Biutiful comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a dual-aspect ratio 1080p High Definition video presentation, which flips between the broader 2.35:1 scope and the near-16:9 1.85:1 widescreen format. The Director apparently adopted this approach to differentiate between the two ‘timelines’, and show how Uxbal’s mind has itself expanded – in much the same way as the picture itself. Now, whilst I credit the attempt, I’m not sure it has the desired effect, and, in fact, it may have worked better the other way around – in a sort of Batman IMAX scenes kind of way, where the more narrow narrative viewpoint could have been privy to the more sizeable black bars which are present on any of the wider formats (like 2.35:1 and 2.4:1), and the ‘expanded’ views could be reflected using a bigger picture which ‘fills the screen’. Ah, that’s just my opinion, but in watching the movie – without knowing any better – you may even miss the change in scope entirely. Either that shows how well integrated into the proceedings it is (which it is), or it just highlights the ineffectiveness of the stylistic attempt.
Ignoring these Directorial choices, and the gritty nature of the material itself, the film is actually quite visually striking, and is presented here in top notch fashion. Detail is excellent throughout, the image boasting a keen sense of depth and fine object detail, little unintentional softness, and no signs of any digital distractions like edge enhancement and DNR. The colour scheme is seldom privy to vivid and bright colours, instead dominated by dour, dark tones which are more reflective of both the setting and the subject-matter, and which are rounded-out by solid and pleasing black levels that make for excellent shadowing – and shadows are of the utmost importance in some of the more contemplative, near-surreal shots (keep an eye on that ceiling). You can tell that Inarritu has crafted a final product which looks exactly as he had intended – the heavy grain structure, the invasive shadows, the dream-like colour bleeding – and there is absolutely nothing to complain about here. Although not strictly the kind of film you would grab for first when attempting to show off your home cinema equipment, this is nonetheless a near-perfect presentation.
On the aural front we get a superb DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in the movie’s original native Spanish language, complete with decent, coherent subtitles. Far from blockbuster material, this drama, which, whilst arguably dialogue driven, does not really have all that many ‘loud’ dialogue sequences, is still given an extremely immersive, attentive track which brings the streets to life with its subtle but keen observations. It may not quite work as demo quality material, but it’s just on the cusp of being precisely that, which is astounding for a movie where there’s no direct action, per se (the closest thing to it being an energetic police raid which engulfs us in the bustle of the street life and the frantic furore of those desperate to escape the clutches of the law. The score also works wonders, both enhancing the material, and also coming across very well indeed through the surround channels; it’s a guitar-dominated effort which might as well be plucking away at your heart-strings, making for a perfect accompaniment to the proceedings. A little more bass would not have gone amiss, but, then again, some of the more pressurised, downward spiral moments are given just that to further invade upon your personal space, so there really is very little to complain about on this superb track.
Biutiful comes to UK Blu-ray with the same nice but limited selection of extras which accompanied the US disc.
Behind Biutiful: Director's Flip Notes is quite a nice little 22-minute behind the scenes accompaniment that offers us excerpts from the Director’s extensive production diary, both in video and audio form. Some are just personal reflections from Inarritu (normally talking about the themes of the movie, or about his cast – in particular lead actor Bardem), but we also get a hint of rehearsal footage, and a little bit more detail into the filming itself.
Biutiful Crew takes just 4 minutes to introduce us to the film’s crew, who, rather strangely, spend the majority of the time here singing whilst working. Odd.
There are also three very brief Interview clips, totalling just 8 minutes of footage, and involving lead actor Javier Bardem, and co-stars Maricel Alvarez (the ex-wife) and Eduard Fernandez (the brother).
Finally the disc is rounded off by a selection of Trailers.
Beautiful and haunting, tragic and overwhelming, Director Alejandro Gonzalex Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel) continues in his intimate study of death and mortality with this powerful tale of a single father desperate to forge a secure future for his children in the dilapidated squalor of Barcelona’s underclass. With a career-crowning performance from powerhouse actor Javier Bardem, the film’s biggest misstep is its attempt to integrate far less well-defined side-characters into the mix in a way that would make this more overtly comparable to the Director’s earlier works. Thankfully Bardem saves the piece, and really is the biggest reason to watch this movie, assuming, that is, you can stomach 148 minutes of inescapable misery and utter desperation. Perhaps it is time for the Director to prove his worth with other, no less worthy, but perhaps less gloomy work, in which case this will make a fitting book-end to that part of his filmmaking career.
On Region B-locked UK Blu-ray we get excellent video and audio, as well as a nice but small selection of extras that make for a suitable accompaniment to the main dish. If you’ve seen and appreciated some of rest of the Director’s (or lead actor’s) work then you should consider this well worth checking out, but only stalwart Inarritu/Bardem fans will want to add this to their collection – it’s a truly tough, at times devastating watch, which will leave you thoroughly exhausted. And I can’t imagine many rushing out to experience that all over again.
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