A Blu-ray with images worthy of Mr. Turner himself
Mr. Turner Film Review
The Sun is God. These were the last words of celebrated late Georgian Romantic landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner..Under Mr. Turner director Mike Leigh and cinematographer Dick Pope, ochre-infused sunrises and sunsets are treated like primary characters in this 2014 film, which won Best Actor for Leigh regular Timothy Spall in Cannes but failed to reap any major awards from either the British or American film academies. But the movie doesn't end with this death-bed scene: it ends as undramatically as it began, with Turner strolling through gilded sunshine, sketchbook in hand. Other famous artists have arguably made more dramatic subjects for film due to their salacious lives (Picasso, Carvaggio) or madness (Vincent van Gogh). Turner's life was humdrum in comparison, but not his talent.
Mr. Turner is not even a portrait of the artist as a young man; the film covers the last 26 years of Turner's life, when he was already established. Neither does he undergo any real dramatic rivalry with fellow painters; he mostly mingles convivially (and grandstands a tad) with John Constable et al. as they gather to touch up their work on 'Varnishing Day' at the Royal Academy of Arts, like salesmen hobnobbing at a business convention. In short Turner is secure in his position, although his increasingly modernist approach and outré offerings are flummoxing the public (witness how he smarts from the shadows when a music hall troupe satirizes his new abstract direction as a canvas of crushed jam tarts).
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Blu-ray of Mr. Turner has a 1080p/24 encode using the AVC codec and preserves the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation. The cinematography by Dick Pope is as much a character in the film as the actors themselves, providing a visual representation of the world seen by Turner. The result are some beautifully composed landscape shots, along with recreations of the sights that Turner painted such as Stephenson's Rocket and HMS Temeraire. The film was shot digitally using the Arri Alexa and then graded, delivering the kind of gorgeous images that you wouldn't necessarily expect from a lower budget British production.
The film is beautifully shot and composed, often using Turner's paintings as an inspiration.
The digital source means that the transfer is able to perfectly replicate the filmmaker's intent, reproducing the beautifully composed and graded images just as Mike Leigh conceived. The encode is free of any banding, digital artefacts or noise reduction and there is an impressive level of detail. In scenes that are designed to replicate Turner's view of the world, the shots can have a golden look that is deliberately soft and impressionistic. Whilst other scenes show the reality of early Victorian England in unflinching detail and with a very natural colour palette. Although sometimes this level of detail can work against the film, especially in a scene where Turner ties himself to a ship's mast to experience a storm first hand and the snow flakes are obviously soap suds.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe Blu-ray of Mr. Turner comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack that is something of a surprise for a lower-budget British period drama. The film has a subtle but highly effective sound design that constantly surrounds the viewer with the hustle and bustle of every day life in early Victorian England. As a result the rear speakers regularly burst into life as Turner goes out into the street or parades around the Royal Academy. There is also a nice sense of environment when Turner is in some of the huge homes that he frequents and the soundtrack isn't afraid to be very quiet in certain key scenes.
For a British period drama, the soundtrack is surprisingly atmospheric and enveloping.
The dialogue is also very clear, even if some of actors aren't, whilst every grunt and wheeze of Timothy Spall's towering performance is beautifully captured and reproduced. The score is excellent and the soundtrack presents it very effectively across the front three channels to create a wide front soundstage, whilst also mixing it into the surrounds to add a greater immersion. As you'd expect there is usually little for the LFE channel to do but the storm that Turner deliberately subjects himself to is nicely rendered with plenty of low-end rumble and active use of the full sound field.
Blu-ray ExtrasThe Many Colours of Mr. Turner (30:32) - This interesting 'making of' documentary is presented in high definition and covers the film's production from inception to completion. It includes interviews with all the main cast and crew and covers Mike Leigh's battle to get the film financed and made, as well the lengths Timothy Spall went to in order to accurately portray Turner as both a man and an artist. This is the only extra on the disc and, whilst it is good, it would have been nice to see the featurette found on the US release of the film entitled The Cinematic Palette: The Cinematography of Mr. Turner, which covers the film's gorgeous visuals.
Mr. Turner Blu-ray VerdictMr. Turner is a great film, so why was it snubbed at the Oscars? For one thing it is a period piece without the picture postcard Merchant-Ivory treatment. Luminescent long-range seascapes are countered by unpalatable close-ups of the ills and filth of Victorian life. And above all, the neanderthal grunting, bronchitic wheezing and shuffling of the great artist himself, waddling Penguin-like with permanently pursed lips about the narrow streets of Margate and London with his ubiquitous umbrella. There is little of redeeming beauty in Mr. Turner or his society. The beauty is in the art , and the perceived divinity of the sun he devoted his life to expressing on canvas. An obsession that Mike Leigh is successful in capturing during the film's absorbing 150 minute running time.
The Blu-ray of Mr. Turner is the perfect aural and visual compliment to this superb film.
As a Blu-ray Mr. Turner is a triumph with a picture that perfectly captures Mike Leigh's artistic vision in terms of both recreating vistas that reflect Turner's style of painting and showing the reality of life in early Victorian England. The transfer from the original digital source is free of banding or other artefacts and retains an accurate reproduction of the filmmaker's intent. The same is true for the surprisingly effective soundtrack that envelops the viewer in the every day hustle and bustle of life, whilst also including a terrific storm sequence and reproducing all of Mr. Turners grunts. The only included extra is an interesting short documentary about the making of the film but sadly the disc is missing the featurette on the cinematography that appears on the US release. However, overall this is a great Blu-ray release of one of the best films of last year.
You can buy Mr. Turner on Blu-ray here
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.