Wow. Just wow.
Now, I have to admit that Real Steel was probably the first brand new, made-with-hi-def-in-mind movie that I’ve seen on BD for a while. I’ve been watching lots of older fare of late – Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Rollin, John Ford, Hammer and even John Carpenter’s studio foray with Dark Star for various examples of vintage fare getting the 1080p makeover – and the step-up in inherent image quality is simply huge. All of a sudden I am now looking at a film that was lensed yesterday in comparison and with digital cameras and looks … well, it looks astonishing. No question about it.
The image that paints the screen with such vivid reality and beautifully immersed visual robo-mechanoid flair comes via AVC and the aspect is a deep and frequently lush 2.35:1 that positively begs you to explore it.
From the intricate appearance of facial pores, eyelashes, reflections on retinas, strands of hair and stipples of stubble on Jackman’s chiselled chin to the wider periphery of huge crowded sports arenas, ravaged, rain-lashed scrap-yards, distant horizons and rolling endless highways, and everything that falls in-between, this is an image of simply stunning clarity, tightly resolved definition and fantastic detail. The CG elements, as already commented upon, are fabulously integrated with the live-action. As you would appreciate, there is a natural and expected softness to their appearance in the mid to background shots that is very slight and totally acceptable at all times. Occasionally you might catch yourself thinking that some sort of DNR has been worked upon little Dakota Goya’s face, especially in close-ups … but this is not the case. He’s a kid and he doesn’t have the crags and blemishes that the grownups have. But the image is so damn detailed with regards to the more lived-in faces that they just seem so much haggard.
Reassuringly, contrast remains spot-on throughout. I’ve seen comments made about there being some slight crushing taking place with the blacks, but I didn’t really find that to be the case. As far as I am concerned, the shadow-definition within them was excellent, and I had no problem with seeing the details that were lurking within the darker portions of the image. The set-piece down at the rain-lashed scrap-yard is a great example of both finite contrast definition, what with the flecks of rain and the lighting, and vigorous blacks, with surface detail and dimensionality never sacrificed to the murk. Transitions between light and dark are smooth and the glitz and sheen of stadium lights, garish neon-like displays and the effect of reflections upon steel are always handled with care and vivid realism. Colour reproduction is superb. There is a push towards green and blue, very similar to how Sony handle their transfers, but this is also a design aesthetic. This is a visual land that is able to combine bright, bold primaries and authentically busted-up fidelities with consummate precision every time. Landscapes, sky-vistas and their neon-spiked terrestrial cousins, bruised and dented steel and fizzing sparks, clothing and set-dressings and, most pertinently of all, the vibrancy of the boxing robots themselves have an accuracy of saturation that is bright, engaging and pleasingly comic-book. Skin-tones, by contrast, have a realistic hue that sits just right with the overall veneer of glitz ‘n’ blitz.
With lots of shots of Charlie’s retro-tech muscle-truck churning down the highways and pulling up at gas stations and venues, the vehicle becomes a star in its own right. The transfer is able to convey a very definite three-dimensionality to scenes in which we see the vehicle and the characters standing against deeper backgrounds of distant meadows and dusk-lit horizons. This three-dimensionality is evident right across the board I should add, with some great crowd and fight scenes benefitting from it, but it seems somehow more pronounced during these quieter moments when the image just seems to breathe out.
You know what … there really isn’t much that I noticed about this image that could be termed as being a downside. Okay, to get the balance right, there is some very slight shimmering on metallic grill and other such formal patterns during the occasional panning shot, some inherent softness to a few mid-distance character shots, and some very subtle aliasing during one small scene. With no edge enhancement, banding or grisly noise reduction, this transfer is very, very difficult to fault, overall. It looks utterly superb and it gets an unofficial 9.5 out of 10 from me which, at the end of the day, seems as though I am doing it an injustice. You are sure to be amazed by the image quality on display here.
As with the image, it is very tempting to cite this disc with having perfect sound. I mean, Real Steel sounds simply amazing for much of the time.
The track we get is a glorious and pulverising, energise-all-channels 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix that thrives on action and delivers masses of detail amidst vast broadsides of body-knocking bombast and the sort of wraparound dynamics that you had in mind when you first got your swanky new lossless receiver. The track sounds cinematic in width and is able to produce crisp high-end clanging resonances of steel on steel, warmth and range with regards to the musical score from Danny Elfman and clear, clean dialogue.
The film thrives on percussive wallop, and to this end the depth to the bass is terrific, but not only is the pressurised sub-action rib-shaking and foundation-loosening, it also sounds quite detailed as well. When the robots stride, stomp, train and box, you can really hear and feel them moving about the environment. There are tremors and impacts that actually seem to travel beneath the floorboards, literally moving below the soundscape. Yet remarkably, considering the type of adrenalized action that we’ve encountered with this sort of genre before – Robocop, Transformers etc – this doesn’t sound overly aggressive in its presentation. The original sound design has been engineered so that we aren’t intimidated by these imposing leviathans, no matter how violent their actions may be. I’ve commented many times before on how Disney seem to be able to put a neighbour and grandparent lid on such things, and this is still the case here. You’re getting the all depth and the impact that you crave, but you are unlikely to get anyone complaining about the noise! Don’t get me wrong, though, this may not have those next-door calling the riot squad in but it still delivers the goods in a mighty fashion.
There are diagonal effects, bouncing rear-stereo activity, all-channel progressive panning around the room, innumerable discrete embellishments and finite positional placement, and the directionality that supplies all of this is tremendously well handled. We have the great leveller of the full-field blanketing of rainfall during the scrap-yard sequence, and this is embellished further with lots of thunder rolling and clapping about overhead. There is crowd noise very convincingly generated and thrown in at you from all-around the room. Robot bodyparts are often cleaved off, such as Noisy Boy’s noggin, and these can whip across the soundscape with an echoing impact that zooms past you with impeccable steerage. Clangs, clashes, bashes and klonnggs!!! reverberate and resound with ear-delighting aplomb during each and every bout. Plus, we can hear all the gears and hydraulics whirring and clicking within their steel bodies.
What I will say about this mix that is slightly negative – and, yes, I am just being picky for the sake of it now – is that when characters are talking quietly, when Charlie and Bailey are sitting on the roof and the errant father comes to realise that he needs Max back, for example – the dialogue does seem to dip down a little bit more than necessary. Now, this could simply be a case of my own ear not adjusting to the sudden lulls after some very dynamic set-pieces, but I did notice this on a few occasions, so for the sake of being pedantic, Real Steel gets 9.5 out of 10 … but, basically, you are going to have a (wrecking) ball with this audio track!
This region-free UK edition of Real Steel contains the audio commentary from director Shawn Levy that, in the States, can only be found on the DVD copy of the film. His chat-track is easygoing and covers a fair bit of ground, both technical and story-wise. It would have been better if Hugh Jackman had been able to join in, but c’est la vie.
Some nice, but clearly padded featurettes about the visual effects and robot design can be found in Building the Bots and a look at the complicated four-day shoot of the scrap yard sequence in The Making of Metal Valley. Unfortunately, there is a lot of back-slapping and EPK fluff going on with these which does inevitably detract from the experience.
Countdown to the Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story is a bogus mockumentary that takes a hyped-up glitzy look at the career and comeback of Hugh Jackman’s character in the quest to go up against Zeus. Done with lots of in-character interviews and asides from himself as Charlie and from various other members of the cast, this is surprisingly good fun.
Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ has a brief look at how the boxing superstar trained Jackman in techniques and combinations so that his shadow-boxing dexterity looked professional. Sadly, there’s a lot of fawning and saccharine-laced praise and reverence going on here too.
The Blooper Reel has some rib-tickling moments in it, which is a reassurance considering that, more often than not, these are comprised of merely odd, out-of-context footage that is frequently more depressing than amusing. Amongst the prop-droppage, unwanted improv and line-fluffing, look out for the moment when Jackman can’t bolt-cut his way through a chain and cries out “Wolverine … where are you now????”
We also get a couple of Deleted and Extended Scenes which add some weight to the Meet Ambush sequence from the very start of the movie, and then supply a surprisingly poignant subplot in what is called the Butterfly Storyline. This latter sequence is actually a series of scenes in which we learn much more about Max, and is well worth a look. Shawn Levy appears before the two offerings here to introduce them and to explain, with wild gesticulations, why they ended-up being excised. The guy filming him, however, needs to go back to camera-operating class.
The robot-story that 2000AD never told, Real Steel is one of those films that is able to embrace cliché totally without shame and to come out punching the air at the end of it all.
We have the burnt-out former champion seeking redemption not only with the failed promise of his half-forgotten glories, but with a son he never knew he cared about. The son is a charismatic urchin with more optimism, self-awareness and gumption than any real-life kid, and his journey from motherless embuggerance to heart-warming inspirational figurehead is genuinely affecting despite being as obvious a life-affirming odyssey as any that Disney has ever conceived. And, if you don’t care all that much for contrived storytelling, there’s always the stunning robots and their gut-busting, pop-a-top, ten-ton tussles of mechanoid mayhem to savour.
The region-free disc is a powerful one that is pretty much reference quality.
With a jaw-dropping image that is very nearly the epitome of hi-def gold, and an audio mix that is well worth its weight in the aforementioned precious metal, Shawn Levy’s thoroughly enjoyable movie gets a simply top-notch transfer. And with such a sterling presentation, it comes as the icing on the cake to get a couple of neat extras too. It’s a nice idea to create a mockumentary around the lead character, and something that really adds some value to the overall story. The blooper reel is a good laugh and the deleted subplot is a great little treat, and even if the featurettes on the robots and upon the fight-ethic feel light, then it worth remembering that this UK release contains the commentary track from the director that can only be found on the DVD disc in the US. So chalk one up for the UK, there!
With plenty of action and an agreeable dose of heart ‘n’ soul, Real Steel hardly breaks new ground even if it does feature an amazing assortment of metal-crunching robots going toe-to-titanium-toe. But it treads a well-worn path with plenty of style, wit and a sense of imaginative fun that is impossible not to warm to. No classic, but damn fine entertainment just the same.
It’s Rocky 2000AD!!!!
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