It's a supernatural home-invasion scenario
PictureWhen this impressive 2.35:1 1080p AVC encode settles in on your display, there's no doubting what you're getting into for the next hour and a half - a crisp, clear, well balanced image that's as impressive as we've come to expect from the modern day High Definition format. It most certainly doesn't disappoint, and from the off, it's strutting across your screen with confidence.
The first thing I noticed was the grading. It's subtle, but it's also very bold and definitive. Sounds like a contradiction, i know, but what I mean is that it's graded very stylistically, but it's done extremely well. Stewart clearly made the decision to set each period of time apart from one another, separating day and night with much warmer and cooler grading respectively. During daylight scenes, we can feel the warmth of the sun and almost smell the green grass, whereas in the night time scenes, there's a coolness to the image that lends a sense of eeriness to the mood, completely contrasting that of the daytime scenes. It's interesting because Stewart has not restricted all the weird things that happen to the Barratts to the night time scenes, yet he maintains consistency with his grading. It's quite a nice effect - when it's wamr and sunny, you don't expect there to be any weird or creepy things happening, so he's effectively tricking you into a false sense of comfort. Nicely done.
As for the colours throught the image, they are very consistent. Skin tones look natural, nothing is over saturated, and everything conforms obediently to the chosen palette. Contrast is well handled, and blacks are strong, though it's here that I spotted the only (very minor) inconsistency with the otherwise excellent image - there's the tiniest hint of banding in darker shadows. It's really very subtle though, and was only visible when I really looked for it.
As for detail, you couldn't really ask for much more. Shadow detail is very good, and sharp edges are aplenty, with no signs at all of edge enhancement or unruly DNR. Speaking of which, fans of healthy grain in an image will be pleased to know that Stewart opted to not completely remove the grain, but kept it subtle and understated.
All in all, I was extremely pleased with the video presentation - another fine looking picture to add to the collection.
SoundThe DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track is almost as impressive as the image. Everything it does, it handles well. It's been carefully thought out, and there's been an obvious choice along the way to not overwhelm us with a mish-mash of bass driven sounds, as can often be the temptation with Sci-Fi horror movies. Since Paranormal Activity pioneered the use of bass frequencies that were intended to indicate something was changing when the image was exactly the same, the danger is that other movies of this ilk follow suit, and in doing so, end up feeling tired and gimmicky. There was enough unoriginality with the narrative with Dark Skies for it to have been acceptible to plageurise something so obvious as that. Thankfully, Stewart decided not to do this, and instead opted to keep the sound mix pretty natural.
There are plenty of depth giving ambient and environmental audio cues, but nothing's overpowering. Plenty of detail in the high frequencies which is a refreshing thing indeed. There's a lot of space and dynamic range in the mix overall, which allows the dialogue to be crystal clear right the way through.
Your surrounds aren't likely to get a huge workout until the very end, but they're on the go pretty much the entire time never the less. Always supporting the main mix, and always allowing room for important sounds to take centre stage. When the final few scenes come into play, things can get a little muddy in the low end, but to be fair, if your sub is capable enough to handle what's thrown at it, it's unlikely to struggle too much, and there's still plenty going on in the high frequency domain anyway, so it feels pretty balanced all the way.
On the whole, I can't find much to fault with the audio presentation. A solid job.
ExtrasPretty sparse in terms of extras, but for those of you that enjoy the running commentary on the movie, you'll be pleased to know that Scott Stewart joins a couple of others to try and explain some of the thinking behind the on-screen action.
Featuring blow by blow accounts from Director Scott Stewart, Producer Jason Blum, Executive Producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, and Editor Peeter Gvozdasa, this is a slightly odd mix of attendees to the recording couch for this one. I must say, I found it a little dull and didn't make it to the end.
Alternate and Deleted Scenes
Pretty self explanatory really, and this serves little more purpose than to confirm that these scenes and clips ended up in the right place.
VerdictIt becomes increasingly frustrating that Scott Stewart seemingly intentionally avoids the opportunity to do something original at every turn, instead, playing it safe and regurgitating ideas that were not his own. Though what we end up with is perfectly acceptible, if a little messy, we're sadly left wishing there was something more we could take away from Dark Skies besides a series of highly recognisable classic movie moments. Had the focus been shifted away from the cheap thrills in favour of the darker, perhaps more sinister elements that tease us throughout, we might have felt far more entertained. As it is, the best we can say for Stewart's homage to Spielberg, Shyamalan and Kubric, amongst others is - we wish you had made it your own.
The Blu-ray package is decent though. With a lovely looking lenticular slip cover, and an excellent audio & visual presentation, it's very easily recommendable. There's even a few deleted/alternate scenes on the extras, and a commentary track from the director himself.
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