It's been some time coming and many are eagerly awaiting this 2.40:1 MPEG-4/AVC 1080p transfer so I'm sorry to say that whilst this BluRay edition is a step up from the usual SD offering it's not something that will blow you away.
The brightness fluctuates ever so slightly between various shots and this at times becomes a little distracting. Also there is a noticeable amount of grain in the film itself and whilst it is there it never really becomes intrusive. The foggy scenes at the start of the film though fare the worst. There's definite noise and blocking more than apparent in these ghostly greys and this is a definite let down as I for one had hoped that this might have been eliminated from this premium release.
The picture is either clouded in fog and smoke or the dank darkness of the candle lit interiors below decks; only briefly sojourning to the glorious brightly lit outdoors when they land to take stock. These darker scenes still betray their detail in those murky shadows; the bedraggled crew as they recount stories of monsters or other superstitions, the dining area of Captain Aubrey. Even the noisy sea battle scenes still show off the ships in all their glory. However the transfer comes to life on the island with a wealth of colour and depth apparent. Lush greens, detailed lava flows, the glorious sea stretching out to the horizon offering up each small wave in the distance.
Colours on board ship are muted but then this is an era way before United Colours; even so these earthy colours come across as well defined and perfectly contained in their borders. Depth is kept in check here due to the claustrophobic nature of the photography.
A good enough print, albeit for some brightness variances, with some very slight specks but nothing of any note. The transfer is decent enough but not striking; as mentioned there is some noise and some enhancement also around the shoulders of the crew on and off the island. It's better than we've seen but it's not great.
The only English track on offer is a wonderfully deep and loud DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 thumper. Master and Commander has always been renowned for those earth moving ornament shattering bass and now on BluRay it's as though they've turned it right up to 11.
From the outset of the initial battle you know that you're not being short changed on the audio, the thud and crack of the cannon as they bear down on the HMS Surprise is surprise indeed and I for one had to turn it down a few notches. Once battle commences though it all breaks loose from your surrounds which create a complete sound field making the viewer believe they are on the poop-deck.
Fidelity is wonderful with each splinter of wood coming across beautifully, distinct and flying from one speaker to the next. Surrounds are wonderfully used again for the extensive weather effects particularly when rounding The Horn in torrential downpour with the swell reaching up and crashing down.
Dialogue is crisp and sharp even with this calamity ringing around your ears you can still hear the barking orders of Captain Aubrey as he musters his men and ship into position. Quieter moments fare well also with the becalmed seas offering a chance to hear the creak and groans of the ship as it lists idly in the silent ocean. Like its DTS predecessor on SD this will go to the top of the pile when you want to impress friends with some audio wizardry.
Fox are at it again with not a hope of recreating the 2 disc SD edition which was ripe with additional material. Away go the documentary boys, away go the featurettes. What we're left with in all reality is scurvy material reaching out for an extra ration of grog.
- Geographical and Historical Trivia Track.
Another one of those pop up trivia tracks which impart various pieces of information throughout the film. Some interesting snippets are recorded here but the most is throw away stuff. Snippets such as there was no discrimination at sea between black and white, if you did your job then that was all that counted. Other aspects relating to the adaptation of the novel and how Crowe only decided to get onboard when he realised Peter Weir was at the helm are divulged.
- Deleted Scenes. - 0:24:20
A collection of 6 deleted scenes with a Play All feature. In the main they are throwaway but there's a couple of gems in there which perhaps should have been kept in. Scenes which fill out the relationship between the crew members particularly.
- Pop-up Map.
An interesting addition when at the touch of a button you can track the position of the HMS Surprise on its voyage. A small translucent map appears in the lower left hand corner showing where on the globe the action is currently taking place.
- Trailers. - 0:07:26
Trailers for Master and Commander, Live Free or Die Hard and Eragon.
The extras also include a scene index and personal bookmarks. Ultimately though Fox should yet again take the choice of being keel hauled or flogged for not including extras which already exist. Time and again they release material that's not up to the mark when it comes to additional material. True some of their later releases are getting better but seriously there's no excuse for releasing back catalogue material without the extras which have already appeared on SD.
It's a great fun ride from a number of very different aspects; the relationship between Aubrey and his crew, the relationship he has with his long serving friend Dr Maturin and of course the relationship he has with his French adversary and the battles which ensue.
From a disc point of view the video is a slight improvement but somewhat lacking by today's standards and that's a little of a let down. The audio though cannot really be faulted it's all that you wanted, expected and more. If you thought the DTS version was top notch then wait until these splintering wooden decks and thunderous cannon fire surround you!
Fox drop the ball once again with the extras package in so far that it's woefully lacking. Time and again reviewers are at pains to point this out and it's still baffling because the material actually exists. It's a worthwhile upgrade though but don't throw out that splendid two disc SD edition, huzzah!
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- Geographical and Historical Trivia Track.