The Great Wall Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Tries to meld the two cultures to create an action film that both will enjoy
Why did you go over the Wall?The Great Wall of China is an amazing achievement; built over several dynasties and stretching for more than 5,500 miles it has long been regarded as an amazing architectural achievement and has inspired many stories. The Great Wall was co-financed by both China and the US and it tries to meld the two cultures into an action film that both will enjoy; the result is something unwieldy that tries to be all things to everyone but doesn’t quite live up to that expectation. The story is deceptively simple; two mercenaries traveling the East to procure (by any means) ‘Black Powder’ are beset by hoarding bandits and find themselves at the Great Wall, where they become embroiled, by virtue of their fighting prowess, in a war between man and alien creatures that are beset on overrunning the world – with only The Great Wall standing between salvation and destruction. Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal star as the mercenaries, while Tian Jing, Andy Lau and Ryan Zheng head up the eastern cast.Celebrated director Yimou Zhang takes the reigns, but this time he minimises any character development in favour of the next action scene, in what is clearly aimed at the ‘Transformers Generation’. The thing is, whist the characterisation is slim, there is just enough to provide some emotional involvement, so some of the more daring do’s have a little impact. The relationship between the mercenaries and the feelings developing between William and General Lin do help to navigate the story between the battle scenes. The film almost feels lost between two cultures; that of the big action blockbuster and the more cerebral Eastern mystique, but it is far too rushed to give either any weight, so getting to the climax eventually feels a let-down; as if there is more to say. Nevertheless, as a slice of cheese it works well, although it's nothing like Zhang’s own output, which may be its biggest problem. Still the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously helps immensely!
Picture QualityThe Great Wall was filmed digitally using various Arri Alexa cameras as well as Red Epic and Weapon Dragon cameras, with resolutions of 3.4K and 6K, and was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI), meaning we’re seeing the full native resolution on this Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 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 The Great Wall on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
This is another stunning example of the format; showcasing how the extra resolution combined with deeper colours and a wider dynamic range form a cohesive whole. Detail is terrific throughout, from skin texture to horse hair, from engravings on sword blades to creases in leather. Indeed the intricate nature of the various coloured armour of the Wall guards is expertly seen. But it is with the landscape shots that really come to life; the banded rock formations, the rough terrain and the skylines all benefit greatly in terms of detail and edge.
This release is a stunning example of the 4K disc format
When it comes to the colouring though it is on another level compared to the Full HD Blu-ray; the depth and vibrancy of the armours, the rocky terrain and the skies are simply wonderful. Check out the sun as it glints over the Wall, or the depth of orange to the fire balls or the funeral lanterns in the night sky. The film showcases one of the best examples of colouring to date; in the stained glass pagoda at the end: the light shining through is so deep, vibrant and bright that you simply get lost with the spectacle. Add to this HDR and you have a punch to the frame that is amazing. Black level is strong and hides a decent amount of shadow detail; check out the dungeons or caves beneath the Wall, while whites contain significantly more detail as well. WCG and HDR combine to push this image beyond anything that Blu-ray can handle and the result is a picture that is far superior. Digitally there are no issues, save a wee bit of noise in some of the low light scenes but the digital source is pristine; so in all this is top grade.
Sound QualityThe Dolby Atmos track proves to be a superbly immersive experience with some of the best ‘overhead’ action heard to date. Dialogue is mainly centred to the front, sounds very natural and is only occasionally given some directionality. Bass is deep and strong (check out the drums!) and at times comes across as thunderous with plenty of LF effects taking up the sub’s time; the aforementioned drums, black powder explosions, impacts, beast roars; seldom is there an opportunity lost to add something down low. Effects themselves are superbly directional; the action scenes benefit the most with sword swings, arrow zips, shield clangs, shouts, monster growls etc. that is provided by the surrounds. The overhead channels are kept very busy during these times but add to the mayhem rather than sounding separate. But where they really come into their own is during the sewer scene; the creatures are moving around and above our heroes as they navigate beneath them, so when they are discovered and come through the ceiling it’s an absolute blast! This track combined with the stunning visuals prove to be a demo worthy disc for the format.
ExtrasThe UHD disc is bereft of additional material; all the extra features (such as they are) are located on the included Full HD Blu-ray:
Deleted and Extended Scenes – Eight in total for a combined run time of seven minutes; their respective titles are: Commander Lin Enters the Great Hall, Guards Take Tovar to the Barracks, Ballard Takes Tovar Inside the Wall, Extended Scheming in Ballard's Suite, Extended Funeral Sequence, Tovar and Ballard Wait for William, Lin Mae Arrives at the West Tower and Extended Emperor Sequence.
Matt Damon in China – Three minutes with the actor as he talks about his fellow actors on set and some of the preparation he undertook for the part.
Working with Director Zhang Yimou – Just three minutes with cast and crew as they backslap about the director.
The Great Wall: Visual Effects – Another three minute feature giving an overview of the visuals for the film.
Man vs. Monster – A more substantial nine minutes looking at the three main battle sequences and what went into achieving their look.
Weapons of War – Back to three minutes and an examination of the weapons on the Wall – reminded me of GoT.
Designing a Spectacular World – Three minutes giving an overview of the fantasy China focusing on three main sets.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictThe Great Wall is a frivolous fun fantasy positing that the titular wall was built not to keep out Mongols, but Monsters. When two mercenaries seeking to find ‘Black Powder’ stumble upon the Great Wall, they become embroiled in a battle for survival of the world when alien creatures attack. Existing as pure popcorn fodder, the film eschews any real attempt at development for action set piece after action set piece, only slowing down for the merest of character beats. It is a strange meld of east and west with neither side really coming off well – but with its tongue firmly in its check and winking at the camera at every turn, it ends up being harmless fun.
The Great Wall is harmless fun and a gorgeous disc
The US 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray set from Universal is pretty good, the picture (from a 4K DI) is stunning, detail, HDR and WCG combine to give a demo worthy disc showcasing some of the best images of the format; while the Dolby Atmos track, bringing directionality, immersion and overhead effects to the fore, is equally demo worthy. The only fly in an otherwise gorgeous ointment are the extras which are very generic, very short and honestly not worth the time.
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