The 2008 HD-DVD edition had a sterling VC-1 transfer and this 2010 Blu-ray edition offers the exact same 1.85:1 OAR, 1080p, however this time the MPEG-4/AVC, codec is used; really there's no difference. There are a number of different styles used within the film, and all colours very slightly muted due to the period setting, but the video is good enough to wholly back up the wonderful storyline.
Initially we have the almost dreamy nature of the first act, whites run intentionally hot and some shots in and around the gardens around the stately Tallis home intentionally soft. Greens fare well from the lush sprawling contours of the grounds to the revealing emerald of Cecilia's evening dress. Blacks run deep with no hint of crush as the camera traverses the darkened, wood panelled hallways and rooms of this immense home. Shadow detail holds well, especially as Briony intrudes on a liaison in the darkened library or as many of the family await Robbie's return standing on the expansive driveway in front of the main steps.
During the second and third acts of the film the style changes somewhat; the dream like quality is removed in favour of more realistic tones. Reds and very dark greens are the order of the day and both come across wonderfully well with no hint of bleed into their surrounding counterparts. Blacks are still lovingly deep in the shadows around the bomb crush streets of Dunkirk or the cinema which Robbie finds himself stumbling into. Whites are toned down a little during these stages, not as intrusive but in each case they are certainly as the director intended.
Detail throughout is exquisite from the textures on plants, suits and walls at the start of the feature to the crumbling buildings, coarse battle dress of dishevelled soldiers in the middle act. Detail in and around the Tallis home or on the beach of Dunkirk comes across the best and all this contributes to the depth and dimensionality of the feature. Look at young Briony as she walks down the covered lawn to her secret hideout, it's as though you are there behind her, following in her footsteps.
The print is in fine shape with no blemishes anywhere to be found. There is a light veneer of welcomed grain adding to the period this film is set in. As for the encoding there is some ever so slight haloing around starkly contrasted objects but apart from that this is an almost perfect transfer.
The actual movie and video are almost perfect in their presentation and no difference from the earlier HD-DVD disc, it is the English audio on this release though that has been boosted more than just a little. The earlier version contained a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track; this has now been superseded by a full on 5.1 DTS-HD MA variety. That earlier version was a little thin, lacking in depth and dynamism; the same cannot be said about this upgrade.
Steerage from the outset is pristine, the opening scene has an unseen Briony beavering away on her typewriter and the sounds of the hammer emanate from your right surround, slowly traversing to the front right then centre as the camera moves and pans to her seated position.
Dynamic range is excellent with the slightest cracking of broken vase as crisp and sharp as the low rumble of overhead bomber. Dialogue is nicely prioritised in the centre channel with each spoken word clear and well defined. The score provides a wide frontal sound stage again with superb range as a multitude of instruments and effects come into play.
The surrounds provide adequate ambiance from fleeting bird sounds in the garden or a trapped wasp in Briony's room. This ambiance spreads to include the bustling London streets or the machinations of war later in the film. It is during these turbulent war scenes where the weight of the LFE comes into play, however it is not quite as deep as some other releases out there.
This track represents a definite step up from the earlier weaker DDPlus offering.
- Commentary with Director Joe Wright.
An engaging enough chat track covering the bases in an almost scene by scene deconstruction. This is an enjoyable listen with Wright discussing the way he shoots, production values, scene styling and setting. He's candid, not adverse to mentioning scenes he felt didn't quite work, or what he could have done better. Listen out for his direction though when Knightley and McAvoy have their coupling in the library, it's a laugh a minute.
- Deleted Scenes. - 0:07:33 - 480i/MPEG-2.
Seven deleted scenes in total which can be played together or individually, with or without an accompanying director's commentary. Unlike many other deleted scenes these are quite interesting and definitely worth a watch, however Wright himself states that they were removed because they were badly directed and he was slightly embarrassed about them.
- Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement. - 0:26:54 - 480i/MPEG-2.
Interviews with cast and crew, including executive producer and writer Ian McEwan on bringing Atonement to the big screen. That steadicam shot is discussed as are costumes and location shoots. It's interesting to see both Knightley and McAvoy talk without putting on the posh accents. A worthy watch, not overly long with some interesting snippets of information.
- From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic. - 0:05:04 - 480i/MPEG-2.
An all too short a feature with McEwan discussing the transformation from page to silver screen. Like Wright before him he's not shy to admit he left the screenplay in better hands. Wright and Hampton also chip in with the work they had to do in taking the written word, moulding it somewhat and making those words live on.
I am so glad to have Atonement back in my collection, the HD-DVD version having been passed onto to someone who still collects those 'old' releases. As a film I don't think there was many, if any, better in the first decade of this new century. It's a compelling, engaging storyline with detailed, rounded characters some of whom you can relate to, some of whom you will warm to throughout the film and some who will leave you speechless. The narrative is beautifully told, touching and poignant with hidden depths around each corner.
The disc is a definite step up from the earlier HD-DVD release, and it's all thanks to that crisp, beautiful audio finally fully realising the score for which Dario Marianelli won his deserved Oscar. The video is the same, still beautiful to behold, the extras however do in some small way let this one down just a tad. Perhaps in the future there'll be an upgrade because of this and if so then I for one most definitely purchase this again.
Gripes aside regarding the extras this is still a highly recommended release; one I do think you should buy as there's repeat viewing pleasure for the discerning viewer. For those in doubt about so called period dramas, then perhaps try this one as a rental. I guarantee you that after you have seen it you will be rushing out to own it for yourself. A must own.
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