'Defiance' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
Right from the outset the high definition upgrade is noticeable on this release. Although the colour palette is somewhat muted (which I presumed was intentional to match the woodland surroundings), saturation is spot on. The rustic tone, such as the brown leather and green felt of clothing (which mirror the surrounding foliage), always appears naturalistic. The only real vivid colour comes by way of Craig's steel blue eyes, which seem almost luminescent at times. The rustic tone carries over to the print itself, which appears slightly granular and raw. At times the presentation can appear slightly over-processed (such as the bluish tinge during a lot of the scenes) but this was obviously a stylistic choice and for the most part works. The contrast ratio is very strong with cavernous blacks produced during the night-time forest scenes, which are replaced by the sparkling whites of the snow covered woodland during the day. Shadow detail, which is especially important as the Bielski camp don't have electricity, is spot on with no incoherent muddiness to cause confusion during the darker segments.
All of the scenes demonstrate beautiful depth and there were a couple of instances of that sought after 3D pop factor noted. The facial close-ups are stunning with every pore, blemish and whisker clearly visible. Overall, this is a very impressive transfer and contains plenty of high definition excess to demonstrate the capabilities of BD.
'Defiance' comes packed with a 5.1 Dolby True HD surround track.
Although the battle sequences are sparse, when they arrive they really let their presence be felt. Gunshots and shells explode and ricochet around the listening position and really create a wide soundstage. The aerial sequence at the close of the movie is a highlight, with planes moving in from behind the listening position as they drop bombs with accompanying rumbles from the subwoofer. Front activity and separation is spot on and subwoofer interjection, such as during the tank assault, can be equally as impressive. Aside from the battle sequences, dialogue is crystal clear throughout and never difficult to follow. Surround presence is very satisfactory, for example, the rain storm during the opening scene falling directly over the listening position with the subwoofer injecting to provide a distant roll of thunder. There are also some nice ambient effects such as the chirping of crickets and the crowing of cocks' audible in the forested wilderness.
The Oscar nominated score by James Newton Howard has good presence with nice surround bleed. The bass tonality is deep and satisfying but never takes over from the on screen action. The score really lends itself to the plight of the refuges with tender violins which are exchanged for rousing bass drums during the battle segments.
The surround track, like the main presentation, is let down slightly by the lack of activity but does a fine job of holding its own.
In a change to the usual slew of DVD ports that we see in the extras segments of BD releases, all of the features included on this release are in high definition. A feature commentary with Edward Zwick is also included. Attracted to the story following reading the obituaries of one of the Bielski brothers, it's obvious from listening to this commentary that Zwick was very passionate about this project. He goes into great detail about all aspects of making the movie and also imparts a lot of the historical background regarding the Jewish people. There's also plenty of trivia such as locating the woodland where the movie was shot on Google Earth and how filming in Belarus was not possible as it's still a dictatorship. This highly interesting and informative commentary track is well worth a listen.
“Defiance: Return to the Forest” (26mins) - Featuring Zwick and the cast, this feature takes an in depth look into the making of the movie. There's insight into the Jewish refugees and some explanation on Jewish culture and religion. There's also plenty of behind the scenes footage, excerpts from the movie and commentary from Zwick on his leading men. Both Craig and Schreiber comment on their characters and there are some interesting notes regarding the period make-up, wardrobe and special effects for the movie.
“Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak” (14mins) - This short feature comprises interviews with the Bielskis' children and grandchildren. The history of the Bielskis is discussed in depth and there's also archive footage and photographs. All speak of the Bielski brothers with the respect and pride which they deserve. There's also some tender moments as the families visit the forests of Belarus for the first time.
“Scoring Defiance” (7mins) - This feature takes us to Abbey Road where James Newton Howard and Zwick talk us through the process of scoring 'Defiance'.
Bielski Partisan Survivors (2mins) - A 1080p slideshow comprising the actual survivors of the Bielski camp. The photos were taken by Zwick in 2008.
Trailers - Two high definition trailers for the movie.
'Defiance' is the remarkable true story of a band of Jewish refugees who survived for years in the bleak woodlands of Belarus during WW II. Edward Zwick teams up with Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell to recreate the heroic deeds of the Bielski brothers, who led a rag tag bunch of Jewish exiles to safety. While well acted and directed competently, the presentation does seem lacking somewhat in the action department. In saying that there are a couple of cracking battle sequences but just not enough to alleviate the boredom of some segments of the two hours plus run time. As a drama it's an engaging piece but those looking for a war epic should look elsewhere.
Both the video and audio presentations are impressive on this release. The video presentation is pin-sharp and contains some stunning facial close-ups. The audio mix, complete with Oscar nominated score, is equally impressive but can suffer from moments of inactivity at times. The extras package is competent and includes a feature commentary from Zwick. If you enjoy war dramas or Daniel Craig then 'Defiance' is well worth picking up.
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