The Road Blu-ray Review
Well, The Road didn't look particularly brilliant in the cinema - and was probably never meant to, but I honestly don't remember it looking as bad as this. The first thing to note is that it arrives on disc with a theatrically correct 1080p 2.35:1 transfer.
The film is incredibly soft throughout, and as mentioned I don't remember it being like this in the cinema. It is mentioned during one of the extras that Hillcoat deliberately shot with a long lens in order to produce a soft picture and a sense of dislocation. This is what makes it so difficult to mark this transfer. If this is the way it is meant to look, then obviously you can't mark the disc down for adequately reproducing the director's intentions. But this will never make a demo disc for your home cinema.
The film is shot through with dim, dark cinematography - and a muted colour palette. Lots of the film is shot at night, and even the daytime scenes have all the colour drained out of them - there is no sun in this film. However, all this comes at the expense of detail. The image is poor in this respect, with faces, clothing, and surroundings showing very little of the level of detail we are used to seeing on Blu-ray. In fact I would go so far as to say that despite the director's intentions this is worse than in the cinema. The key scene of the old man and our two main characters around the fire seems to have lost a lot of the detail present in the cinema print. The old man's face looks nowhere near as ravaged as it did back then.
Overall, as much as I love this film - I cannot help thinking that whoever authored this disc have processed the image to try and make it look even more washed out than it did in the cinema. The result is nothing but a huge disappointment.
Unfortunately, there are fundamental problems with the sound mix as well - but these are nowhere near as prevalent as the flaws in the video. For review purposes, I watched the disc with the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track being bitstreamed to my Onkyo amp.
The first thing to note is the overall quietness of the mix. After kicking off, it soon became worryingly clear that I would not be able to watch at my normal level. I know I'm getting old, but my ears aren't that bad. Once I dialled up the volume 5 db's then I could actually hear what was being said.
Once you do get the right level, however, the subtleties of the mix start to reveal themselves. This is never going to be a showy mix that shakes your room and provides demo material - but what it does do is represent the director's intention very well.
The mix is nice and wide, enveloping the room, and filling with the surrounds with the sound of rain, and the odd ominous rumble of thunder. The surrounds are not extensively used (this is a desolate landscape, remember, so the ambient noise will be minimal), but when they are needed they are used very well.
The music is the real triumph of this mix. The score is fantastic, sometimes beautiful, sometimes discordant - and the mix highlights it to wonderful effect. It truly fills the room without overpowering the dialogue. Front separation is not the widest I have ever heard, and the sub is only used sparingly - failing to truly shake the room.
Arggggggh. I know I always crying out for more extras - but FIVE annoying and forced trailers before the main menu? PLEASE don't let this be a new trend. Once these are out of the way (you can't skip straight to the main menu, but you can skip each trailer individually thankfully), we are presented with a rather disappointingly sparse set of extras.
The extras are substantially different from the US version. The deleted and extended scenes have gone missing, which is a big disappointment. What is carried over is two brief documentaries. Both of these spend the whole time going on about how wonderful every actor involved in the production is and are just annoying puff pieces. The first The Making of the Road is the worst offender for this (and is presented in SD). The second, which is an interview with John Hillcoat does provide some brief insight amongst the theatrical luvviness, but these are only frustrating because they leave you wanting more.
Finally, we get a brief photo gallery and a Director's Commentary during which Hillcoat often seems to struggle to find things to say. When he does hit inspiration he is perfectly fine, but this is certainly not one of the most coherent or consistently fascinating chat tracks you will ever here. It would have been nice to see the truly awful trailers that were used to market the film, but again these have gone missing in the transition across the pond.
The best I can do in order to describe this film is steal one of my colleagues phrases and call it the ultimate marmite movie. If you go in there with the wrong expectations, thinking you are going to get an action movie about the end of the world then you are likely to be very disappointed. Likewise, if the central theme of the movie fails to engage with you then there is very little else here to hold your interest.
However, if the exploration of the central father / son relationship does engage with you then the film is likely to move you profoundly. Hillcoat takes cinema to a new realm here, exploring themes so dark, so disturbing that the film is unlikely to be to everyone's taste. It is very much a one-note film, it concentrates only on their relationship and all the other aspects of the film - cannibals, destruction - all exist simply to enrich what the film has to say about this.
There is no doubt that this is extremely brave filmmaking, that exists not to stimulate your brain, but your heart. If you are open to this then it is likely to be a.....not necessarily enjoyable experience, but most certainly a moving one. If not, however, you may well be left wondering what the fuss is about. For this reviewer, however, it is hard to see what film is going to top this one this year, or even this decade. To me, it was that good.
Sadly this disc does not serve the film well. The picture is poor, and although the sound is a much better proposition this mix is not without its problems either. The extras are also sparse and fail to engage, providing very little in the way of enlightenment.
It is therefore with much regret that although I can recommend the film whole heartedly, I cannot recommend this disc. If you enjoyed the film, then this is the only way to currently watch it in the home - but the quality of the disc is unlikely to sway the sceptics.
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