PicturePathe have provided a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect anamorphically enhanced for widescreen TVs picture with an average bitrate of 8.26 Mbps. The picture is very much two halves, above ground and below. Above the picture uses a blue palette, is well detailed clean and crisp, however, does show some film grain in places. But it is below ground where the picture really shines, here the palette switches to a warm orange, is rich and never smears or bleeds. The picture has a solid thick feel, as only a high bitrate can provide. The detail level seems to goes up a notch, everything is pin sharp, the surfaces of the rock are picked out beautifully by the artificial light of the helmets. Being set underground there are plenty of darks, contrast and brightness are exceptionally set to give wonderful deep impenetrable blacks. Digitally there are not compression artefacts or edge enhancement. Save for the few areas of film grain above ground the rest was clear and there are no instances of print damage. This is a terrific picture and it is so gratifying to see such attention to detail being given to the film, a poor picture could quite as easily have killed it off, whereas this excellent rendering has made it shine.
SoundIf you though the picture was good, wait until you hear the sound! The film has been given two English 5.1 tracks, Dolby digital and DTS. First off let me say that there is excellent tonal range right across the board nothing is left out and everything is clear and crisp and rooted in deep bass. Secondly all the speakers get a good work out being used extensively throughout the run time and are fully immersive. These two points alone make for an incredible sound track, but when you consider the effects mix you have something truly outstanding. Once the film moves into the caverns there is not an opportunity lost to place an effect that puts you in that cave too. Be that a little reverb, or echo, a scrape here a knock there, a drip or a crack. Every little piece of audio is positioned expertly to give a full on surround experience, but more than that, it sounds real. This is the highest compliment I can give, never before have I heard such quality in reproduction that I felt I was inside somewhere, amazing. Both the Dolby and the DTS share the same effects, but the DTS, for me, tends to nudge ahead with its slightly clearer, slightly louder, slightly bassier edge, but it is not by much.
ExtrasThere are two commentaries for the film, the first is with director Neil Marshall and cast members Shauna MacDonald, Myanna Buring, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder and Nora-Jane Noone and is an extremely lively affair, almost riotous in fact. Marshall acts as a mediator and is the anchor that holds the commentary on track whilst the girls are happy to laugh and chat. There was hardly any over talking, a common problem with so many people trying to be heard, which was a pleasant surprise, and there is plenty of useful and interesting information. It was an entertaining listen, with all being proud and enthusiastic about this project.
The second commentary is with Neil Marshall again joined with producer Christian Colson, editor Jon Harris, production designer Simon Bowles and assistant editor Catriona Richardson, this is a far more sober affair and contains far more technical details. There is obviously a degree of overlap with the two, but not as much as you'd think, with this one concentrating on locations, budgets, camera work, design and other technical aspects. A reasonable listen, but not as entertaining as the first, even if it contains the more information.
A word about the meus, they are wonderfully animated and have Dolby digital 5.1 sound, but you have no control over the light that highlights the menu options, for most people this won't be an issue, but was damn annoying for me as a reviewer flicking between menu options.
The second disc full of extras did not come with the preview disc, it may be reviewed at a later date.
VerdictNeil Marshall has produced a body of work that breaks the recent horror mould in that is it genuinely frightening. In a market place that is dominated by the Hollywood PG-13 it is a welcome change to see a back to basic horror that is proud to boast its 18 rating. With a top notch picture and sound to blow your socks off, this really is an exceptional DVD. If you like scary movies then you will love The Descent, if you're not afraid of the dark, then you soon will be.
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