Eastern Promises Blu-ray Review
The first issue that needs to be addressed is that of Fox/Pathe and whoever they employ to create their packaging. Not content with telling me that Day Watch was 139 minutes when in fact it was the full 146 minute cut, here they are at it again. The front of the box clearly states “full 1080i resolution”. It even says it again on the back, only this time elaborating “1080i HD resolution provides dazzling unparalleled picture quality”. Frankly I'm now suspicious of everything I read on a Blu-ray when I hear it has come from Fox/Pathe almost as much as I would if it were Fox news. To put peoples minds at rest, I and several others have all noted that it is displaying at 1080/24p using VC1 and does so for the duration of its 1:40 running time in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Now onto more pleasing matters - the picture quality itself. From the minute a young girl walks into a fluorescent lit shop you start to realise you are in for a treat. You can make out the minutiae of the packaging that wraps the products lining the shelves as she passes. Indeed the rest of the opening scenes are all as accomplished. Once we enter the barber shop Azim's head shines literally and figuratively as a beacon for HD films. Replete with its wrinkles, moles and minor skin imperfections, even when the light source hits it directly it never appears washed out or blooms. The man sat in the chair has his head half in the shadows of the elderly gentleman's frame yet you can see almost every stray hair. This shot contains Azim's dark suit behind said man and the light bib covering around his shoulders, as is usual in a barbers shop, yet everything remains perfectly balanced with neither end of the contrasting spectrum taking precedence.
Dark clothing though particularly benefits in this film as there is so much of it on display. From Azim's frightened nephew's black leather jacket, black hoodie and black t-shirt to the bespoke suit adorning Nikolai's frame, all are distinct and show great detail without ever falling foul of crushing. Textures are brought to life with Anna's similarly dark motorcycle get up and black bike all beautifully different in appearance. Though don't be under the impression that this has been achieved by lightening the frame as blacks are still very black and shadow detail is deep within.
I'm also pleased to say I noted no instances of edge enhancement. The rooftops lined against the light sky were detailed and as they should be without seeming as if penned in with a marker. When Anna first pulls up on her motorcycle it is a joy to behold the clear subtleties in the cobbled street and how far into the picture frame the stones themselves stretched whilst remaining so.
There does appear to be a slight reddish hue to some pictures but again there is such subtlety in the various shades that it hardly seems a grand criticism. Pause proceedings when in the Trans-Siberian restaurant and the multiple browns and reds display their differences in style. This also helps to show for a film that for much of it's time is displaying a neon lit washed out nadir of humanity, warmth when needed is well within its palette. Red especially becomes a strong colour when violence ensues and blood becomes all the more shocking for it.
Overall then this is a remarkably crisp clean transfer, the source looks nigh on pristine and the contrast is strong with good black levels and no clear crushing, jaggies or other irritations.
The first item to note here is once again Fox/Pathe and their aptitude for mislabelling boxes. Though unlike the video resolution here it is not a mistake where we are in fact presented with a better article than that which is proclaimed upon the covers. Instead we are told that this has a DTS HD Master Audio track when in fact it is DTS HD HR. I doubted whether there'd be too much difference in the various formats here though as Howard Shores score is understated to say the least. It pleasantly flows away in the background whilst proceedings continue, never being so imposing as to push itself to the fore. The centre channel is clear and never makes it an effort to understand the plethora of Russian accents or the deep burble in Semyon's voice as he lowers his dulcet tones.
However the difference between the DTS HD HR and the plain DTS tracks are subtle but apparent. The high tones of the violins played in the restaurant just seem to have that bit more reverberation to them. Voices that are hushed reveal greater warmth and a degree of roundedness that raises this track above its inferior. As such one can only wonder just how much more detail we would have been blessed with had we been given the lossless sound that the back cover so dearly promised.
As one might expect for a film that lacks blockbuster explosions et al the sub is somewhat quiet. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the film hangs itself on the slow disquiet and uneasiness of the situation rather than stand out bangs. There are so few instances where it is needed but when it is it's still played in a meek way. The roll of thunder could have been truly ominous with a little more bass but was instead more an effect that swept the rears and Anna's vintage motorcycle should rightly have an assured rumble to it. Given that all action is knife based there are no gunshots to punctuate this peace which can feel all too comfortable for a thriller of this sort.
Overall then although the sound is still good and I enjoyed the subtlety and sweeps of the score immensely, it somehow just feels like a missed opportunity. There are no other languages on the disc so it remains somewhat sparse to not have lossless, especially considering the availability of such a track on the HD DVD offering of this film.
Secrets and Stories - 480p - Mpeg 2 - 10:32
Here we are presented with the usual array of talking heads connected with the film discussing the whys and wherefores of proceedings. There are the occasional interesting insights such as screenwriter Knight revealing that the character of Semyon (the father/boss of the crime family) was based upon a real restaurateur he met who it turns out trafficked people. Cronenberg gives us a minor glimpse into how he approaches a subject such as the language to be used and his fascination with subcultures. However at only 10 minutes long there was never likely to be an earth shattering revelation here. Though it is pleasing to see a featurette where those involved come across as warm engaging individuals. All too often these shorts are populated by what seem to be automatons reiterating the same scripted answer they've learnt for the treadmill of press junkets. Ultimately though this is little more than an advert with a couple of interesting insights.
Marked for life - 480p - Mpeg 2 - 6:42
A look at the origin of the tattoos we see on Nikolai and various other members of vory v zakone throughout the film. It gives us a small peek into how they are incorporated into the narrative and their significance therein but this feels to be little more than a photo shoot for Mortensen's physique with a few quotes and titbits thrown in for good measure. For fans of body art it may hold their interest but for most this is fairly uninspiring. I for one would have relished a deeper look into the subject matter however this is distinctly lightweight.
Overall a poor display of extras for a film that deserved at least a commentary.
This stands as very much an imbalanced Blu-ray release. From the outset of the mistakes on the packaging the signs were ominous but the two most important areas, those of film and picture are an unreserved success. The extras are nigh on non existent and the sound mislabelled but I'd still far prefer these annoyances than have a feature packed disc of an excellent film that suffers from a poor transfer sat on my shelf. Here you get a fantastic story all wrapped in glowing visuals, however it just might not be the definitive version of this product yet.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £28.99
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