Byzantium Blu-ray Review

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A labour of love for Director Neil Jordan

by Alan McDermott Sep 25, 2013 at 10:47 AM

  • Movies review

    Byzantium Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £21.99

    Byzantium Blu-ray Review

    Byzantium is a reasonably solid tale that I only occasionally felt a little bored with, even then, never long enough to feel like it was an endurance test. It follows the story of a protective mother Clara (Gemma Arterton) and fragile daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), both immortals and hiding from a sinister confederation of vampires that has hunted them over the course of centuries with a view to extinguishing them both. Clara is painfully beautiful, and puts her looks to trade, earning a living as a working girl all with the pure hearted intention of protecting her daughter. When the pair find solace in a seaside town in a run-down guest house, they begin to feel at home. Enough so that Eleanor allows a forbidden romance to flourish between her and an equally emo-esque boy, Frank. As their fondness for one another grows, so too does Clara's concern at her daughter's closeness to the boy. As the shady confederation draw their noose ever tighter, and Eleanor dares to reveal some truth to Frank about who she is, Clara must react in order to continue to keep them safe. As conflict around the two steadily increases, so too does the death toll.

    It's a good attempt at switching up a genre that's over saturated these days, but perhaps an attempt that lacked the bravery required to really turn it on its head and one that swerves any real responsibility that being playful with such a well-established genre might require.

    Byzantium Blu-ray Picture Quality

    Presented here with a fine 1080p 2.35:1 cineamtic aspect, Neil Jordan's Byzantium does all that's required of it very well indeed. The video presentation is strong, and this is due mostly to the fact that Sean Bobbit's cinematography is every bit as good as we've come to expect from him. Couple that with Jordan's obvious personal interest in the genre and lore, and what we get is a very authentic rendering that reflects the director's intended emotion for the audience extremely well.

    With a good deal of the movie shot at night time, we'd expect the blacks to have had a lot of focus put on them, and I have to say, whilst not perfect, they're pretty decent. Rich and deep with just the slightest touch of crushing manifesting itself as a vaguely green noise in the very dark areas of the screen. Never becomes overbearing though. Contrast is pushed pretty hard too, but where the image really comes into it's own is the handling of the grading in the fairground lit scenes. There's a bleakness that sinks into your bones at how the production has been lit, and it transfers to film extremely well, always drawing us into the image with vibrant reds and blues reaching out of the darkness. Daylight scenes are typically grey and overcast, but it shows the intention in skin tones being slightly washed out being deliberate as the clothing and other props have a beautiful richness to them.

    One thing that did massively let the visual experience down is the scenes in which the waterfall turns to blood. Firstly, I found it hard to swallow as it was such a clichéd move. Secondly, it looked pretty ropey as far as CG goes. But most of all, as the water turns to red, there's a small trickle on the bottom left of the screen that hasn't been effected with the colour. Clearly a mistake, but one that absolutely should have been picked up. For me, I found it awfully distracting, and it broke the entire indended mood of the scene. It's just lazy as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps you could argue this is a relatively small bug bear and you wouldn't be wrong to do so I suppose, but I thought it worth a mention nevertheless.

    Overall, there's a refined sure-footedness to the picture here that only occasionally fails to hit it's intended mark of perfectly balancing the bleak normality of every day life with the intense and colourful vampiric undercurrent. On the whole, a very good job that is unlikely to disappoint.

    On the whole, a very good job that is unlikely to disappoint.

    Byzantium Blu-ray Sound Quality

    The audio track is presented in two formats, DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and LPCM 2.0 Stereo. Though I did try out both tracks, I watched the movie with DTS-HD MA 5.1 engaged which I was excellent, though I wasn't at all disappointed by the LPCM version on offer too.

    For a start, dialogue is reasonably clear. For the most part anyway - though I did have a little trouble discerning Caleb Landry Jones' muffled attempts at speaking into his arm or his jumper at times. Otherwise though, it's pretty well mixed. The sound effects rarely get to flex their muscles here, Jordan clearly preferring the slower, more plodding method of storytelling, but what's here is solid and very well crafted. Sub gets the briefest of workouts towards the film's climax and at a couple of occasions where there's a huge waterfall crashing down around us, and the surrounds have a fair run out with lots of ambiences and lots of movement, particulalry when the bats surge out of the cave and swarm around the camera. The music is dreamy and ethereal with a classic vibe to it that sets the tone beautifully, and is rendered here with a balanced dexyterity that glues the whole sound mix together very well. Everything has it's own place in the mix, and the dynamic range is rarely comporomised.

    Byzantium Blu-ray Extras

    Interviews with Cast and Crew

    Some interesting notions offered by the director Neil Jordan on how he approached the movie, along with plenty of tidbits of info on the production from various other cast and crew including Gemma Arterton. All feels a little staged though, and nobody seems like they particularly want to be doing these interviews.

    Frightfest Cast and Crew Q&A

    A 20 minute panel filmed in february in Glasgow. Neil Jordan discusses the movie in front of an eager audience with his leading ladies. The audio isnt great to be honest. Found it hard to hear everything. Still, interesting if you want more insight into the production and the motives behind the movie.


    Is Byzantium Blu-ray Worth Buying

    The genre is clearly a labour of love for Director Neil Jordan, but despite his slightly left of centre interpretation of the vampire genre being thoroughly watchable, it falls marginally short of being a complete success. He ventures far enough into the realms of redefining what a vampire is, but not far enough for it to feel warranted. As a result, we're left wanting more from some areas of the premise but, instead, we're palmed off with a reasonably well told romance. Slightly too much concentration on the "sexy" to really distance itself from the tired and overworked genre as we know it, but it's got enough going on to keep us entertained throughout. A decent movie from a director I expected a little more from, and I hope the movie's consistent leaning towards the lusty element doesn't distract audiences from what it's trying to do. In this respect, Gemma Arterton's beauty could be it's downfall.

    As for the package, well it boasts a decent looking image with a rich colour palette and excellent cinematography, and an audio presentation that, although it has little by way of "big" sounds, manages to be respectable. Slightly light on the extras front but saying that, it does have a lot of interviews from many of the cast and crew, including Jordan himself. It also comes with a nice Slip cover which I know some people really like. All in all, I find it hard not to give this a recommended vote - if you're into your vampire flicks and crave something slightly different to the slop we're served these days, you'll likely not be disappointed.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.99

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