Stake Land Blu-ray Review
Stake Land comes to UK Blu-ray via Metrodome Distribution with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
AVCcodec, and framed within a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
Filmed using the Red One digital camera, proceedings are as crisp as you’d expect. Delineation doesn’t remain 100% through all shots, though never soft, the root of which likely lies equally between cinematography (the frequent use of shifting focus sometimes fails to track numerous items or deal with a heavily loaded frame to perfection) and the visual effects that have been applied. The numerous filters overlaying the original images no doubt add depth and detail to otherwise bland backdrops, but they can occasionally betray the budget roots of the production.
There are three types of shot that primarily populate Stake Land– desaturated, normal and over-saturated. Scene to scene can bounce from one to the other, but for the most part they are held in check with a reasonably consistent palette. Some transitions suffer a little, generally the oversaturated scenes involving primaries let the butting up of bold colours wander a touch, but these are squarely in the minority. Red skews far too close to lipstick in one scene, but this may have been a make-up malfunction.
The sweeping panoramas and close-ups catching the complexities of the natural landscape are breathtaking at sun up or sun down when the DOP has clearly been allowed to utilise what’s there and the natural lighting. When the special effects are rolled out, the frame can take on a slightly less organic feel, you’d expect as much from integration of artificial backgrounds and multiple filters on such a budget, yet they steer well clear of serious aliasing or indications of a stepped nature of the frame; no edge enhancement breaching foreground actors from background jiggery-pokery.
Clarity you’d expect from a high def camera system, some nice touches remain without hindrance – smoke billowing through numerous scenes never shows a hint of banding – fine detail that stands up well and shadow detail that borders on excellent. Little to quibble about here, once you see the first shots of foliage in the dying sun you’ll be thankful you chose the Blu-ray. Overall, an excellent picture, displaying superb detail, punchy contrast and subtle clarity in the shadows - just what you want from a horror.
One track only – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
It may be billed as a frenetic action horror, but the sound design rarely strays beyond the wistful post apocalyptic road movie design of a meandering score intending to reflect a contemplative mood. It’s not really to my taste, but the lossless track does well to nurture the delicacy of some of the finer touches whilst maintaining a reasonable balance with the effects and dialogue. I say reasonable, but the fine tuning just isn’t quite tweaked enough. There is nothing wrong per se, but you’ll find a few scenes don’t manage to keep everything at a satisfactory level, crank it to really enjoy the score and the rears will be just that bit too involved when the action starts.
The centre, in particular the delivery of the character Martin’s narration, is adept, with few of Mister’s gravelly mumblings escaping below the atmosphere of crowded bars and the like. Speech is generally clear and has a healthy warmth to it that integrates perfectly with the other channels.
When the bloodsucking carnage hits town the directionality comes into play, switching well from all angles to keep a cacophony of noises and mayhem on the loose. Sure, most are generic stock sound effects, and that may detract slightly from the feeling of layers, but the LFE has enough grunt to knock that notion out of your head and the surrounds will keep your ears twitching with enough manipulation of your senses to hold your attention. Discreet effects come and go, some scenes bring with them a host whilst others leave the score to breathe, but that’s the nature of the film and no criticism of the mix. The range is there, the levels are fairly even throughout if a bit underplayed at times, and the order of the day is a level of nuanced atmosphere that the film arguably lacks.
This involves Jim Mickle (director), Nick Damici (co-writer who also plays Mister), Connor Paolo (Martin), Larry Fessenden (producer) and Brent Kunkle (producer). A pretty packed crowd for a commentary track, but this one zips along nicely. It’s good humoured, feels like a group who know and respect each other and things stay ticking along for the duration of the film with few pauses. There’s a healthy mix between film making info and general shooting experiences that makes this a great example of a commentary.
JimMickle returns for another track, this time with Adam Folk (producer), Ryan Samul (DOP), Graham Reznick (sound design), Peter Phok (producer) and Jeff Grace(original score). This one is a little drier, and surprisingly often falls low on the facts, which is odd as this bunch would seem the geekier tech heads on the face of it. Fessenden’s presence is somewhat missed to direct the flow when it lingers, but there’s still enough new material for fans despite some overlap of info from the first offering.
The Making of Stake Land – 720p – 1:01:45
Huge swathes of behind-the-scenes footage are unravelled here in a jigsaw puzzle take-me-as-you-find-me array of shots stitched together with no explanations whatsoever. It may show what was happening, but a little text or a brief voiceover detailing the moment’s significance wouldn’t have hurt. Has “for fans only” written all over it.
Director’s Pre Production Diary – 1080i – 15:00
Starting back in July 2008, when Nick Damici and Mickle first discuss the idea of creating a web series, this mini-featurette charts the timeline of how that kernel of a narrative came to find itself in pre production as a fully fledged feature film. From teasers to promos, e-mails to props, all are placed here for posterity.
VFX Breakdowns – 1080p – 2:18
A chance to see how the filters and effects were layered upon the raw footage in a before-and-after fashion of several stages for each shot.
Webisodes – 1080p
Brief background films for all the main six characters: Mister (6:07), Martin (4:56), The Day I Told My Boyfriend (i.e. Belle – 4:17), Jebedia (3:08), Sister (4:28) and Willie (5:19). Some are atmospheric, other just plain slow.
Stake Land is a glass half empty if you’ve hyped yourself up over the media and festival buzz surrounding it. A zombie-esque post apocalyptic road movie wearing the skin of a vampire flick, pretending to offer something original but actually carrying so much horror baggage in blueprint form it daren’t stay in any one place too long for fear of being found out. The gore box is ticked, but lacks the same invention the narrative does. The score is hauntingly melancholic in an obvious way, but fits a story intended to send you to sleep rather than scare the pants off you, and the heavy handed narration is a reminder why so few films bother with voiceovers – even when you’ve got something good to say, there’s rarely enough solid monologue material to fill an entire film unless you’re called Marlowe.
The Region free disc from Metrodome Distribution is far more convincing. Picture quality makes the most of the landscape and cinematography whilst the audio, though not always absolutely rousing, keeps atmosphere to the fore. The extras offer just about everything you could reasonably want, with two commentaries, a sprawling hour long behind-the-scenes, a pre-production diary, all six webisodes and a brief glimpse at the digital effects.
As a package, for fans of the film, this is extremely sound. For those newcomers looking for the perfect Halloween Blu, well, I’d say choose something that either doesn’t take itself so seriously, or can at least back up its bark with its bite.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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