Assassin's Creed Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Lofty concepts get lost in poor dialogue and action scenes
The blood that flows through you is not your own. It belongs to the CreedAssassin’s Creed is a 2016 film based on the successful gaming series, but in name only, as it is an original story not affiliated with any of the gaming canon. Assassin’s and Templars have been in mortal combat for hundreds of years, the former as protectors of the Apple of Eden (a McGuffin of extraordinary power; in this case the genetics of Free Will) , the latter wanting it for nefarious needs. A modern day murderer whose blood line can be traced back to an ancient assassin is used by a clandestine company to pursue the Apple, but in doing so awaken the Creed who still wish to keep it hidden. Justin Kurzel directs Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in this tale of ancient war told through the centuries.The film tries to pack an awful lot into its runtime; fantasy adventure competing with modern day sci-fi, stretching over hundreds of years while contemplating theological arguments of Good, Evil and free will, whilst trying to maintain an ambiguous tone with either ‘side’ regarded as antagonistic. Lofty concepts for what is a gaming movie, and if it had conviction it might have made for an interesting argument. As it is the arguments soon get lost amongst the next well-choreographed fight sequence, stunning visual stunt or lamentable dialogue scene. Yes the film looks good, but is corny as all hell and whilst there is a feeling of building to a climax, it never really goes anywhere or ultimately says anything.
Picture QualityAssassin’s Creed was filmed digitally using Arri Alexa 65 cameras, with a resolutions of 3.4K and 6.5K but finished using a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI), meaning we’re seeing the full native resolution on this Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The disc uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec. We reviewed the Region free US Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Assassin’s Creed on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
HDR and WCG really pay dividends
After Passengers and Sully, I was expecting great things from another 4K DI, and whilst there is much to laud about, the whole is somewhat underwhelming due to the filming style and digital grading. Detail is terrific, Fassbender’s stubble has never looked so sharp, but more than that the ornate clothing (and weaponry) is clean and clear, while the cityscapes have a majesty about them; check out the painted ceilings and stained glass windows of Freemason’s Hall, almost like being there. The film itself, is heavily stylised and graded; the scenes set in Spain are very sepia tinted, while those in the present day are much cooler, tending towards blue – the film is also very dark, with many scenes taking place in misty, dark and dank cellars or at night.
This is very challenging for the Full HD Blu-ray, and many of these scenes suffer accordingly. The benefit of HDR and the WCG afforded to the UHD really pay dividends here: there is so much more going on in the dark, with so much in the shadows simply missing from the HD picture. The other end also shows far crisper whites with plenty more seen. The digital grading has so much more to give in the UHD picture, resulting in more depth, more punch and better resolution.
It’s not all champagne and roses though, there are still some serious banding issues that occur during some of the mistier scenes despite being 10-bit, and while it is an improvement over the 1080 image the whole still remains frustratingly murky and, at times, almost soft focus. The good does outweigh the bad, but only just!
Sound QualitySimon Crust reviewed the Dolby TrueHD track on a 5.1 system – The same cannot be said for the sound though, which is a monster of aural mayhem. Throwing caution to the wind the surround track is full on immersion from the off; effects are myriad and assault the senses through any of the action scenes. Horses galloping, thrown weapons, punches, kicks, breaking furniture, breaking bones – there are so many effects picked up by the surround speakers you are left feeling pummelled. Indeed the score is so resoundingly dominant, well layered of course, but bold within it, that when the action scenes come to a close and there is a moment’s peace, it’s like a relief. Dialogue is clear and precise, given plenty of directionality but sounds good and natural. Bass is heavy and loud – actually the whole track is loud – and used to fill out plenty of effects (pretty much everything listed above) adding weight to an already powerful track. It rarely lets up and some might find it exhausting, though it does add an urgency to the visuals and it’s nothing if not fully immersive.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is an aural assault on the senses
Steve Withers reviewed the audio using a 7.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos setup – If the primary purpose of an object-based audio mix is to immerse you in sound then Assassin's Creed is a triumph. In fact it's the very definition of immersive audio with a multi-layered mix that surrounds you in a three dimensional sound field that places you right in the middle of 15th century Spain. The nature of the film's plot means that the main character is essentially experiencing the past through someone else's eyes and the sound design replicates the feeling of it being a first person perspective. So the sounds are highly directional and when on the street they not only surround you but also move up to include buildings and windows above you. The sounds of people, horses and various weapons all resonate, creating a very active and aggressive surround experience. The steering of effects is precise and the use of low frequencies to add impact to action scenes is very effective. However within all this chaos the dialogue, such as it, remains clear and focused with well placed directionality. Meanwhile the music is perfectly layered into the overall mix so that it underscores and drives the action forward. The result is a loud and highly visceral soundtrack that is an aural assault on the senses, immersing you throughout and leaving you exhausted by the end.
ExtrasAll extras are located on the (included) Full HD Blu-ray:
Take the Pledge: Behind the Scenes of Assassin's Creed – A longer than average making-of feature, at 40 minutes, broken into five segments, looking at the various aspects of production of the film. Plenty of interviews with cast and crew, including the game makers; contains gaming as well as film content.
Conversations with Justin Kurzel – As you might expect, excerpts of interviews with the director (and other crew members) as he talks about: The Score, The Cut, The Effects and The Story for a combined runtime of around 20 minutes.
Deleted Scenes Conversation with Justin Kurzel and Justin Tellefson – Spend 20 minutes with director and editor respectively as they discuss, as footage plays, their decision making process for removal of certain scenes.
Deleted Scenes – 10 scenes (including an alternate ending) that have a combined runtime of 15 minutes; not a great deal here, really, a few character and action beats mainly. Their titles are: Protect the Apple, Lynch is Dangerous, Connection, I Remember Him, That's the Wrong Card, Preparing to Fight, We Are Assassins, Climb, Out of the Shadows and the Alternate Ending.
Gallery – Contains: Concept Art, Costumes and Weapons and Unit Photography.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictAssassin’s Creed sees Justin Kurzel directing Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in an action packed story told in two different time periods and based on the best-selling video game series of the same name. Whist the film looks good and contains plenty of action, the sometimes lamentable dialogue and failure to have the conviction of its story ideas, means the film ultimately fails to go anywhere or say anything.
Good looks and action fall to lamentable dialogue
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox is pretty good. The picture hails from a 4K DI meaning we’re seeing the full resolution, and this, combined with HDR and WCG, makes for a superior picture compared to the 1080p picture which fails to resolve much of the dark image. There is far more to the 4K image in terms of depth, colour and detail, but even this can’t compensate for what is still a dark and morose picture. No issues with the sound though (unless it’s too loud!) which is powerful, strong, incredibly immersive with plenty of surround action. The extras are pretty good with a decent amount of behind the scene footage and interviews.
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