Picture: Presented in 2.35:1 this AVC-MPEG4 transfer is excellent. The three very different locations – London, Scotland and The Yemen – filmed in Morocco, are given subtly different colour treatments and in all respects this is extremely well done. Very little gross over exposure of shots was noted and no nasty edge enhancement or jaggies are evident. Despite the limited palette of some of the shots – particularly some of the underwater filming, there is no solarising, something that caught the recent Titanic release out. There are a few big sweeping moves that can upset the unsuspecting TV with too much motion processing set and some of the flowing water can also present a challenge to lesser models. Film grain is not that evident, despite being shot on 35mm, leading to impressively bright and clean shots. The damper scenes in the Scottish Highlands leaving one feeling quite soggy, such is the realism of the colour and sheer detail available. There is a propensity for skies to become a rather flat grey and for the water to become a little lacking in detail, all as a result of slight over exposure of the shot. Switching to London and the interior shots of the various Ministries, the institutional smell of boiled cabbage and stale coffee is the only thing missing. Shots are expansive and set the scenes well. The hi-tech office block of Harriet’s world contrasts nicely to the grandeur of Patricia Maxwell’s state rooms while Fred Jones humble surroundings remind us why many civil servants have just the thought of their pension to keep them going. Moving to the desert and things improve even more. The brilliant blue skies and subtle shading in the sand all looks spot on and the flood scenes towards the end of the movie are fairly realistic. There are very few low light scenes, but where they do pop up, they contain plenty of shadow detail for your screen to excavate. The fairly limited CGI is a bit poor compared to some current releases. At least it is sparsely used and does not detract from the overall movie. Really beautiful cinematography in a quintessentially British style.
The DTS-HD MA stream is almost the de-facto standard for Blu-ray, with virtually all new releases benefiting from the extended dynamic range and lack of compression. This movie has been mixed and mastered with great care and sounds fantastic. The use of the surround speakers is subtle, but extremely effective. Witness the echoing footsteps in the scene where Dr Jones first visits Harriet’s office. We do get the odd treat of a blockbuster sound effect as the flood strikes, but even this fails to interrupt the flow of the film. Dialogue is crisp and clean, although I did find Ewan McGregor’s voice to be a little thin, particularly compared to the plummy tones of Ms Blunt. The score is less impressive and instantly forgettable. There is nothing wrong with it, you just lose yourself in the film and ignore it, that’s all. Maybe a few more background sound effects would have helped to pep things up a little, as we do get used to something a bit more “in your face” in terms of surround channels from our cousins across the pond. As with the picture, it is a very British way of doing things and to some, feels a little old fashioned in comparison.
The extras section of this release is extremely disappointing. All we get is a 15 minute production diary and a similar length interview with the author. Both are MPEG2 standard definition files and look very poor, with pixelised text - some of it almost unreadable. Neither is particularly interesting and the production diary contains spoilers as well. Very poor for a major release these days.
A real mixed bag. The plot is quirky and a bit fun, but is ultimately quite predictable. The acting is excellent although nobody is forced much out of their comfort zone and are acting to type. On the whole it kind of works, but I can’t see me watching it again and again. Sadly not in the same league as some of our best movie exports, this film is just a bit too vanilla to be really good. If you like your movies gentle and unchallenging, then you might get along just fine with this, but if you want something to get your teeth into, then look elsewhere.
The filming is quite stunning in places, but the whole package is let down by average surround sound, visual effects and very poor extras. The transfer is extremely good particularly around the expansive Scottish landscapes. Inky blacks coupled with pleasing natural tones mark this out as a good test of correct screen calibration. Too much brightness and the picture will start to fall apart, too much colour and the warmer shots will look over saturated. Although billed as a comedy, this film is not chock full of belly laughs. There is the odd bit of slapstick, but Kirsten Scott Thomas is the main driver in respect of the spoken word. What we end up with is more of an extended TV drama, made to cinematic standards. In this respect it is just a nice pleasant, inoffensive movie with a very British style of presentation.
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