The Dark Tower Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Reference disc... shame about the film
Thirty five years and thousands of pages of source material, ten years of production, and a couple of top class actors in the leads and they still couldn't get it right.Stephen King's magnum opus entertained generations across the decades. The epic fantasy western proved unfilmable in all that time, arguably not such a bad thing since King's works seldom make an easy transition to the big screen. Indeed in the age where TV celebrates faithful adaptations of large bodies of work (Preacher), it felt like they might actually do this one right. Alas, it was not meant to be, with a TV series announcement made in the wake of things going wrong in the film adaptation. This was Danish director Nikolaj Arcel's shot at the Hollywood big time, but it was clear from the outset that he wasn't up to the task, with numerous people brought in to save it (including Ron Howard) and struggling - and failing - despite late-stage reshoots, to even get a comprehensible 90 minute feature out of it all. The end result feels like the badly edited 'Cliff Notes' version of much deeper source material.The story skips much of the backplotting that fans cherished, paying lip service to the fabled eternal sworn enemies, The Man in Black and The Gunslinger, brought to life by Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba, respectively, with the latter somehow lending emotional gravitas to a paper-thin caricature. As we dip between realms - the real world and a western fantasy land, Mid-World, we find ourselves wrapped in a classic tale of good versus evil, guided by a young boy who may be the key to an evil plan to destroy both realms. It's such a rich fantasy environment and yet you only get a hint of this, with ideas desperate to shine through but stifled at every turn, and fans left taking solace in flashy visuals and exciting gunfights. King's world has so much to offer that, whilst this makes for a nominally entertaining ride, founding on such undeniable promise it ends up being quite a shallow and tragically disappointing experience.
Picture QualityThe Dark Tower looms over UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an outstanding HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p transfer framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. The UHD Blu-ray was reviewed on a Samsung UE55KS8000 Ultra HD TV and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Shot at resolutions ranging from 3.4K to as much as 6.5K, it is that rare modern production that is not constrained by the limitations of a 2K digital intermediate, instead afforded a 4K digital intermediate that leaves it with a near-perfect, resolutely reference quality presentation.
A fantastic presentation, likely to soon go on many top lists for 2017 Ultra HD Blu-ray releases
Detail is absolutely stunning, at times staggering, picking up on the minute textures of skin, hair, clothing and backgrounds, affording the leads the focused spotlight, whilst beautifully integrating both the alternate Western and modern settings with heavily stylised gunplay and supernatural energy, rendering CG immaculately. It's sharp but natural; an organic but still highly stylish presentation with wonderful clarity that will make, it one of the go-to demo discs for many. And that's all before we've even addressed the highlights commonly associated with the still-developing format, with the presentation's use of the High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) enhancements giving the film that added level of rich vibrance. For those with a suitably equipped player and TV, the disc also boasts Dolby Vision.
The colour scheme is similarly matched to the themed settings, with rich tones and a limited but effective use of more vibrant, vivid colours. The heavily stylised look to these settings is further enhanced by these tools, whilst shadow detail impresses at every stage, giving the piece added depth and dimension beyond the companion Blu-ray. Simple elements like the glow of a fire are given that extra bit of pop, radiating out in a way that almost makes them tangible. It's a fantastic presentation, likely to soon go on many top lists for 2017 Ultra HD Blu-ray releases.
Sound QualityThe accompanying Dolby Atmos track is a similarly stunning effort, founded upon an already outstanding Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track that it demo and reference in its own right, delivering exceptional coverage of the effects, a strong backdrop from the score, and keen promotion of the dialogue.
Demo and reference in terms of audio as well
Dialogue gets clear prioritisation across the frontal array, whilst the steampunk-esque fusion of a Western-style setting and special powers and weaponry, and modern setting with Western tropes affords the piece some energetic effects. Shots blast out across the array with LFE-laced fury, whilst the bigger setpieces decimate your living room. There's impressive use of the array, crafting a welcome atmosphere that holds throughout the proceedings, with the score underpinning the whole affair.
ExtrasSony's Ultra HD Blu-ray release doesn't bother to port over any of the extras onto the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc itself, so those who want to explore the background material have to look to the accompanying Blu-ray disc. It's an otherwise solid package, perhaps missing a Commentary, but still delivering a few decent Featurettes and some Deleted Footage.
A solid package of extra material
The highlights are probably a couple of short Featurettes featuring Stephen King himself, discussing his source works and the work done to adapt them for the screen. There are also separate Featurettes on Elba's protagonist and McConaughey's antagonist, with corresponding interviews, a look at Mid-World, a few short story readings, a few minutes of Deleted and Alternate Scenes, a Blooper Reel and some Preview Trailers.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictKing's world has so much more to offer that whilst this makes for a nominally entertaining ride, it's still a distinctly shallow one
However, Sony's 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Dark Tower affords the film exceptional video and audio, and a strong selection of extras, making for one of the year's top demo titles which, for those who can get past the film's shortcomings, is fantastic news.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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