Song to Song Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Film to Film. Yawn to Yawn.
Shot back-to-back with the navel-gazing Knight of Cups, Song to Song merely substitutes Cups' Hollywood for the music industry, and fails to return Terrence Malick to form.Twenty years ago the celebrated visionary director of Badlands and Days of Heaven returned from what many assumed was a self-imposed retirement with the tour de force reflection on war that was The Thin Red Line. Within a few years he produced another lyrical gem in The New World, and then released the ambitious The Tree of Life. Indeed his output has grown exponentially, with five releases in little over a decade where, previously, he had only done a couple in 20 years. With this exponential growth, however, the auteur has come under increasing criticism, seemingly with each successive picture more vapid than the last, and the coined term 'Malickian' - once a stamp of vision and ambition - now used to describe directors who have lost their way and are drowning in an excess of empty style with very little substance. This was never more readily apparent than in his reflection on Hollywood, Knight of Cups, whose all-star cast was wasted on empty musings on the 'woes' of a Hollywood star.Taking his pointless studies on first world problems to the b-side of Hollywood, Song to Song mirrors Knight of Cups, only changing the setting to the music industry. It's tiring and empty, painful even, in its study of a quartet of self-centred souls whose incestuous intermingling results in trite relationship woes. Musicians Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling embark upon a relationship which comes under threat from Michael Fassbender's producer, who represents them both, but enjoys an on-off relationship with one of them, further complicated when he himself finds potential love elsewhere. Losing his eye for beauty, Malick's almost fish-eyed lens tracks dizzily over its prey, a bunch of pretty people gliding in and out of each others arms as if in a ballet, whilst pointless and self-absorbed narration plays out in the background. There was a time when the master director made this style his own; a veritable art form. Those days are long gone. After decades riding a fine line between lyricism and pretentiousness, he has well and truly embraced the latter.
Picture QualitySong to Song was filmed digitally using Arri Alexa cameras (with a few sequences in Super 35), with various source resolutions from 2.8K to 5K, finished using a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI), leading to a largely native 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The 2160p image is presented in its original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Rather than the 10-bit video depth, Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) fans of the format have grown accustomed to, the disc is one of those rare 8-bit SDR Rec.709 releases which doesn't have the same technical advantages. We reviewed the US Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Song to Song on a Samsung UE55KS8000 Ultra HD TV and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Far from Malick's prettiest film, or the prettiest release, at least one of his releases in 4K means the rest might follow
At least it would appear that Malick has embraced the 4K format, with a presentation that enjoys the richness and vibrancy of the format even without the added enhancements that we now come to expect. There are plenty of scenes that look rich with colour and sheer pop which would make you swear that there was HDR and WCG in play, with highlights of bright primaries and luminous neons evident in the festival and club settings. Detail is generally impressive, although somewhat variable, and not always as easy to appreciate - indeed the image in general is harder to appreciate - due to the director's wandering eye, as the camera sways and sways and sways; the corners of the frame unnaturally enlarging anything caught in them due to the slightly skewed fish-eyed style of the lens, further exacerbated by the angle and distance of the shots.
Still, it's a clean and clear image, sitting marginally but still distinctly apart from the 1080p HD Blu-ray counterpart, which is included in the package. Black levels are strong and colours are rich, often in spite of the more bland settings, allowing the image to make the most of the vibrant foliage and basically lap up whatever they can get. The aforementioned clubbing sequences do throw up a few more questionable shots; struggling to retain their integrity under pressure of potential bleed, but, overall, it is a solid and often pleasing image. It may be far from Malick's prettiest film, but at least having one of his releases in 4K may mean that the rest of his classics might follow.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a solid, often engulfing track mixed to Malick's traditional "dialogue is the least important element" level, which requires the standard "the director recommends that the film is played loudly" forewarning upon playback. Basically, the murmuring narration is at the polar opposite end of the spectrum to the music, so the myriad score pieces prove particularly intoxicating, but the dialogue can prove unintelligible unless you hike up the volume.
A strong audio offering for a film about the music industry
The song and score pieces chosen are really quite eclectic, starting off with some punchy festival beats which are really quite jarringly spliced with plenty of classical pieces, but irrespective of your thoughts on the musical choices, they all get fine presentation, bringing the array to life and crafting a heady atmosphere for the piece. Effects are fairly limited - there are a few nice crowd moments, but most of the rest comes down to finer ambient observations, however it's all fuel for the fire, and the end result is a strong offering, which would likely be regarded as demo quality were it not for the questionable prioritisation (or lack thereof) of the dialogue. Certainly Malick fans would find it quintessentially Malikian - and arguably have no quibbles classing it as demo - but for the average moviegoer, it takes some getting used to.
ExtrasAs is still unfortunately more common than not, Song to Song remains one of those Ultra HD Blu-ray releases which doesn't port over the extras although, in this case, you're almost literally losing nothing. The accompanying Region A-locked US Blu-ray boasts the only extra feature, The Music Behind the Movie, which runs at literally two minutes in length and is pitiful. So don't be worried about not having Region Free Blu-ray capability, as you're not missing anything.
Ultra HD Blu-ray Verdict
Malick hits his absolute nadir with Song to Song
After a decades-long hiatus, Terrence Malick returned with a fury and passion that made films like The Thin Red Line and The New World unmissable, and audacious features like The Tree of Life simply a unique experience. Since then, however, it's been fast downhill, with fans struggling to find the worth in the misguided To the Wonder, then interest almost completely waning with the self-interested study of empty, pretty rich people that was Knight of Cups, hitting its absolute nadir here with the b-side, Song to Song. The only positive is that Malick has little choice but to go up from here, but it's a shame to see this once celebrated auteur descend to such a low level that even his most ardent fans find themselves fresh out of excuses after having to pardon three too many of his worthless outings.
If you're going to watch Song to Song, then there's no better way than in the glory of native 4K on this US Ultra HD Blu-ray release, which sports strong video and audio, even if the extras are basically non-existent. Fans of the film, even if its ambitious to pluralise the word 'fans', should consider this a good release, but fans of Malick should certainly be wary after the last few outings as things haven't improved.
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