PictureWater-Horse arrives on BD with a gorgeous 1080p transfer that is highly detailed, richly coloured and wonderfully sharp. Encoded via MPEG-4, the 2.40:1 framing looks immaculate. The detail upon the rocks and pebbles of the shoreline near the start, the ripples on the water and the clarity of the trees, distant crags and skyline - all look fantastic. The CG elements do look a little obvious but this is par for the course with this type of movie and not a reflection of the transfer.
The colour palette may be toned down and given the earthy treatment, but this does not mean that there aren't moments when it is radiant. The glowing turquoise colour that glistens beneath the egg-shell looks amazing, emanating from the screen with an eerie beauty. Greens across the board are bold and strong, with foliage really standing out. Clothing, vehicles and objects have a realistic hue about them, and the deeper blues and greys that dominate the underwater sequences - a huge one of which actually takes place at night - only reveal the very slightest of banding. Otherwise, saturation and separation are very good. Hamilton and his men in their buffed-up dress uniforms look just fine - red lapels, crisp white shirts and gleaming buttons. The night-blues are great and have plenty of depth and texture. Blacks are deep and might, in my opinion, present some slight crushing of detail. The pell-mell finale is very dark, but then again, this is supposed to be an open stretch of water during a stormy, rain-lashed night. The lamps and spotlights cutting through the gloom offer a great dazzle of bright light that doesn't, however, haze or glitch against the surrounding murk.
External daytime shots seem to have been brightened with regards to faces and sunlight, as though the contrast has been ramped-up, but I doubt that this is a fault with the transfer and is more likely to be a deliberate lighting effect to mimic the authentic cast of the environment. Compared with this, the interiors in the manor or the workshed or the pub are warm and inviting, presenting that homely glow of deep wood and open fires.
Edges are well-maintained, although there are a few instances of enhancement - a hat, head and shoulders against the skyline for example - but, thankfully, this never impairs the image to any detrimental degree. No artefacts rear their heads, Nessie-style, from the transfer and fast-motion is always smooth. The picture may be sharp, but it is not hugely three-dimensional. Moments, such as a gun pointing directly at us, an army jeep cresting a ridge or Crusoe rising from the water offer glimpses of such visual depth, but Water Horse does not particularly choose to leap from the screen. But nor is this a flat image by any means, so do not fret - the film is definitely very attractive-looking and a sure step-up from the SD version, which I have also seen and must say, if anything, seems much darker than this.
Finally, the print is clean and robust, with only a hint of grain adding to the filmic quality of the image. Water Horse gets a very strong 8 out of 10.
SoundWell, at first, it seems easy to say that the audio isn't that staggering. But, considering that this is family fare and is, inevitably, not going to be as aggressive a mix in the first place as, say, “Beowulf” or “I Am Legend” or “I, Robot”, the TrueHD track supplied here is actually very active, detailed and immersive. Spaciously wide enough to evoke the idyllic setting of the Scottish hills and lochs even though, as we now know, this was actually New Zealand.
The artillery bombardment during the two big action sequences is suitably agreeable, although the boom-booms definitely lack that deep bass rumble that a more adult movie-mix would probably have produced. That said, the effect of the shells blasting through the loch is good enough and the steerage of such shots is spot-on. There is a moment of machine-gunfire that, to me, sounded a little subdued and easygoing. Certainly I wasn't expecting a Saving Private Ryan level of aural violence, but I would have preferred a bit more punch and zip to such treats.
But the track comes alive with the water-effects for Crusoe ploughing through the cold canopy of Loch Ness. The underwater scene affords us with rocks and wrecks, currents and arches whipping by and the sense of power and weight of the animal's body. Topside splashing and rainfall are projected with clarity and precision. In fact, the directionality of the mix is nearly always impressive. Voices, movement, a British fighter-plane roaring left to right and even Churchill the dog barking - everything seems to have been structured and positioned seamlessly and authentically around the soundfield. Which is nice. Thunder rumbles ominously overhead and the mix comes across a quite well detailed and rich with nuance. Another great element is Crusoe's snorty roar which always seems to find its way around you and manage an echo from out of a rear speaker.
Finally, James Newton Howard's score is very warmly presented with soaring strings, a full-bodied mid-section and plenty of bass to give the proceedings some solid foundation. So, ultimately, Water Horse has a great TrueHD mix that does plenty of things right, but doesn't want to disturb the neighbours in the process of entertaining you.
ExtrasThe background to the movie is discussed in six conveniently titled featurettes. With a Play All option - which I strongly recommend as they flow very well together to make up one very reasonable making-of documentary - lasts for seventy-six minutes.
For the record, we have Creating Crusoe, Myths and Legends, Setting The Scene, The Characters, The Story and Water-works: Creating The Water Horse.
Jay Russell and his cast and crew crop up throughout the selection and we are afforded plentiful behind the scenes footage, blue-screen work, character assessments and story examinations. The locations in New Zealand are looked at, as are the sets that the production built and furnished and we even see how the extras in British Army uniforms were trained to act and behave like real soldiers. There's some great footage of Churchill the dog going through his scenes - what a professional ... the dinner table sequence nailed in the first take! And the CG elements are discussed with lots of conceptual art, models, pre-viz and animatics used for illustration. Alex Etal reveals just what a trooper he really is when we get to see him doing his underwater shots and riding the fake Crusoe and it is also nice to hear from the original author Dick King-Smith as he explains his methods and motivations.
Very enjoyable, too, is the section on Myths and Legends, in which we travel to Loch Ness and meet the famous monster-hunter naturalist Adrian Shine, whose own luxurious beard is the perfect place in which to hide any number of monsters. He talks about the actual genesis of the Nessie that we know and love today, going back to the notorious “Surgeon's Photo” and other such notable eye-witness accounts. Even a younger monster-hunter called Steve Feltham, who is so dedicated to taking that elusive snap that he now lives in a trailer on the banks of the loch, gets to air his views on what he believes might lurk beneath the dark surface. Great stuff ... and I love the way that Feltham's cat, just out of shot beneath the camera, has its tail snaking up into view just like a long, serpentine neck jutting out of the water. But check out the way that they feel the need to subtitle Donald Simpson's Scottish brogue as he enthusiastically recites a story about the legend of the kelpie!
A very good selection of featurettes that, although containing an awful lot of footage culled from the film, cover most bases about the movie's production.
A selection of Deleted Scenes, lasting around seven minutes, offer some small extensions and add a few character beats, but don't necessarily supply much more to the story, so their excision from the finished movie is no detriment. Still nice to see though.
The BD-Jave interactive game, The Water Horse: Virtual Crusoe, is a laborious cyber-pet gimmick in that you get to feed, nurture and entertain the young creature as he grows. You can occupy his time with a rubber duck (!), making him jump or whatever and feed him whenever he gets hungry - which is often. But, as per usual, watch his energy levels and his mood. Well, it is sadly very slow and not very rewarding but, at least, your game is saved even when you remove the disc, so you can just pick up where you left off next time around. Or simply not bother ... like me.
Finally, we have some previews for Surf's Up, Open Season and a teaser for Open Season 2.
VerdictIf you can forgive the admittedly poor modern-day story-telling device that punctuates the film, then Water Horse is top flight family entertainment. Managing to avoid the horrible cloying mawkishness that plagues many other movies nestling in this genre, but still telling a convincingly emotional tale. Alex Etal is great as young Angus and he is ably supported by the likes of Emily Watson, David Morrissey and Ben Chaplin who all deliver plenty of forties charm to the drama. Crusoe is another fabulous Weta creation, too, and the wonderful legend of Nessie is lovingly embellished with respect.
Sony's disc features another fine transfer that presents a vivid picture coupled with a terrifically active sound design. The extras aren't exactly earth-shattering, but they are accessible, informative and very entertaining, and they are provided with the same sort of charm that suffuses the film. So, The Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep gets a warm-hearted thumbs-up from me. Recommended for kids of all ages.
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