Prometheus 3D Blu-ray Review
Prometheus is visually stunning but fundamentally flawed.
The best 3D movie I have seen to date. This is a simply superb masterpiece of cinematic art. Scott’s decision to use mainly physical sets and huge outdoor locations coupled with native 3D at better than 4K resolution has led to jaw dropping detail and the most natural 3D I have yet to experience. DoP Dariusz Wolski – known mainly for the Pirates of the Caribbean series, has not worked extensively in 3D but has adjusted very well. Because of the size of even the latest 3D rigs, hand held is basically out, so instead we get swooping crane shots, panoramic tilts and plenty of mid-shots with a wide field of focus. Depth perspective is spot on throughout, with gentle expansion of some scenic backdrops to enhance the effect.
There are various aspect ratio versions of this film designed for different cinematic presentations. It is a shame we did not get the full frame 1.66:1 Imax release as the 2.40:1 letterbox does lessen the effectiveness on smaller TVs, but the flip side is the photography does lend itself to the wider format. The conversion is equally impressive, with a flawless AVC Mpeg 4 transfer.
The Red Epic camera system is much more than just the imager itself. The raw data files can be further processed in the bespoke software to extract maximum detail, while the camera head itself has over 18 stops of dynamic range. In layman’s terms, this far exceeds the best that 35mm can offer, enabling more complex lighting to be used to give incredible variations in light levels within one scene. Check out the scenes in the caves, where the light from the LED torches pierce the darkness, yet you can see the detail of the bulb, the light beam through the dust and oodles of low level detail in the shadows to boot. Scott eschewed the use of green screen, so again this opened up much more creative opportunities in terms of lighting. With chroma keying, the light onto the green screen needs to be as flat as possible to keep the colour to be replaced consistent. This makes the shots feel very bland if done poorly, often leading to more effects like artificial shadows needing to be added in later. By lighting and filming the scene properly in the first place, much less CGI and harsh grading is required. Talking of grading, the colour palette is fairly muted throughout. The alien world is mainly greys and blacks, with much action taking part inside the caves, with even the Scottish Highlands shots feeling quite murky. It is therefore quite important to ensure you do not have the brightness and colour set too high, as this will wreck the gritty visual atmosphere. Film grain is non-existent on CMOS based digital systems so noise is more apparent, but not here, the picture is clean throughout.
3D does suffer from lower contrast levels, as TVs need to work harder to overcome the losses through the glasses. Whereas some films suffer (Titanic 3D being a good example) with solarised shots and visible banding, this is noticeably missing on this release. Comparing the 2D to the 3D shows where shots have been tweaked to make sure they still look their best with the slightly more restricted dynamic range. Blacks still avoid looking crushed and there really is plenty of detail to be unearthed. Cross talk is extremely low, something that is hard to achieve when you have light detail on top of a dark background.
The helmet cam scenes where we see an overlay in front of a 2D “video” picture look so realistic, as does the CGI compositing of the holographic displays around the ship. The “dream” sequence effect is well judged and quite original, so top marks here as well. Anything up to five camera rigs were running at any one time, so Scott had plenty of footage to work with from each take. This is his style and filming digitally keeps the costs down and makes resetting to go again much faster. Despite this, there are a few continuity errors where a reverse shot has been used – witness Charlize Theron when she invites the scientists into her quarters. Body language and lip sync fly out of the window for just a few seconds.
This sort of movie is going to be packed to the gunnels with CGI. From digitally created star fields and principle but impossible props through to adding alien contagion to the humans, we know it cannot be real, yet the illusion is frighteningly complete. It is difficult to see the joins between the 3D back scenes and the composited CGI in front. The depth perception remains every bit as real with very little false layering in evidence.
This film represents the current pinnacle of 3D technology, taking the crown from first generation outing like Tron Legacy and Avatar. Had we had this sort of quality when 3D first launched, we would not be seeing the current drop off in interest. Other films may offer a little more in terms of neck snapping pop outs, but this is the most realistic and convincing 3D you will see on your TV this year. It makes anything merely converted look very sick indeed.
DTS HD-MA is now firmly established as the standard for Blu-ray release. Although most movies settle for the 5.1 format, we get treated to a full 7.1 experience here, with additional wide effects channels available. If you are set up for 5.1, never fear, the effects are equally well presented and steered around the soundscape. Make sure your system is on top form as it is in for a work out. The LFE channel has gut wrenching content as low as 10 Hz, with much of it sitting quite high in the mix. With my system set to its normal reference level, the overall sound track appears quiet compared to many releases. However, when the gore starts flying, the rockets start burning and the action vamps up, you realise why. By utilising more of the dynamic range of the format, the crescendos are that bit louder and the whispers have you leaning in to the TV to capture every word.
The early scenes with the great star ship traversing the void are powerful and evocative of some of the best sci fi movies of recent times. Alright, we all know you cannot hear a sound in the vacuum of space, but how else to convey the fury of the engines and sheer size of the ship? At least the powerful orchestral score adds to the general effect, even if it is not that memorable.
For the most part dialogue is crisp and clear. The laid back nature of the crew is echoed in their languid tones, but this steadily becomes replaced with more urgency and panic as things get serious and they end up fighting for their very survival. Occasional words are lost to the louder passages of the movie, but on the whole it is problem free.
Expect to jump out of your skin a few times, as the surround channels gang up with the LFE to make you think something slimy and lethal is crawling over the back of the sofa. There really are some jolting moments and they add to the creepy feel.
For lesser systems you might want to seriously think about switching in the dynamic range limiter as you may find you experience distortion during the louder passages but struggle to hear the dialogue at other times. Tron Legacy also tripped up quite a few systems with people complaining about faulty disks and I expect to read similar reports about this movie as well. On a well balanced system with plenty of power reserves this is not an issue, so sit back and enjoy the aural assault.
From the superb sleeve, printed with multi coloured foils and raised lettering, you get the impression that the distributers intended this as a premium release. The lack of a lenticular “3D” image on the front helps as well as they look too cheesy and overdone these days. The main feature disc contains nothing in the way of extras, but you can download an app that syncs your mobile device to the film to enjoy bonus content as you watch the main movie. Language support is pretty good, with Spanish, French and Portuguese all available. Subtitles include English SDH, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.
Things really hot up with the extras disc. Not only do you get the headline featurettes (listed below), but run this in “Enhanced Mode” and this opens up even more shorts and interviews. In all, over seven hours of extras, but this does include the alternative beginning and ending. One niggle here, as the alternatives, deleted scenes and commentary are on the 2D movie disc, so you cannot watch the movie with any of these features in 3D. Reading interviews with Ridley Scott, it seems that he considers the main cut of the film as complete and resisted doing a new cut for the home release. The extra space required for the 3D file size also explains the lack of extras on this disc.
The Furious Gods: Making of Prometheus. Divided into shorter sections, but in total, 3 hours and 40 minutes long! Honestly, it feels a little too indulgent to produce the “Making of” longer than the movie, but I guess there are many fans out there who will want to know the whole process inside out. Add in the various “Enhanced” shorts and we are at the 4 hour mark. To be fair, this is produced to extremely high quality and in HD @ 24FPS, albeit with a Dolby Digital 2.0 sound track. We get to hear from the writer – John Spaihts, various members of the design and conceptual art team before moving onto the filming proper and interviews with the main cast and crew. We see excerpts from the screen test and costume fittings as well as the more conventional interviews and fly on the wall filming around the set.
One of the “Enhanced” shorts looks back at the original Alien film and it is then you start to compare the two films. You get to appreciate just how good the original film was and how far we have come with visual effects.
The scale of the sets constructed forms an interesting section to the documentary. With some of them being over 300’ long and 40’ high, you cannot get away from the amount of effort required to not only design but also build them. Very little was green screened, so practical (physical) sets were the order of the day.
Demons in the Dark concentrates on the creation of the various aliens, including the “Engineers”, reptiles and of course the original alien as well. Unusually in this world of visual effects, many of the monsters were built as full size physical models, with servos, wires and puppeteers. There can be no doubt that this increases the reaction from the actors and on a film made in native 3D aids the realism as well. The “birthing” scene shows just how complex the art can become. From full body moulds to small monsters with more than 40 motors in them, the model makers really excelled themselves. Don’t watch this while eating, that’s all!
Real sets need real stunts and there really is no shortage of them within the movie. CGI is of course used, but mainly to enhance instead of replace the physical stunts by removing the wires and moving the actors closer to the dangerous elements. The storm sequence is explored in detail, which is a good thing as this is a real crescendo within the movie and was as technically complex to shoot as it looks on film. The opening sequence of the film, with the “Engineer” launching life through the destruction of his body needed to be CGI, but the combination of real and virtual is quite stunning. Shot against a real backdrop, the 3D remains stunning throughout.
We end with the actors and crew discussing the movie and its relationship to the other films in the franchise. All in all, an interesting if maybe overlong documentary.
Moving to the 2D movie disc, the first thing up is the deleted scenes and we get over 30 minutes to watch. Some are true deleted scenes, others are simply longer versions of those included within the main movie. The “Alternative beginning” is a little disappointing as it is simply a longer edit of the one used and nothing that different. The alternate ending is a different matter. The extra dialogue is actually quite helpful and the scene could have been left in to help explain a little more of the unfinished plot points.
Commentary tracks from Ridley Scott and two of the writers are also included. I am not a fan of these, but I do appreciate that some are. To be honest, if you have watched the making of, you glean very little extra, as much of it has already been said already.
Ignore the “Live Extras” as this just takes you to the Fox general site. The first preview that popped up for me was Alvin and the Chipmunks – Chipwrecked! Hardly relevant or of interest to a sci fi fan I feel.
Disc navigation is pretty straight forward and very attractive. Selecting scenes, subtitles and extras is simple and the resume and popup menus all work correctly. The 3D disc is a little slow to load, with plenty of resolution changes as it checks your player and display are 3D capable, but once running, it settles down.
A technical masterpiece that shows just what is possible with current technology. A shame that the story cannot quite keep up, but it is still enjoyable. Quite whether the film has the original horror and depth of characters that Alien managed is a matter for conjecture, but the visual artistry is every bit as good as the original. In a generation of green screen and CGI, we have a blockbuster made the old fashioned way for the most part, just using the modern tricks to enhance, not cost save. Whether Scott should have fitted this movie closer to the original Alien series is another matter for debate. For me, it works as a stand-alone piece and I don’t feel that my lack of exposure to the earlier movies spoilt the film in any way, but I can understand that some may feel cheated by the no more than passing references to the franchise.
There is the question about whether it is worth the extra for 3D. Without doubt the answer is yes. Beautifully shot, it is simply superb and without doubt, the best 3D movie available today. Technically, this movie is a real reference disc both visually and sonically. The picture is brilliant, detailed and engaging while the sound presses all the right buttons with its mix of music score and sound effects enhancing the pictures to a tee. No effort has been made to over exaggerate the 3D effect, so it feels natural and engaging – more so than Avatar or Titanic. With these movies, you feel yourself thinking “Wow the 3D is great” while with Prometheus you just accept the 3D world and soon just lose yourself in the environment.
No doubt fans of the Alien franchise will buy this film and be disapointed by the plot, depth of the key characters and lack of originality. The fact remains however that it is an extremely well produced movie and adds another chapter to one of the most succesful movie series ever. Recomended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £30.00
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