The Grey Blu-ray Review
PictureI’ve seen The Grey several times at the flicks and upon a couple of different screens. One showing was something of a blurred mess, to be honest, but there is no contesting the fact that Carnahan’s film is intentionally not the prettiest around. There isn’t much colour, the imagery is often swallowed-up by the elements and the bleak environment and the picture is festooned with gritty, old school, weathered and worn grain of the murkiest variety.
And this AVC encode captures all of this realistic, skin-blistering aesthetic to a tee. As with Zack Snyder’s 300, this is a deliberate look that some people, who come to the BD fresh without having the glimpsed the movie on its theatrical run, will possibly abhor. It is, however, pretty much exactly the way it looked to me on those several cinematic viewings … and, therefore, highly accurate and commendable.
The image is 2.40:1, sumptuously wide – a facet that both Carnahan and his DOP Masanaobu Takayanagi exploit with wondrous attention to compositions that are both breathtaking and visceral. The material may be intimate, but that isn’t how he shoots it. For the best example, look at the bravura and moving sequence when the last three men discuss an important decision made by one individual on the river-bank. Carnahan refuses to deal in the traditional close-ups that he claims would have been an audience intrusion on such a pivotal scene. Instead, he keeps the three in the frame at all times, set against the harsh but beautiful landscape and their masculinity boiled down to nothing more aggressive than the fleas on a wolf’s back. The imagery flits from intimate to ensemble throughout, but the BD allows these compositions all the breadth and scope they require, the film very possibly being more suited to the smaller home presentation than the big screen in some ways.
Contrast is top notch with a difficult source to contend with. Blacks are deep and the shadows tangible. Whites are crisp and bright. Some might argue that the blankets of snow, especially when seen on the ground on either side of the river, or during some shots around the downed plane, look too dazzling and un-textured. In fact, they do. But this is precisely how they looked during the theatrical presentation, so all I can say is that this, once again, is an intended visual choice. Blood is nicely contrasted with the snow, but neither the reds, nor any primary colour, are ever too bright, too gaudy or boosted in any overly striking manner. Realism with the hues and shades is adhered to at all times, so nothing stands out against this brittle, wind and snow-flecked landscape of grey/white tundra. The green of the trees is also subdued and the glow of the fires, whilst certainly attractive and evocative, still feels vulnerable and isolated – great little pockets of amber warmth amidst the frame, though. The little torches picking through the woods at night look superb, and the illumination of faces and immediate surroundings is nice and authentic. The unsettling cast of the campfire confrontation when the big Alpha comes right in to size up the quaking opposition is a marvellous combination of shadow and burnished flame.
Well, as far as detail and definition go, this is one of those films that can be quite misleading. When we get close-ups, they can be scintillating, though still shot through with an element-blighted realism. Crags, cuts, whiskers and pores are very clearly rendered. We can easily see embroidery, material or patterns and weave in clothing. The snowflakes settling on faces and coats and in hair, or flitting across the frame are crisply resolved. The wounds on the shredded carcasses are smartly addressed too, though the camera never lingers on such carnage. Where the image slightly falters is in the medium or long shots. Suddenly, definition is less tightly resolved – the pebbles on the riverbank, and the boots of the three men as they loiter there, for example – but this is how the film has always appeared. So the transfer is only showing us what was shot and filmed, and subsequently fine-tuned in post. I can imagine that some viewers will be disappointed, but even they will have to admit that there are many, many occasions when this image is fantastic.
Although some of the CG shots of the wolves are pretty obvious, there are a great many that aren’t. In fact, if you listen to the commentary, you will discover that a fair few moments of the wolves running across the frame that you would have sworn were of the real McCoy, actually aren’t. One glaring CG instance is when Ottway first surveys the wrecked plane – those flames don’t look too good, and this BD makes that quite apparent.
Ultimately, I would say that some of the grain we see here has been boosted in post-production. Not for the BD, you understand, but for the film. Certain shots are thicker with the stuff than others. There is no DNR, that’s for sure. And there’s no edge enhancement, no banding or smearing, and no aliasing to foul things up on the digital front. This is a very fine transfer of a film that is supposed to look grim and nasty.
People may argue, but this transfer perfectly replicates what I saw several times at the flicks. I know it sure ain’t cute, but it gets a 9 out of 10 for doing that.
SoundI’ve been banging on about how good the sound-design for this film is in reviews for its cinema release, its score CD and during a podcast too, and I’d been praying that its home video mix would measure-up accordingly.
Well, this wide and challenging DTS-HD MA 5.1 track doesn’t disappoint, that’s for sure. It is nigh on faultless, and a true tour de force of banshee-like environmental ambience and wraparound ferocity. Carnahan wanted deep .LFE to entrench all the sound effects, and we get this with considerable determination.
The gasping, oath-laden dialogue is excellently maintained throughout painful introspection, heated campfire debate, rages to the heavens, screaming and arguing amidst crashes, wolf-attacks, death-plunges and falling into river-rapids. It is only lost amid the harshest of elements, or when it has been deliberately dialled-down, such as when one grievously wounded man in the wreckage expires under Ottway’s soothing guidance to the afterlife. The crackles of the fire, the snapping of twigs, the creak and groan of the wrecked plane, the sound of a man piddling in the snow, the agonising, wince-inducing cracking of boughs and branches as one character comes down from the trees the hard way, the more subtle instances of snorting and snuffling of the wolves – this is all distributed smoothly and credibly around the channels, placing you right in the thick of the situation.
Voices and growls can be carried on the wind – Henricks shouting across from the high trees on the opposite side of the ravine; the sound of the wolves coming from behind the men on the other side to spur them on. It is all very well thought-out and immaculately constructed. And there is also the way in which Carnahan has the sound sucked out of the moment – flashbacks, reveries, Talget in trouble on the tether-line – and then suddenly has it come hurtling back in again with incredible speed and violence. This is the calibre of the shocks and stingers too, and be warned … there is a lot of them.
And now for the big, and most impressive stuff.
Well, the plane crash has already gone down in cinematic history as being one of the most terrifying and powerfully realistic to gnaw your knuckles through. Naturally, much of this high-speed carnage is conveyed through sound. The nerve-shredding whine of the engines as the turbulence proves too much to withstand, the colossal hurling of bodies around the cabin and the wrenching away of seats and baggage, and the screaming dive of grinding metal and tumbling passengers is simply a sonic assault on your home that could have the emergency services pulling up outside and strange little men knocking on your door and asking if you’ve seen a little black box. The depth of the bass here, as everywhere it is required during the film, is tremendous. The floor will drum, the windows will rattle and your ribs will bend inward with the impact. Plus, you get some senses-reeling sonic whooshes that blast front to back, or vice versa. Am I blatantly enthusiastic about this? You betcha … but I’m not overselling it, either.
The wind. Oh God, the wind. This is the element that repeatedly astounded me at the flicks. It was so well directed and steered, following the onscreen positions and movements of the characters and the directions in which they faced, that you found yourself actually getting blown first one way and then the other, your body leaning with the wind. So this is one of the other great tests of this mix at home. Well, to be honest, as intricately detailed and steered as this freezing rush is, really pummelling you from all around, and whistling round the room with seamless panning from speaker to speaker and then often engulfing you completely, it is no match for the effect in the larger auditorium. Now, I only say this because I actually believed that the home mix, with the intimacy of your own calibrated set-up, would yield even better results. It doesn’t. Basically, it can’t match the immense width and power of the cinema. BUT, it is still amazing and thoroughly believable, as well as being physically galvanising. Boy, do you feel cold!
The wolves have their own sound design. There’s real lupine howling and growling, of course, but then there’s also all sorts of other creatures, including human attempts, that have been engineered and manipulated to help create the nightmarish cadence of the pack and, especially, the voice of the hell-born Alpha whose sinister snarls and barks spread out over the soundscape like a canopy of evil. Whether near or far, these guys never sound less than amazing. But the standout is when the taunt the men from just over the ridge, their noises rising up around you and closing in from all sides. Frightening? Very. You’ll feel the hairs rise up on the back of your neck … and then blow all over the show in that crazy wind!
So, we have the power and ferocity covered. But how does that haunting score manage against such mayhem? Once again, impeccably. The mix allows Marc Streitenfeld’s dense textures of doom and terror to belch and blurt and erupt with diabolical intent, and it makes a lot of room for those lyrically tragic laments on piano and strings to float delicately through the snow-blown chaos with crystal clarity, detail and depth.
Take my personal observation of the differences in power between this and the theatrical mix with a pinch of salt. This is an outstanding track, folks, that will take you to place that is hostile in every conceivable way, yet still beautiful enough to hold you entranced. Aye, it’s challenging material … but the mix copes extraordinarily well. 10 out of 10 from me.
ExtrasThere’s not a lot of supplements, folks, which is a huge shame. But what there is … is gold. Even the static menu screen has a terrific version of that indelible image of Neeson at his most feral.
The Commentary Track from Joe Carnahan and his editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellmann is one of the best I’ve heard for a long time. Although there is little or no mention of the original story upon which the film is based, this chat track, recorded over Scotch, covers a helluva lot of ground, technically, anecdotally, emotionally and psychologically. And, above all else, very honestly. Carnahan is a down-to-earth raconteur who speaks his mind and it is thrilling, informative and actually very amusing to listen to him discuss what it took to get a film that he, himself, considers to be the finest he has made.
We hear about the genuine weather conditions, the use of CG and the animatronic Alpha that KNB constructed. There’s a great deal of discussion about the cast and the performances, with Neeson and Grillo especially commended. The blinkered one-trick pony of Hollywood’s interpretation of real machismo is explored and debunked, and their argument makes a lot of sense. It is refreshing to hear from these guys who are clearly so proud of what they have achieved but who also understand the bigger picture and just how the movie took on a life of its own beyond even their comprehensive input. It is very interesting to learn about the musical temp-tracks and just where that haunting piano motif really came from. In my review for the score CD, I claimed that it was all from Marc Streitenfeld, but I was surprised to discover that this amazing lump-in-the-throat phrase of transcendence hailed from somebody else entirely.
There’s amusing debate about the potential existence of a Weyland Yutante baseball cap, and some of the more spontaneous moments are laugh-out-loud funny. I love the fact that Carnahan pulls absolutely no punches about the ending of the film and how certain people involved in the production – some named, others not, but they know who they are – deserve no credit at all. It is refreshing to hear a filmmaker openly call out some of these suited idiots.
This is a terrific commentary track that is well worth listening to more than once. I was amazed at how lively and quip-heavy a chat about such a depressing film could be. Excellent stuff!
Asides from a few previews, all we get after this are Six Deleted Scenes. Sadly, these don’t have a play all option, but they are almost all very interesting indeed. Altogther, they run for around 22 minutes, with the majority of them lasting for 2-3 minutes, and one whopper clocking in at over 11. We see the original opening suicide bid, now interrupted by a polar bear and not the distant wolf howling. Cool. The struggle to light a fire after the blizzard is staggeringly brutal and you really feel for the poor, frost-numbed guys and their dreadful plight. The trek out over the tundra to the far tree-line benefits from a neat on-the-hoof debate about wolf strategy. But the biggie is the extended Camp Fire Sequence which in when the survivors all tell their little tales of what keeps them alive, and Ottway informs us about his father’s poem. This gives more back-story than before and some of the segments are re-jigged, the dialogue slightly altered.
Overall, these are a great selection. And, no, there isn’t footage of the wolf-Neeson climactic duel that many wanted to see.
Naturally, it would have been great to have heard from Neeson and Grillo and the rest of the wolf-bait, and I’m somewhat perplexed as to why we have nothing in this department. Frank Grillo certainly gave lots of interviews about the film and his character. A proper making-of would have been awesome … or, as me and my son now say, it would have been Neeson!
This section gets a 6 out of 10, if only for the chat-track.
The US release offers just the same extras, by the way.
Verdict“We’re gonna get a large stick … and we’re gonna shove it up this thing’s arse. We’re gonna cook this sonofabitch. Then we’re gonna eat it!”
The Grey comes a-howling onto UK Blu-ray with a fantastically faithful video transfer and an audio track that is frequently devastating. It lacks much in the way of extras, but the commentary track from a rip-roaring Joe Carnahan and his excellent editors is the wolf’s doodahs. 22 minutes of deleted material add some character beats, but don’t go looking for that final mano-et-lupo brawl. It was never intended and Carnahan was glad to see the back of it.
The film is certainly an unusual take on the man-against-nature staple, and it is worth pointing out one more time that this is an existential exploration of survival and destiny’s relentless determination to trip you up, rather than just a tale of a frost-bitten Liam Neeson clobbering some toothy carnivores on the side of a mountain.
A powerful, savage and relentless depiction of Man’s tenuous, and often unwanted foothold in the natural world, and a profound examination of the grim acceptance of Fate, Joe Carnahan’s dark odyssey is part horror film, part shattering character study, and part re-evaluation of the Hollywood myth of the cinematic machismo. The Grey will haunt you for many nights to come. It offers no answers and no salvation, and yet you come away from it enriched and humbled.
I wish there had been more extras on offer, but a tremendous presentation of such an outstanding film, along with the opportunity to hear its creator discuss his feelings about it with passion and detail make this pretty much essential.
I’ve seen this film around ten times already … and I love it more with each showing.
Unsurprisingly, it comes very highly recommended.
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