The Orphanage Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Apr 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Orphanage Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £22.31


    Well, folks, I'd prayed for a high-definition transfer to honour the picture that I loved on the big screen - and New Line have certainly delivered one that more than does it justice. Ironically, most of what I said originally for the cinema review still applies, only more so.

    The Orphanage is presented with a luxurious 2.35:1 image, encoded via VC-1, that is visually captivating. As I've already said in the main body of the review, Bayona's movie boasts tremendous framing and compositions that are bold and strikingly evocative and, as such, there are huge elements to look forward with a good Blu-ray transfer. Detail within the orphanage is clear and finite, with particular attention paid to the floors, doors and walls which now reveal the texture of wood grain, patterned glass, stonework and material on clothing. Hair and other finite objects such as the stones on the road leading away from the beach, or the shells that Simone has in his collection, or the pictures on the cellar wall have a keen, well separated sharpness. The worry-lines on peoples' faces - especially Laura's - and the amazingly intricate wrinkles on Aurora's are deeply and clearly etched. Skin-tones are convincingly pallid, drawn and tired, but eyes always have a keen sparkle.

    Characters often spiral through the building, little figures darting about amid the impressively looming wood and masonry environment, and there are plenty of the pure genre eye-candy shots of a person framed spectacularly by the corridor or room that they are in - Laura moving down the aisle towards the bathroom and trying doors as she goes, for instance - or held in extreme close-up as they listen to curious sounds or see something strange. The three-dimensionality offered by such scenes is striking and the transfer copes extremely well with such meticulously composed imagery, with depth of field always offered with conviction. The lighthouse - which is a beautiful image that bookends the film - is marvellously rendered as is its light and the trick version that Laura creates with a cunning reflection. And reflections in glass, or the car windscreen, lighting from the lamps, torches, the moon and even the eerie glow from a police diver, etc are always beautifully captured.

    Colours are subdued and autumnal, though greens, blues and browns are quite impressive and the image can still appear intense with shafts of light, eyes and faces amid the shadows. The scenes by the sea, or of the trees around the orphanage grounds are quite bold and vivid - but there is nothing colour-wise that really leaps from the screen. But then, such things are not actually required. On the whole, the spectrum is well-saturated and betrays no smearing or banding. Orange glows and midnight blues are always consistently well presented and authentic.

    Contrast is faultless, with no wavering and no lapses. The sequence in the snowy drive reveals stark contrast with ease. The boundaries between light and dark are sacred to this movie and the transfer never once lets it down. Blacks are amazing. Jeez - I'm running out of adjectives fast. But, like with The Descent on BD, this film needs a depth of darkness that is positively Stygian and the strong inkiness on show is second to none for strength, solidity and a density that is palpable. There are simply too many scenes that showcase the disc's excellence in this department for me to cite here without it becoming monotonous - but Laura's descent into the cellar is simply magnificent, as is just about any moment when she explores the darkened orphanage or its grounds. And, thankfully, having also seen the SD edition of the film, there isn't the same element of crushing going on that the other version seems to have, with detail in the shadows readily held up for inspection and locked-in blacks that do not stray or engulf any more of the surrounding image than they are meant to. The integrity of the black level is never compromised once during the film.

    Edges are tight and crisp, with enhancement minimal and only relegated to the likes of buildings - the lighthouse and the walls of the orphanage when seen from certain angles - when seen against the sky. Naturally, the source print is impeccable and the slight grain only adds to its cinematic integrity. There are no compression artefacts and only some slight noise filtering around against some grey backgrounds.

    All in all, this is a wonderful transfer that positively invites close scrutiny and yields detail upon detail. I'm torn between giving it top marks or just a 9 out of 10, though. This is, indeed, an excellent transfer, but I'm sure that I've seen better and sharper still. Ahhh, well ... a massively strong 9 is still damn good, isn't it?
    The Orphanage Picture


    Once again, I raved about the sound-mix that the film presented during its theatrical run and prayed that this would be captured by Blu-ray. And, boy, does it ever! Superlative-overload forthcoming, folks, because the Spanish DTS-MA 7.1 track supplied here is one of the very best that I have ever heard ... even surpassing the effect that the cinema print had, as far as I'm concerned.

    Be warned - this plays extremely loud.

    Immediately, the sound design and its breathtaking complexity is superbly realised. All channels are excellently utilised with constant ambience, effects, atmospherics - wind, voices, creaks, groans - emanating from all around and total viewer-immersion absolutely guaranteed throughout. The mix is very clear, sharp and unashamedly naturalistic and - wait for it - very, very aggressive. The depth of the bass on display here is awe-inspiring. There may not be explosions and car-crashes every five minutes, but The Orphanage packs one mighty punch with incredibly deep, room-shaking, neighbour-worrying, rumble-your-guts sub action - from alarming supernatural activity to a particularly shocking vehicular arrival. Even the closing of the front door after Laura sees the mad crone off the premises sends a shockwave back at you. But the film is stuffed-to-the-gills with dynamic crashes, clashes, jolts and stingers all the way through that you feel as much as you hear. The banging noise that awakens Laura early on; the horrendous Haunting-style sounds that reverberate around the walls and ceiling; the crashing of waves and the awesomely deep rumbling of thunder that ripples extensively and convincingly overhead - all absolutely text-book examples of .LFE power and vitality. And not only power, either. There is detail within the bass, and a sense of distance, placement and other sounds developed within it forming an intensely real and vital effect. Things may be heightened - this is a horror film, after all - but they contain so much intricate components that there is little here that is of the conventionally bland boom-clatter variety.

    Speaking of detail, the track is constantly textured with subtleties and nuances. Voices travel, movement is pin-sharp and wonderfully steered across the environment with seamless panning and ultra transparency. Footsteps, chinks of glass and door latches, unseen motion around the house - such as the workers at the start, for instance, with their shouting and their hammering - and, of course, the utterly marvellous thuds, scrapes and creaks that have your ears twitching all over the place - the merry-go-round in the garden, those pesky metal poles in the cubby-hole that keep sliding and clanging together, or the medium's abrupt opening of the door upon something only she can see - man, this is a seriously potent mix. Listen to the echoing of the surf as Simone ventures into the cave, or the terrific thunderstorm that has individual raindrops, drips and rivers of water cascading around the set-up and aurally drenching you. Even the echo of Prof. Palaban's voice in the auditorium and the chiming of the bell that Laura rings audibly and convincing stretches out around you, toward you or away from you. Geraldine Chaplin's spooky trek through the house features her voice firmly centre-channelled - as heard over the paranormal team's speakers - but her footsteps cleverly directional as she actually moves from room to room above them.

    The finale sees to it that Laura is beset with all kinds of hellish cacophony and this will absolutely pummel the senses, rising to a crescendo that is utterly paralysing. It is a wonderful sound design and will doubtless become a benchmark for horrors to come. Fernando Velázquez's score is treated with absolute respect and comes over with warmth, strength and a sweeping fullness that is clear, rich and enveloping, adding yet more presence to the track.

    And the downside? Well, there isn't one. With dynamism, finitely placed detail, percussive power and all-pervading ambience and atmospherics like this, The Orphanage cannot fail to receive top marks from me. A well-deserved 10 out of 10. As I say, the sound I heard at the cinema was heart-stopping - but I feel that it has been surpassed in detail, depth and range here on Blu-ray. The Orphanage well and truly takes the baton from the likes of The Haunting, Evil Dead II and The Others for its dazzling display of demonic discord.
    The Orphanage Sound


    The Orphanage appears here with a decent enough roster of special features. There's nothing too grand, but it is nice to see that some effort has been made.

    When Laura Grew Up: Constructing The Orphanage is actually a fair old chunk of EPK stuff that was obviously made at the time of filming - everybody involved is adamant that people are going to love the movie when it comes out. But, despite this and a large degree of both back-slapping and film clips to illustrate it, this actually covers quite a lot of ground in its brief running time. We meet all the cast, the director, screenwriter and producers, and even hear from Guillermo Del Toro who is frank about the extent of his involvement and overseeing of the project. Bayona, Sanchez, Rueda, Cayo, Chaplin, Carulla and even little Roger Princep discuss the story, its themes and the characters in depth and everyone is amazed at the professionalism of the fledgling crew and especially the amazing talents of the leading lady. We also hear about the complex sound design that Oriol Tarrago created and the ideas that the composer and the cinematographer all approached the film with. Whistle-stop snapshots of storyboards pop up and some of the effects are mentioned, but it is perhaps the openness of how Princep would be great in rehearsals yet fluff it when it came time for the cameras to roll, and how Bayona would deal with it, that sets this apart from so much other promotional pap. Worth a look.

    Tomas' Secret Room: The Filmmakers is made up of five separate segments of brief, two-minute featurettes that work best with the Play All option. On the whole, these present much of what we have already learned in the previous feature, but in a more specific manner. We hear more about the talents of Bayona and his crew, we see Velázquez conducting his orchestra - which is great - we learn about the quite amazing set design and the impressively unobtrusive CG effects that occasionally puncture the movie - the enlarging of the sea-cave, the addition of floating feathers and reflections of Christmas lights and, best of all, a mangled mouth! The final piece looks at the evocative title sequence that sees wallpaper ripped away to reveal the credits. Not bad, overall, but hardly something you would return to.

    Horror In The Unknown: Makeup Effects lasts for nine minutes and is actually quite a decent little look at the prosthetics that were created for the film. Admittedly there isn't much in the way of grisly makeups, but what there is, is elaborate enough. The feature is typically enthusiastic and praise-heavy, but there is a cool look at the sack-cloth mask and how it evolved. Once again, it appears that Rueda's performance as Laura affected everyone quite profoundly - even down to the props people who had a hard time removing a certain pivotal prop from her, so deeply immersed in her character had she become.

    Rehearsal Studio lasts for only 3.35 mins and just shows the cast doing read-throughs, preparations and rehearsing their lines. Bayona does most of the talking between such snippets and reveals that “actors are just children.” We even see him giving some direction to the performers during these rehearsals.

    There are six great Stills Galleries. We get to see marvellous shots of the Cast, the Makeup Effects - mask designs and gory mouths - Set Design and Locations (92 images in this category), some striking Black and White Photography - Rueda looks stunning - Production and Conceptual Art - which includes moulds and mock-ups of the orphanage, sketches, paintings and a couple of schematics.

    All this is topped off with teasers and full theatrical trailers from both Spain and the US, and then a great Poster Exploration that reveals twelve distinctive designs - all superb, but some a little more abstract than others.
    The Orphanage Extras


    Possibly my favourite horror film of recent years, The Orphanage is still a film that I doubt I'll watch very often. The simple fact of the matter is that its theme and finale are so devastatingly upsetting that I couldn't allow myself to become overly-familiar with their power and, thus, lessen their intended effect. But, without a doubt, this is one of the very best, and most assured directorial debuts around. Belén Rueda is outstanding and she electrifies the movie every second that she is on screen. The story may not be all that original - indeed, you'd be hard-pushed to find a ghost story that is nowadays - but it is carried so successfully by mood, characterisation and such barnstorming set-pieces that the film still feels like a steroid packed shot in the arm. Everything about the film drips class and style, but the tremendous thing about it is that genuinely hammers all the right emotions - terror, excitement, elation and shell-shocked despair. There aren't many exercises in horror that can brag about moving you as much they frighten you.

    The extras are entertaining, but a little samey. The galleries are good and there are some reasonable behind-the-scenes snippets. But the main selling point for the BD edition is the truly awesome AV transfer. A picture that is sublime, highly detailed and pin-sharp and audio that is, hands-down, a perfect presentation of one of the best sound-designs in the genre.

    The Orphanage blew me away at the flicks but, if anything, its spell is even more intoxicating and effective at home. Wonderful movie, wonderful transfer - whether this is your genre or not, you can't deny that this is pure cinema in a style so ravishing that even a relatively smaller screen cannot diminish. I can't recommend it enough.
    The Orphanage Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31

    The Rundown



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