A Serious Man Blu-ray Review
'A Serious Man' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
As is to be expected from a recent release, the transfer on the Coen's latest effort is immaculate. The level of detail on show is very impressive indeed. Maps are clearly legible in the background during the classroom based scenes, textures of leather chairs shine through and dates on far-away calendars are well defined. The complex mathematical equations which Larry meticulously records on his blackboard are perfectly represented, with the numbers legible from a distance. Clothing detail is also spot on, as exemplified by the sharp lines on various plaid jackets and shirts and the waxy, bloodstained trench coat of Larry's neighbour. In the opening scene it's possible to see the Tom Selleck tribute on the upper lip of the Shetetl wife and the freckles on her cheeks. Other facial close ups expose a similar level of detail, with minuscule ear hairs, stubble, heavy wrinkles and dope reddened eyes standing out with sharp definition. The “Torah teeth” shot is also well defined, with every ancient letter standing out against the enamel of the patient's teeth. It's even possible to see the make-up on Larry's brow during some of the scenes.
The colour palette focuses on the earthy tones of the 60's, with oranges, browns and other rustic colours dominating. There are a couple of scenes which can produce some wonderful colouration, such as the powdery blue of some of the Minnesota skyline shots. Colour gradations are sublime, as exemplified by the different shades of greens in neighbouring lawns. Shadow detail is impeccable, with every detail visible during the darker portions of the movie. The contrast ratio is strong, with inky blacks on display during the night time segments.
There is a light fizz of grain in the majority of the scenes but this is always organic and unobtrusive. There were no instances of edge enhancement or other compression artefacts noted at any point. Most scenes exude depth, which really adds a felling of spaciousness. There are a few scant scenes instances of three-dimensionality but this is not a facet which matches other BD releases by any stretch of the imagination. Some portions are deliberately hazy (to accentuate the affects of the Mary Jane) but this is an observation and not a criticism.
This is a very rich, well rendered and immaculately presented transfer and as a result high marks are awarded here.
'A Serious Man' comes with a dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track.
Front stereo separation is superb, with plenty of activity in the front listening plane, including roaring fires and the crackling burn of a spliff. Vocals, which are the main audio focus for the duration, are always crystal clear and locked to the centre channel. Surround activity is adequate, with cars passing around the listening position and provide some nice effects when The Mentaculus is being referred to. The sub is somewhat dormant but comes to life to bring a hefty thump during the “Rabbi captioning” portions of the movie and also adds significant presence to the close of the movie, as well as adding a midrange impact during the car crash scene. However, both would need to be a hell of a lot more forceful to take this movie into the high scoring marks.
The score, underpinned by some classic tracks such as Jefferson Airplane's 'Somebody to Love', is composed by long time Coen collaborator Carter Burwell. Strings dominate and add tension, with accompaniment from other orchestral instruments. There are also plenty of old Jewish “hymns”, which are dotted here and there for effect. Overall this is a fine score and has nice stereo reproduction and surround bleed, it's just a pity that we couldn't have had more Hendrix and Airplane in lieu of some of the more boring Jewish numbers!
The sound engineering is pretty imaginative, such as the faintly audible sound of Danny's radio or the crackle of the record player, but ultimately there's just not enough going on to warrant a higher mark.
The extras portion on this Universal release, at first glance, appears a little thin on the ground but the included additional supplements contain zero filler. BD Live (with its usual slew of trailers) and My Scenes also are included (but I do find these facets of BD somewhat useless).
“Becoming Serious” (HD 17mins) - This feature takes a look at the making of the movie. Ethan and Joel Coen provide insight, by way of interview portions, on how they cleverly assembled the narrative. Interviews with the producer and cast, as well as behind the scenes footage also, feature. All participants provide an interesting background to 'A Serious Man' (and respectfully big up the Coens) in this worthwhile feature.
“Creating 1967” (HD 13mins) - This featurette takes a look at how the authentic recreation of 1967 was acheieved. Set design, the automobiles and wardrobe are all discussed in depth. Discussions on the Mentaculus and choosing the location to shoot are included. There's also plenty of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the design crew (who display their wares). Although adding to the feature presentation, there's nothing here to warrant a repeat viewing.
Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys (HD) - This highly useful additional supplement provides a glossary of Jewish terms (which feature in the movie). It's only a shame that I did not view this feature prior to watching the movie and I would highly recommend that everyone does (although be warned as there are a few mild spoilers included).
'A Serious Man' was released in 2009 and was directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. With a carefully crafted reputation to uphold, the latest offering from the Coen's has been well received by critics and even gleaned a couple of Oscar nominations. The plot focuses on a Jewish professor in 1967 whose family, moral and spiritual life begins to crumble horribly. The reliable crew which the Coen's have assembled undoubtedly have formed a tight bond over the years and the movie they have produced is technically flawless. Unfortunately, the content and the obtuse manner in which it is presented doesn't quite match up to the golden brother's previous efforts, despite the stellar ensemble cast. Off kilter and obtuse, this reviewer found it difficult to penetrate the mysterious armor of 'A Serious Man' and will most definitely be sticking with Coen classics such as 'The Big Lebowski'. Disappointing, but hopefully repeated viewings will make this movie a more enjoyable, rewarding and accessible experience.
The transfer is richly rendered and perfectly presented. There is a huge amount of detail on show and overall there were not many aspects that I could find flaws with. The audio presentation is solid but the actual content restricts the uncompressed track from reaching its full potential. The extras portion, while appearing a little thin on the ground, does contain some very worthwhile content. Overall this is a very solid BD release that is let down by the feature presentation.
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