PicturePresented in anamorphic widescreen and framed at 2.35:1, the transfer here is a mixed bag. The opening scenes exhibit some unwanted artefacting and significant graininess, which becomes especially apparent when we see fog and clouds - in the scene where the bow of the Surprise appears out of the fog, the compression problems are particularly noticeable; this was the case on both our 110” large review screen and a 28” widescreen television.
Thankfully though, things do improve somewhat, and for the large part we are treated to a cinematic transfer with deep, revealing blacks and excellent colour saturation. The tone is very subdued, with an almost monochromatic feel to some of the night/stormy scenes, but the colours hold up very well looking authentic and natural. Edge enhancement is largely absent, with the difficult scenes containing shots of the complex rigging passing all except the most critical eye (and certainly it's a huge improvement over the terrible haloing seen in this area on the recently reviewed Japanese edition of Cutthroat Island).
The detail level is generally good, with the ship's exterior and interior looking fantastic for the most part - in the opening moments when the camera pans over the two cannon, the fine weave of the ropes almost leap out of the darkness at us, however a hint of softness can be detected in long-distance shots: in particular where we are treated to the heady vistas of the Galapagos islands, the image is not as sharp as one would expect.
Overall this is a reasonable transfer but disappointing given the age of the movie - I've barely mentioned grain but it is present, and makes some of the problems even more apparent; however it's worth noting that grain was prevalent in the theatrical print of Master and Commander.
A mixture of average and good then, which means the cannon ball is slightly wide of the mark on video...This R1 edition offers an identical transfer to the R2 disc reviewed a few weeks ago.
SoundIf there's one thing to look forward to in this movie, it is without doubt the sound. Treated to both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS flavours - and I'll say now there's little between them - we have here a reference quality workout for any system.
Right from the opening scenes, the sound wraps the viewer up in an enveloping, layered and truly cinematic experience. From the creaking of the ship's hull, to the slapping of the waves, to the snoring of men in their hammocks, this is a mix that will have you looking over your shoulders. The sound presence is subtle yet incredibly effective, and this is built upon by clean and crisp dialogue which remains largely locked to the centre channel. When we see the first betraying flash of cannon through the fog in these opening moments, the swing in dynamics is truly breathtaking with razor sharp steering and effects placement, and an immense deep bass kick which - given suitable equipment - will be rattling all things, including yourself, in the room.
The attention to detail on the sound is sublime, and through the first battle this builds and builds, so we hear every wince-inducing impact of cannon, every splinter of wood, every shout and cry, every gout of water spray as a shot explodes off the bow - this is an audio assault from all four corners of the room. Yes, it really is that good.
From thereon in, the sound mix maintains this level of quality. Though not always full of the floor-shaking blast of cannon-fire - indeed the action is restrained for the most part - this is always an enveloping surround experience, with fantastic ambient spot effects which really place you on the ship with the crew.
The mid-range possesses real punch, the bass an unbelievable response which plummets down to well below 20hz, and the highs remain composed and detailed with no hint of sibilance, which is essential for all the fine detail that's there to hear.
A top soundtrack, then, and I guarantee the opening explosive sequence will become a regular feature in many home demos in the near future. This R1 disc offers the same exceptional sound mix found on the R2 disc.
ExtrasAvailable in two versions on R1 DVD this edition has no extras (unless you describe trailers as extras), the collector's edition features the same extras as the R2 disc and a few more.
VerdictA simple tale told well, this DVD package comes packed with a stunning soundtrack, and excellent choice of extras and is only let slightly down by the inconsistent video transfer.
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