This Ultra HD Blu-ray is definitely worth hunting down
The Last Witch Hunter features some strong world-building, so it’s a shame that the flawed efforts of the director and unrealistic enthusiasms of the star killed the franchise before it got started.From the uninspired title to the unabashed ego-massaging levelled at star Vin Diesel throughout the film's running time, it’s a surprise that it ever got released. However, what’s more of a surprise is it actually could have been quite good if somebody had reigned in Diesel’s excesses, and re-focussed the piece on a more imaginative tale of demons in the modern age. The story is built around the foundation of Diesel’s own Dungeons & Dragons witch-hunter character and ego is definitely one of the biggest inhibitors towards this being a better movie (and the franchise that it was obviously designed to be), with Diesel’s lead character the kind of person who wanders around town smirking and complaining about it being a real drag that nobody can kill him. It’s strange to see Diesel bring vulnerability to his similarly hard-to-kill Riddick character and yet almost oblivious to the need for it here.It's a shame because Diesel can be a likeable geek when he wants to and the film itself has moments that are both enjoyable and exciting. The plot, which has a demon witch-queen of old curse a revenge-driven witch-hunting warrior to eternal life, could have actually worked with a more tortured lead performance, but Diesel – despite being very committed to the project – misjudges the part. Any support from Michael Caine is undermined by Elijah Wood’s presence, whilst Rose Leslie tries her best to maintain some dignity amidst the chaos. Surprisingly good production design and visual effects, and more than a few nice ideas remind us of what could have been had the filmmakers paid more attention to the main character than to the car which the main character drives. Ultimately the film just doesn't quite work but it remains an entertaining mix of genres with a more interesting backstory.
Picture QualityThe Last Witch Hunter was filmed digitally using the Arri Alexa XT Plus at a resolution of 3.4K and it was finished using a 4K Digital Intermediate (DI), which presumably formed the basis for this Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The film is presented using a 3840 x 2160p transfer in the film's correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the disc uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec. We reviewed the region free US Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Last Witch Hunter on a Samsung UE65KS9500 Ultra HD 4K TV with a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, although the film has yet to be released on the format in the UK.
Lionsgate have released a number of Ultra HD Blu-rays and in terms of picture quality The Last Witch Hunter is, like Sicario, an absolute stunner. The native 4K source used for The Last Witch Hunter is immediately apparent when comparing the Ultra HD Blu-ray to the regular Blu-ray. There is noticeably more fine detail in the Ultra HD image, with everything from landscapes, close-ups, clothing and production design all benefiting from greater sharpness and clarity. The regular Blu-ray is extremely good but there's no doubt that the Ultra HD Blu-ray is superior, with the detail just being more precise and defined, revealing every tiny pixel. The only downside to such a detailed image is that some of the effects don't look as realistic, although overall most of the effects stand-up quite well on the higher definition format.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray's picture, taken from a native 4K source, is absolutely stunning
However the increased resolution, whilst obvious when looking at the TV up closely, is less obvious at a distance and that brings us to the other key aspects of Ultra HD Blu-ray. The 10-bit video depth means that the transfer is free of any banding or other artefacts, whilst the wider colour gamut means that the colours are more saturated and realistic. As a result not only do flesh tones and vegetation appear more natural but the primary colours such as yellow taxi cabs have a greater sense of realism. The gradations in colours are also excellent and in the daylight scenes the image really pops. The film contains a large number of nighttime scenes and these also benefit from deep blacks coupled with plenty of shadow detail.
This brings us on to High Dynamic Range (HDR) and there's no doubt that this aspect of the transfer really adds an entirely new dimension to the image. When comparing the Ultra HD Blu-ray to the regular Blu-ray, the Ultra HD version just has far more impact and it's primarily thanks to the HDR. The regular Blu-ray simply looks flat in comparison but it isn't just the highlights that are brighter, there is more detail in sunrises, clouds or flames. The same goes for the other end of the dynamic range, with the blacks looking deep but the shadows retaining plenty of detail in nighttime scenes, dark rooms or within the layers of clothing. The use of HDR simply gives the image a greater sense of solidity, making it appear more realistic and drawing you into the frame more. Overall The Last Witch Hunter boasts a fantastic transfer, with a level of picture quality that is worthy of a reference status.
Sound QualityThe Last Witch Hunter had a number of soundtracks created for its theatrical release, including Auro 11.1, Dolby Surround 7.1 and DTS:X. It's the latter that has been used as the basis for this Ultra HD Blu-ray release, although the same track was also used on the US Blu-ray release. We reviewed The Last Witch Hunter using a Denon AVR-X7200WA with a full 7.2.4 setup and whilst the film is hardly a classic, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, with an effective surround mix that makes full use of the additional channels to totally immerse the viewer. The scene where a plane flies through a storm is a particularly good example and the sound designers effectively use the additional channels to create the feeling of being inside an airliner as it is buffeted by the elements. It really adds to the tension and excitement of the scene and shows how an immersive audio mix can enhance your experience.
The DTS:X soundtrack is a belter, with plenty of immersive effects to compliment the lovely image
The sound design compliments all the other action on screen just as well, whether it's something as simple as the ambient sounds of the streets or the more fantastic elements of the plot. Dialogue is always clear and centred whilst the effects during action scenes are precisely steered around the soundstage. The additional channels allow the sound design to create a three-dimensional effect with layers to the audio that adds real impact to the various creatures and wizardry that punctuate the narrative. The low frequencies have real impact but are always controlled and well integrated, giving the major effects sequences greater weight. The score is also effectively served by the soundtrack, filling the front soundstage and occasionally being mixed to the sides and even above. The end result is a reference standard sound mix that uses all the available channels to completely immerse the viewer in the strange and fantastic world of The Last Witch Hunter.
ExtrasThe US Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Last Witch Hunter comes in a black Amaray case with two discs, the Ultra HD Blu-ray and the Full HD Blu-ray. The Ultra HD Blu-ray doesn't use regional coding, however the Blu-ray is locked to Region A. The package also includes a digital HD copy of the film, although you probably won't be able to redeem the code in this country.
All the extras are on the included regular Blu-ray and are reasonably extensive:
Audio Commentary – The director Breck Eisner talks us through the film and manages to balance the technical and anecdotal as he reflects on the production.
Crafting the Magic: The Last Witch Hunter (30:20, HD) – This decent Making-Of featurette offers up plenty of cast and crew interview snippets but there's a little too much final film footage interspersed with the behind the scenes clips.
Deleted Scenes (05:42, HD) – These deleted scenes add little to the proceedings and were probably best left on the cutting room floor.
The Last Witch Hunter Sizzle Reel / "Paint In Black" (01:36, HD) – This rather unnecessary montage of scenes set to a cover of the Rolling Stones song is a sort-of trailer/music video.
Animated Short Films (09:52, HD) – The undoubted highlight of the extras are these four animated short films which cover the Origins of the Axe and Cross – Before Mankind (02:43, HD), The Witch Lords (02:15, HD), The Witch Hunter (02:44, HD) and Witches Live Amongst Us (02:07, HD). They are a welcome addition and offer much-needed background into the witches and the witch hunters across the ages, with some interesting animation styles used (different for each short film) and Michael Caine on hand to narrate them all. Well worth checking them out, and some of this background information should have been used in the film itself.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictAlthough The Last Witch Hunter is unlikely to become the launching vehicle for a new franchise with Vin Diesel as the star, it also isn’t quite the unmitigated disaster that some reviewers have claimed. Despite the modest budget and the somewhat uninspired direction – and the fact that the whole witch hunter concept does not quite fit Vin’s particular skillset – the end result is still a watchable and often engaging film with decent visual effects, impressive dream sequences, intriguing ideas and some effective world-building.
As an Ultra HD Blu-ray The Last Witch Hunter is reference all the way
Whatever reservations we may have about The Last Witch Hunter as a film, the technical aspects of this Ultra HD Blu-ray release are undeniable, with a reference picture and sound. The new Ultra HD resolution disc format takes full advantage of the film's native 4K source, resulting in wonderfully detailed images that reveal every aspect of the production. The 10-bit video, wider colour gamut and higher dynamic range, all combine to create a reference image that is only limited by the film's budget. The DTS:X soundtrack is equally as impressive, complimenting the awesome visuals and immersing the viewer in a precise surround sound field. The decent set of extras that include four animated short films round out an excellent package, making this one Ultra HD Blu-ray that is definitely worth hunting down.
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