Uncharted 4K Blu-ray Review

"So, uh, when did you decide to become Indiana Jones?"

by Mark Costello
SRP: £25.00

Uncharted Review

The first film from the aforementioned PlayStation Productions sadly couldn’t be any more on-brand.

Stuck in production hell for years – the film was first mooted back in 2014 – with various directors and star combos attached (Neil Berger, Dan Trachtenberg and Seth Gordon all were onboard to direct, while Jake Gyllenhaal, Bryan Cranston and Matthew McConaughey were attached to star), the final product, an adaptation of the Sony PlayStation adventure game series, has all the hallmarks of a modern-day action blockbuster and videogame adaptation. For the good and sadly the bad…

Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) is a smart-mouthed, thieving bar tender, who thinks nothing of relieving spoilt little rich girls of their expensive jewellery. He is recruited by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), someone who’s job is so vague his business card simply says ‘Private Acquisitions’ yet might as well have read ‘Tomb Raider’, to help find explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s fortune lost over 500 years earlier with the aid of a stolen map, a couple of stolen ancient artifacts and a whole host of stolen narrative and action cinematic beats. But hot on their heels are a moustache twirling bad guy (Antonio Banderas), a kick-ass rival Tomb Raider, sorry Private Acquisitioner, and a host of insanely convoluted clues, traps and tombs that, unlike the title suggests, are all very much charted on the handful of maps that our bickering pair lug around the world.

That the film can’t escape its heritage shouldn’t be too much of a problem – after all, the films and videogames it liberally pilfers from (the Raiders and National Treasure franchises, Tomb Raider game and movie series and all of their many, many imitators) were themselves built upon the backs of previous works. Yet it seemingly misses most of what made each of these ancestors so good (and yes I do include National Treasure in that) – interesting characters in a convincing adventure.

Both Holland and Wahlberg have little characterisation to them outside of the broadest cinematic tropes of the bickering double act that seemingly and unfathomably know more about history than every single one of the world’s historians, with no explanation as to how. Their banter feels forced and at times desperately unfunny, pitched somewhere between pure exposition and constant reminders of the interchangeable motivation/character (you could make a drinking game out of how many times Holland says the words “…my brother, Sam…” but you wouldn’t make it to the end credits), the film far too content with hurling them into the next underground catacomb without ever letting them breathe or even ‘be’ actual characters. Poor old Banderas seems to have been told he’s not Spanish enough and comes across as Dick Dastardly doing a Manuel from Fawlty Towers impression for his very limited screen time and together with the other motley crew of adventuring misfits, all are the merest ciphers of characters you’ve seen many times before.

... lazy

The adventuring itself is lazy – the clues are insanely convoluted, written so that no-one would ever be able to follow them, let alone have them deciphered in a handful of seconds by a bar tender (a bar tender remember…). And yet most ultimately are as bog standard as they could be – go to this point, insert this thingy into that whatsit, and keep on going to the next whatsit to insert the next thingy, etc, etc, etc. The mash up of the old and the new – for some insane reason, most of the old catacombs and ancient relics in Barcelona are seemingly now built around and incorporated into the modern world: one ancient chamber is now an actual underground nightclub while one key has to be inserted into a wall in a pizza restaurant – doesn’t work and all of this renders the entire first two acts of the film, complete with forced reveals of familial melodrama and double crosses so obvious you’ve seen them from a single glance at the poster/trailer, completely banal and most unforgivably, dull.

Yet it feels like all of this was an excuse to get to the final act, which suddenly explodes into the kind of insane, balls-to-the-wall life you would expect from a modern videogame. And if only the rest of the film had been like this... a huge set piece involving duelling, flying pirate galleons suddenly remembers what makes the videogames so beloved. It dispenses with almost all the narrative and certainly all of the logic (or what had passed for logic) of the previous 90 minutes and just focuses on being a hugely fun series of action beats. It’s teeming with energy, with wit and it works where the rest of the film didn’t: it feels like its own beast, an adventure driven by huge set pieces and less about a narrative we’ve seen hundreds of times before, and if only there had been more of this, the film would have stood a chance of being remembered for what it wanted to be rather than simply what it was inspired by.

There are other set pieces across the film – opening with an iconic to the game mid-air platformer, before progressing to Jackie Chan-inspired neon light jump/destruction piece – but they are hamstrung by the narrative, never cutting loose like the finale did in order to drive forward the dull plot, a firm reminder to try and understand the inherent character of the film, for once - and legitimately given its origins - start with the set pieces and build the story around it rather than it feeling here like it did it the other way round.

Director Ruben Fleischer (both Zombielands, Venom) competently handles the whole thing, and with a huge effects budget and Game of Thrones MVP Ramin Djawadi on scoring duties, it looks and sounds the part of a modern-day enormo-buster… but sadly, it’s exactly the kind of the film you come away from talking about the better films that inspired it rather than talking about it itself. The paper-thin characters and their near total lack of chemistry, coupled with the clunky adventuring and rote plotting sadly can’t be redeemed by the actually pretty great final act set pieces, leaving the whole thing as yet another videogame adaptation that produces a movie that seems to forget what made the videogame so good in the first place.

Uncharted 4K Video

Uncharted
The included images are not sourced from the 4K disc.

Uncharted was shot digitally at 3.4k using the ARRIRAW codex. It was captured using Arri Alexa cameras and a range of lenses, including anamorphic ones, to produce a 2K DI for its theatrical release (according to very few sources across the internet) and it’s this that forms the basis for an upscaled 3840 x 2160p resolution image with the original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The disc also uses a 10-bit video depth, with High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.

We reviewed this Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release on a JVC-DLA N5 Ultra HD 4K projector (for main HDR10 viewing), a Philips 50PUS6754/12 Ultra HD 4K TV (for a DV/HDR10 comparison) and a Panasonic DP-UB9000 Dolby Vision/HDR10 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player (for HDR10 viewing) and a Sony UBPX700 Dolby Vision/HDR10 Ultra HD Blu-ray player (for DV/HDR10 comparisons).

... another winner from Sony in the picture department who continue to consolidate their position as one of the very best studios for image quality

Sony’s 4K output is now so ubiquitous, you can almost tell immediately from the image produced, that it's from Sony. Vivid, rich colours, a density to the image that almost adds texture where there is none (no grain here, folks) and an almost dimensionality that is wholly pleasing to the eye. And it's absolutely more of the same here.

Going through the image components one at a time, fine detail varies between best-in-class (when the camera is capturing a pure image with little/no digital manipulation) and very good, depending on the shooting style and equipment used. The use of anamorphic lenses and the Todd-AO 35 process in filming (according to IMDb) means these images demonstrate the inherent characteristics of both – a slight out of focus look around the edges of the frame – and this translates into a variability of the detail levels across the whole film. However, this is wholly appropriate for the stylistic choices made by the creative team and this disc captures both admirably. Textures on faces, on clothing, on the sets is first rate, with the fine detail also coming into its own in specific scenes (at 52:45, a sprinkling of dust is perfectly captured in torchlight against a dark background as our heroes try and escape an underground chamber).

However while medium and long shots often drop jaws in terms of their clarity and delineation, close ups feel like they don’t quite have the last word in detail that the very best images manage to capture – this is especially so in the opening scenes involving Drake’s childhood. Possibly due to the overt digital manipulation and grading of the image, possibly because it’s a 2K DI, either way, these scenes, and a handful later on, don’t seem to have that last amount of detailed texture we’ve seen elsewhere.

A quick comparison between the DV and HDR10 grades highlight some insignificant differences – black levels appear to be the same on both grades, while brightness in specific highlights also appears similar. A colour comparison shows some shots as having a more vivid and intense colour depth (the scene of Drake on a speedboat at 1:25:01 looks more slightly washed out on the HDR10 layer than on the DV layer), while others don’t – the final shot mentioned above demonstrates a near-identical image of the burnt oranges and yellows of the sky, as well as intense blue of the sea. In conclusion, there is no significant and consistent difference between the layers so projector fans and Samsung owners should still get a fantastic image.

This is further helped by both its colour and HDR grading. The film is sun-drenched for most of the second half of the film (taking place in and around both Barcelona and The Philippines) and the overall palette reflects this beautifully. The depth and richness of the colour is superb, with the film’s final shot a perfect encapsulation of this - a perfectly rendered sun blazing in a clear, orange stippled sunset, dappling the water below with fine lovely highlights, with no colour banding or fringing in sight. When called to go dark, the film also revels in some nice black levels and here’s where that HDR grading really comes into its own – fiery torches against a gloomy, dark backdrop at the 57-minute mark shows some insane brightness levels within the flames itself, yet still retaining the dark shadows around it, a hugely contrasty image that shows the real benefits of what HDR can do.

Of course, being a wholly digital affair, the additional benefits of this form of capture are obvious here – there’s no judder to the image at all and there’s no grain to speak of either: the image is pristine and free from any notion of print defects or damage whatsoever. And finally, the compression used to squeeze the film onto the disc is top notch, as expected from Sony - bit rates average approximately 55mbps across the entire film (however this fluctuates wildly, the latter half of the film having a higher average, with spikes noted of high 80s/low 90s mbps on occasion), resulting in no noticeable artefacts or colour banding at all across the entire film.

Its another winner from Sony in the picture department who continue to consolidate their position as one of the very best studios for image quality – it's not quite perfect due to fine detail not being consistently best in class… but I’ll be damned if it’s not far off.

Uncharted 4K Audio

Uncharted

The 4K disc has a staggering array of soundtrack and subtitle options - lossless English Atmos leads the way, with Italian and Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks and Czech, Hindi, Hungarian, Polish and Ukrainian lossy 5.1 soundtracks. There are 24 (24!) different subtitles options, with just about every language you can think of represented. Note that the Atmos track is exclusive to the 4K disc here – the accompanying 1080p Blu-ray only has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track

We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Uncharted on a Denon AVR-X4300H and a 7.2.4 array of Kef speakers (including the Q range and ci in-walls/in-ceilings).

... so very nearly a perfect listen

Like the visuals, the Atmos track is a fantastic listen in every respect, but not quite top tier.

Overall sonic characteristics are a rich and varied track, with some real musicality – Djawadi’s score has plenty of depth in terms of low end, while it's fast and agile in terms of its higher frequencies. It bleeds out of the entire speaker array to nicely envelop the listener without ever feeling forced or contrived and it’s a fantastic audio foundation for the rest of the track.

Dialogue is locked firmly to the centre speaker and is always nicely prioritised within the mix, giving a lovely balance to the track. Sound effects range from huge slabs of LFE as flying pirate ships crash into mountains to the breathy ambient sounds of long-empty underground vaults and the track does a superb job of offering all up with gusto. In fact, as the final act flies (literally) into view, the track seems to enable all of these sounds to be perfectly audible within the mix, be it whispered dialogue, explosive cannonballs or the swooshing thump of helicopter blades.

The overheads are used nicely too – mostly to fill the space with Djawadi’s score, but there’s some fun to be had with spot effects, such as those helicopter blades, enveloping water and other ambient atmospheric sounds.

So why not perfect? Because of its obvious sonic precision with everything perfectly placed and audible, it almost sounds a touch too polite – it never quite cuts loose and embraces the sonic mayhem and so feels just a touch reserved. More of the mix than the transfer onto disc? Possibly. But like the visuals, it's so very nearly a perfect listen.

Uncharted 4K Extras

Uncharted

The extras are split between the 4K disc and the accompanying 1080p blu and include:

  • Audio commentary with director Ruben Fleischer, on both 4K and 1080p discs
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes – 10 minutes, 1080p disc only
  • Six short featurettes – totalling 27 minutes (covering the film’s set pieces, translation from the game and the characters), 1080p disc only
  • Music Video – 1080p disc only
  • Theatrical Marketing – 4 minutes, 1080p disc only

... all very disposable

As expected for a modern-day studio title, there’s little of substance here outside of the commentary from Fleischer. Each featurette is between 3 and 5 minutes and is the very definition of ‘electronic press kit’ materials. The deleted and extended scenes may be a one watch piece of interest to fans of the film, but there’s unsurprisingly nothing here that dramatically adds or changes the finished film in any way. All very disposable.

Conclusion

Uncharted 4K Blu-ray Review

Uncharted

Generic blockbuster fare that may appeal more to fans of the game who will get far more of the nods and winks and in-jokes than this reviewer did. Bland characters and dull adventure plotting clog up far too much of the runtime, with only the scale and true videogame raison d’etre of the final act set piece livening things up to bring the film firmly up to the realms of ‘average’.

... an average film on a technically proficient disc

The technical presentation of this new 4K release from Sony is as good as should now be expected from a studio who consistently produces the goods. Not quite visual and sonic perfection, but close on both counts, it’s a great transfer that may help some gain more enjoyment out of the film. The usual round of extras means there’s nothing of any real value added and so it’s pretty much as everyone expected – an average film on a technically proficient disc, with no real value found in the supplementals. Who would possibly have predicted this.

Uncharted will be available to buy on Digital on 26th April and To Rent on Digital, on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on 9th May.


Scores

Movie

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.
.
.
.
5

Picture Quality

.
9

Sound Quality

.
9

Extras

.
.
.
.
.
5

Overall

.
.
.
.
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5
5
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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