This Blu-ray release offers 2 Discs, one with the 3D version of the movie, and (rather thankfully) one with the 2D version, both region free. When it comes to video presentation, it will come as no surprise to you when I say, right off the bat - don't bother with the 3D version of this movie. Why? Well, it's not because it's painfully bad or horrible to watch, it just brings absolutely nothing at all to the movie besides a massive sense of dissapointment, and as the movie carries on, an increasing temptation to switch to the 2D version.
The 1.78:1 1080p image wasn't shot natively in 3D, which means that although both the 3D and 2D discs carry the same aspect ratio, the 3D conversion was done some months after shooting completed. I concede that 2D adaptations are getting better, but there's really no saving graces for 3D with Avengers Assemble. It shows the same issues with a lot of 2D conversions these days in that the depth of the picture feels false and more annoying than intriguing. With Avengers Assemble, the action is so fast paced and explosive too, something that even natively shot 3D movies often have problems with. For me, this is one of the major issues with 3D - you see, with film, you don't choose what to focus on, the director does. Whilst this is fine in 2D because you can accept that what you're supposed to be looking at is the thing in focus, with 3D, our eye is tempted to look at everything within the depth created by the 3D effect. If this is all out of focus, it's hugely unrewarding to look into the frame, because all you see is blurred depth of field, very annoying, and very much the case with Avengers Assemble.
Having said all that, there's no unexpected issues with it other than it adds literally nothing at all. It loses a lot of vibrancy, which though not a surprise, is a collosal disappointment for a movie that boasts some of the most colourful scenes I've seen in a movie for quite some time. You know what, I'm pretty sure that everyone's been well versed in the fact that 2D is the way to watch this movie, but for good measure, I'll say it once more. Skip the 3D, go straight for the 2D disc. Not least because after you've watched the 2D version, you won't need to swap discs just to watch the extras.
But for the problems highlighted above with vibrancy diminishing and the whole thing feeling a lot darker than Whedon intended, it's an excellent encode and boasts some excellent CG. Get past the poor slapped on 3D, and it looks great. This Blu-ray being at 1.78:1 is going to fill every millimeter of your 16:9 diplay with a beautifully rendered image that you'll regret not having had in your collection sooner, the moment you buy it.
Blacks look deep and rich, but without being crushed and overbearing. This lets detail in shadows pop through brilliantly, but it's hardly like there's an abundance of dark scenes throughout. Set design is incredible, and the fine object detail does this work justice with full marks. The production designers won't be banging down Whedon's door over this one I'm sure. The swooping camera shot leading up to Natasha Romanov's introduction scene in the warehouse is about as far as you'll need to look before you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Contrast does suffer slightly, in part because of the 3D glasses, but also at times the levels do drift slightly, and with the non CG scenes that have excessive darkness, the contrast comes up ever so slightly short. Never so wide of the mark that it's bad though, and it didn't spoil anything at all for me, but probably worth noting for good measure.
Colours are really where this movie shines though, with such an incredibly diverse palette. The contrast between Captain America's star-spangled suit and Iron Man's Hot-Rod red and gold exoskeleton against New York's naturally and realistic looking backdrop is truly palpable. That's before we even get onto how good the "big guy" looks. It's bubble-gum tastic colours all the way here, though sadly, the 3D adds a few stops to the overal brightness of the colour palette, dimming things out quite a bit. Shame really.
Skin tones are surprisingly natural in fact, and have excellent texture to them. Why surprising? Well, purely because with such a mixture of real and CG, and such an array of colour across the main characters outfits that it must have been ever so close to borderline over saturation. It's not though, not by a long shot. It manages to handle colour exceptionally well. As for textures, I have nothing but good things to say about this either, from the natural porous texture we see on close ups of Nick Fury and Tony Stark, to the incredibly detailed shaders used for the Hulk's skin texture, it's utterly mesmorizing. Again though, that grizzly 3D conversion spoils the platter with it's presence, dropping the sharpness levels and dimming the brightness, not to the point of it being unbearable, but close enough to be irritating.
Generally, what should be an incredibly sharp and jaw-dropping spectacle is sadly, a little disappointing. It's not the worst conversion I've ever seen, but it's certainly not the best either. It's a bit like watching everything with a thin layer of marmite covering your screen. Take my advice folks, save yourself a few quid and stick to the 2D version (which is included of course!)
How about this for a demonstration of what 7.1 can add to a movie experience? It's by far and away one of the finest DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mixes out there. Granted, there aren't that many, but this should stand as an example for others to follow. It's nothing short of a thrilling bombastic rolloercoaster of bangs, pops, and whooshes. Everything's been thought about in depth, from the subtle change to the impulse response reverb when we're inside Tony Stark's helmet, to the spine curling gutteral roar of the Hulk. Nothing is left without consideration here, and the effort should be commended.
Dialogue is for the most part crisp and clear, but as with so many of these Hollywood blockbusters, it occasionally drifts just beyond the realms of being comfortably audible. Granted, that's usually when your ear is being drawn to some other sound or musical cue that means whatever's being said is largely secondary, but even so, with the dynamic range that the Blu-ray standard of an average -23LUFS affords, surely there's never a need for dialogue to ever get lost these days. Still though, nothing gets lost to the point of straining to hear something. It's also worth mentioning a lot of care has gone into the frequency range that the dialogue uses. It's not afraid to excercise those tweeters, and those of you with a properly configured and calibrated system are in for a treat indeed.
It's not just the dialogue that's a treat though, everything sits in the mix just about as well as anything Ive ever heard. Explosions are thick and earthy sounding, with just enough distortion added to give them a real punchy force. I've heard mention that some folks may find it a little light on the LFE side of things, but for me, it was just right. I much prefer when the LFE channel is used sparingly, as most of our systems these days don't actually need to roll off everything below 80hz for the sub anyway. If you're a bass freak though, you might find this lacks a steady sub woofer workout. Gunshots are crisp and resonant, twanging brilliantly across the entire surround array. Music is balanced and adds a bed of perfectly epic scoring to accompany the rest of the audio presentation. Rather a memorable soundtrack too I might add, as my esteemed colleague will explain in much further detail in his review here.
It's near flawless as far as audio presentations go, without it being too devilishly clever or cheeky, or trying out anything new. I'm afraid though that I feel the need to drop a point for it for purely that reason alone. There's nothing wrong with the sound, but there's nothng new about it either. Had they attempted to do something out of the ordinary, or break the mould even just a bit, I would have no hesitation in awarding this an immaculate 10 out of 10, but as it stands, the boundaries probably could have been pushed more. I do accept, however, that for some, that might not be reason enough to drop a point. After all, I'm reviewing what's there, not what could have been there, right? But at least you know exactly why it's not full marks, and hopefully you'll understand that it's not that there's anything wrong with the audo as it is.
A little sparse on the Extras front, but what's here is certainly worth watching.
Marvel One-Shot: Item 47
It's ridiculously difficult not to tell you everything there is to tell about this, but I'm going to bite my tongue and tell you that this is a must see, post Avengers Assemble short from Marvel that follows on several months after the movie concludes. Without a doubt one of the most satisfying extras I've seen - it's such a treat, and you're going to love it.
Take a guess. Yup, 5 minutes or so of on-set goofs and gaffs set to the theme of Smokey And the Bandit among others. The stand out moment has to be Conie Smulders who plays Agent Maria Hill lamenting a colleagues death. Priceless.
Deleted and Extended Scenes
Again, fairly self explanitory - You get 15 minutes of alternate and deleted scenes. Must have been hard for some of this to get chopped, though nothing here comes as a revelation. The first 3 minutes is quite a dark and disturbing reflection from Maria Hill on the aftermath of the events that transpire during the movie. Deifnitely worth a watch.
A Visual Journey
A six minute expose of the visual target for the movie. Includes interviews, albeit brief ones, with Joss Whedon and other key crew members on set, along with some cast memebrs talking about how they believe the visuals of the movie are likely to "blow fan-boys minds"... ok, forgiven. Discussions cover the production design and the special effects approach. Some very interesting material here, if a little on the light side.
Overall, not too bad, but I would have lapped up a 30 minute featurette or two about the shoot and the movies production in general.
Finally a superhero movie with almost universal appeal. It's a benchmark in how to make a blockbuster with longevity, and it ticks all the boxes to mark itself as not just a man's movie, but also a date night contender. There's literally something for everyone in Joss Whedon's epic collaboration of superhero awesomeness. Colourful and slick, funny and dark, this packs a punch you're unlikely to forget in a hurry. Fan boys will rejoice at the careful and balanced handling of some of the most prolific comic book characters in history, and I'd wager many will come back for a second helping. A triumph for the blockbuster actioner genre.
Although the 3D is a conversion and should absolutely be avoided, this Blu-ray package is a veritable shelf smasher, and is simply a must own. With a fntastic picture and great sound delivered in gloriously uncompressed 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio, it's going to give your system the work out it deserves. Not exactly light, but hardly heavy on the extras, what's there is short lived but satiates some of our additional content desires. Go buy it immediately, then watch it repeatedly.
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