Tracker Blu-ray Review
Well this bit has caused a lot of furore. Tracker comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray with a 1080i video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. Yes, I didn’t make a typo, that is indeed an ‘i’. For some reason, the releasing studios couldn’t be bothered with stumping up the extra cash to make a full 1080p High Definition presentation, and the end result has frustrated many fans (as is evident from the forums!). It’s also an MPEG-2 encode, not MPEG-4, which just adds insult to injury. If I were to be totally honest, had I not known about all of this, I would have probably assumed it was just a disappointing 1080p MPEG-4 AVC presentation, which means that it is easily one of the best 1080i presentations that I have come across, but it’s still outrageous that this is the technical standard that we get.
Detail is generally very good, but marred marginally by a flatness, and a (comparatively) overbearing amount of edge enhancement. The film is never soft, but scenes do range from exceptional (basically 1080p-quality) to shots that look more like the best upscaled SD-DVDs out there. Motion shots look marginally more stilted, with some panning issues, but that’s also (I suspect) a side-effect of the HD camerawork, not just the transfer. The colour scheme is green and brown-dominated; basically, as stated, a big, long advert for how beautiful New Zealand looks (I’m sure it looks even better in 1080p!), and these panoramic moments are gorgeous. Black levels are fairly strong, but do tend to become marginally intrusive in the darker moments. There’s no real filmic grain to the image, although the unusual location and period setting both manage to make the film suitably cinematic irrespective of this. Overall it’s a decent video presentation which has been hampered by being only 1080i.
The aural accompaniment is much harder to criticise, a largely solid DTS-HD Master Audio track which does the best you could expect with this kind of fairly low budget, action-thriller material. Dialogue comes across reasonably clearly throughout – though you can see why they considered using subtitles for this one – largely dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate. The effects are relatively limited, as you might only expect, but we do get a few scenes with some nice atmosphere – the crackle of a fire, night-life creeping in the background, the rushing water from a fast-running river or small waterfall – and these bring the surrounds to life somewhat. Gunshots ring out strong and true, with a nice echoing resonance, and they’re probably the only effects that get some small reaction out of the LFE channel. Things get messy when it comes to the score, however. Not because it’s badly presented, per se, but because it’s given a little bit too much dominance on the track, having the knock-on effect of pervading and drowning out the proceedings at far too many integral moments. Perhaps it might have worked better with a better score, but, even then, I’d argue for it being turned down a notch in comparison with the rest of the track.
Despite the disappointment of the video presentation, and the solid but overbearing soundtrack, at least this relatively low-key indie production doesn’t hit Blu-ray completely devoid of extras. Au contraire, we actually get several solid offerings here.
First up there’s a full length Commentary with the star Ray Winstone, and the director Ian Sharp. Full of lulls, where they just appear to be watching the movie, there are still some nice bits of trivia (Winstone and Morrison both did acclaimed films on spousal abuse – Nil by Mouth and Once Were Warriors, respectively) and some interesting anecdotes. It’s great to hear from Winstone in his more traditional natural accent, just reminding you what a quality effort it was to put on the Africaaner accent for the movie (he also talks about this aspect and the voice coaching required). They talk about the late writer, who died young, and how this is a nice tribute to him; they discuss the themes in the movie, the parallels between the two main characters, and the changes made between the original script and the final shoot. They praise the stuntmen – who did do great stunts – and praise the cast, but there’s a bit too much back-patting considering the end result, whilst good, is not exactly a masterpiece.
The Making of Tracker is a little shy of 20 minutes, and features far too much final film footage, but does give us some nice interview snippets from the cast and crew – and not just the director and stars, but also the cultural advisor, who talks about the real history of New Zealand in relation to the Boer War and British rule. Winstone has plenty to say here as well, and the detailed look at specific aspects of the character development and script is arguably often even more informative than the comparative moments in the commentary. There are even a few brief behind the scenes shots of the movie itself being filmed. Despite the fact that it has all the markings of a fluffy EPK featurette – with the frustrating frequency of final film clips on offer – this is actually a fairly decent extra.
Music Score Selection offers up a 25 minute selection of samples from the score. Honestly, there was no reason why I would want to listen to it here – perhaps it would have worked better with another film, but I saw no worth here. If you, for some reason, happen to like it, then this is a great extra. I’m guessing any fan of a film would probably like the option to sample the music only score – it is something I’d have liked on several of my favourite movies – so I can’t complain about the inclusion of an option here.
Finally we get the UK-Exclusive Theatrical Trailer to round off the disc.
Tracker is a fairly low-key New Zealand-based production, which works well on a small budget and paints a solid, if familiar, story, set in the aftermath of the lesser known Boer War, and following a South African tracker and ex-veteran who emigrates to New Zealand only to be tasked with hunting down a Maori wrongly accused of murdering a British Officer. With a good performance by the ever-reliable Ray Winstone, slightly disappointing support from co-star Temuera Morrison, and an otherwise solid cast, Tracker falls down only in terms of the script, which simply does not go as deep as it could have done into the respective psyches of these, the flip-sides of the same coin. Largely playing it safe, the director – making his debut here – crafts a solid thriller which never takes the risks required to be rewarded with greatness, and it’s a shame because there was plenty of potential here. Still, it’s a very enjoyable watch in its own small-scale way, an engaging adventure through lush New Zealand locales, helmed by the ever-watchable Ray Winstone, on good form.
Tracker comes to UK Blu-ray little over a month after its (limited) theatrical run, with a rather odd disc that boasts an inadequate 1080i-only video presentation and a solid but far from exceptional DTS-HD MA track. Extras are more pleasing, given the small scale of the production, but overall even fans of the film are going to hesistate at the sight of the 1080i moniker. Rather strangely the actual Blu-ray cover art also shows it labelled as being 12-rated, unlike the online listings. Still, it's probably the only package we're going to get and it's not a bad one, it's just that it's also not a great one - a big disappointment considering the gorgeous New Zealand locale. Definitely worth a rental, especially if you like the sound of it, but the package itself doesn't make this a great value purchase, although you can probably find it quite cheap...
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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