is the complete lack of subtlety. In the more quiet, university based scenes there is absolutely no ambience provided by the rears at all, with the scenes coming off as if they were filmed for some Sunday afternoon made for TV play. When the Vegas scenes kick in, then so do the rears - the whole sound field is used extensively. Sadly, however, there is very little directionality thrown in. the sound designers have simply decided that they have five speakers and they are going to use them - without really thinking about how the sound might complement the onscreen action.
The result is one of those mixes that is constantly going all around you, but never wows you with a clever piece of sound placement, or a sense that you are watching anything other than a mix which accompanies the action on the screen, rather than complementing it.
This is a shame, because with the thought that went into the picture it would have been nice if the same level of care had gone into the sound mix. It is not the worst mix I have ever heard - but it could have been so much better.
Extras21 is being released here in the UK on Monday 8th September, day and date with the DVD release. And again my usual bugbear has been addressed as the Blu ray has the same extras package as the SD version.
Of course, there is the almost obligatory audio commentary with the director and producers. This is one of those excellent commentaries that gives a decent amount of technical background without ever becoming dry, and also throws in some fascinating insights into the background of the story and the real students. Certainly an enjoyable and informative listen in an excellent mix.
Even better is the featurette Basic Strategy : A complete film journal which gives a technical background to the making of the film. Featuring input from the cast and the crew, it shows us everything from the way certain scenes were filmed to the way the cast learnt Blackjack. Enjoyable on it's own or even better as a counterpart to the commentary, this is fascinating stuff. Another featurette Money plays : A Tour of the Good Life is a less successful look at the production design. Too short to go into too much detail this is a little superficial for my taste. Finally, we have 21 : The advantage player which is a featurette about the history of Blackjack. Again this is potentially very interesting but spoilt by being too short at five minutes. We do, of course, get a selection of trailers
I say finally, but this is not quite true because we also get an HD exclusive feature. Unfortunately, it is another one of those interactive games that are becoming so popular. I have been scathing about these in the past and that is because I hate them. What is the point? If I want to play a game, I'll play a game. No-one is going to fire up 21 just to play a rather poor java version of Blackjack. Also consistently disappointing is the BD Live experience and it proves to be so again here. I watched this disc with a friend and when the menu fired up, he asked me what BD Live was. After five minutes of watching a loading screen, he was bored and when it did finally appear, he said “Its like the internet was ten years ago”. We are presented with the usual uninspiring selection of trailers and other rubbish.
Verdict21 is a highly recommended film. It may have plot holes the size of a Vegas Burger through the middle, and the story may verge on the histrionic at times - but the bottom line is that the film is enjoyable. Hokum, for sure, but this is certainly a film that you will come back to again. The performances are universally excellent, and the film is directed with considerable panache.
On Blu ray the film is treated to a truly excellent transfer - bringing the best out of the directors vision. Sadly, whilst vibrant and lively the sound mix is a little uninspiring and unimaginative.
Add into the package all the excellent extras from the SD release, and some very poor HD exclusive features, the overall package here is highly recommended. Picking up this disc is certainly not a gamble (sorry!)
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