Whiplash Film Review
Beating its way through a dual character study and psychological drama, Whiplash is a tremendous film which deservedly landed actor J. K. Simmons his first Oscar.
Whiplash tells the tale of an aspiring young drummer who will do whatever it takes to become the next drumming legend, and sees his chance under the tutelage of an unfathomably demanding conductor, whose utterly unforgiving methods ride a fine line between genius and madness.
The film plays close to home with a story that comes from writer/director Damien Chazelle’s own experiences in a Studio Band with a vicious instructor. It's further informed by young actor Miles Teller’s real drumming capabilities, and – perhaps most surprisingly – J. K. Simmons’s own professional education at conducting. All of these elements lend further credibility and veritable authenticity to Chazelle’s sophomore effort, which boasts a stunning Oscar-nominated screenplay, and Oscar-winning editing and sound – and one of the best soundtracks of 2015, all based around some deliriously amazing percussion.
J.K. Simmons steals the show
With the screenplay languishing on the Black List, Whiplash was first made as a short film starring J.K. Simmons in the same role; a testing ground to get the funding to make it into a full feature. The end result rests firmly on the shoulders of the two capable leads – with Teller playing a surprisingly multi-faceted apprentice who is far from a nice guy and probably much closer to his idol/mentor/nemesis than at first glance. It’s his drumming and his blood on the drums that we see on-screen, and he certainly commits to a demanding part which has set the bar quite high in his young career.
It’s J.K. Simmons’s conductor who steals the show, though, with the kind of intensity and power that makes for a career-defining performance, although he too is far from one-dimensional - somewhat distancing himself in this respect from his spiritual relative, R. Lee Emrey's Gunnery Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket - and you never quite know what’s going on in his psychopathic head, even if you can also see the absolute genius percolating there as well. Rightfully earning a multitude of accolades, this is compelling, unmissable viewing.
Whiplash 4K Video
Whiplash comes to UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, with this Ultra HD Blu-ray release defying its upscaled 2K source to make for an impressive presentation.
The disc presents an upscaled 3840 x 2160p resolution image in the film's original aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1, and uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HDR10.
We reviewed the UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Whiplash on an LG 55B7 Dolby Vision 4K Ultra HD OLED TV with a Panasonic DP-UB450 Dolby Vision HDR10+ 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Defying its upscaled 2K source to make for an impressive presentation
Shot on digital, Whiplash is a veritably slick and gorgeously stylish production, revelling in its gold-on-black tones, and relying on the image integrity to remain on-point throughout, which is a tough ask at times. Nonetheless, the 4K HDR/WCG capabilities rise to the challenge, seldom falling down and providing deep inky blacks contrasted with blisteringly bright peak whites. The blacks alone leave the 4K rendition standing apart from its 1080p counterpart - despite that being a excellent presentation to begin with.
Detail enjoys a modest uptick that is evident despite the only notional increase in actual resolution, bringing razor focus to Simmons' craggy, vein-popping visage, and lapping up the finer minutiae on key elements like the drum and cymbal close-ups. Clothing textures are more evident, and better refined, and in a flip-over comparison, the 4K rendition does stand ahead on this front too, although clearly the biggest impact comes from the implementation of HDR and WCG, which work their magic in adding depth to the tones across the colour palette, allowing the golds to positively glow, which looks particularly impressive set against those prolific blacks. It's not quite a reference fit, at least not consistently, but it's still frequently demo, and persistently impressive.
Whiplash 4K Audio
Whiplash stands out even more on the aural front when it comes to this 4K release, earning a much-deserved 3D object-based immersive audio upgrade in the form of Dolby Atmos, which somehow bests the already excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that adorned the Blu-ray.
Stands out even more on the aural front
Dialogue - and there's a Full Metal Jacket level of shouting in this - comes across most certainly clearly and coherently throughout, afforded priority and largely dominating the frontal array as appropriate. Effects and score are largely one - punishing car crash notwithstanding - and so the music is the most important part here, with some serious percussion on offer, making you feel every single smashing hit, all the way until it bleeds. LFE is well utilised, and the Atmos immersion brings the more expansive moments right into your living room, sweeping you up into a maelstrom of frenetic jazz madness. It really is an exhilarating ride.
Whiplash 4K Extras
Whilst there's nothing new, Sony still delivers an impressive package courtesy of the accompanying Blu-ray, which most importantly includes the original short movie that inspired this full length feature, and which also featured Simmons in this iconic role. The extras demand to be commended for that alone.
A great set
There's an Audio Commentary from Simmons as well, partnered with the Director, and a slew of excellent Interviews with real professional drummers regaling their experiences. Then there's that Short Film, with its own commentary, a Deleted Scene, and a further brief TIFF interview with the director and cast. It's a great set.
Whiplash 4K Verdict
Whiplash 4K Blu-ray Review
Whiplash is a minor modern masterpiece, a little bit like an entire movie based around the first half of Full Metal Jacket, only here repurposed to focus on professional drumming. Simmons absolutely steals the show, and is a force to be reckoned with and it's worth watching for him alone.
A minor modern masterpiece
Sony's 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Whiplash is an excellent package, delivering impressive video and stunning Atmos enhanced audio, as well as all the old but excellent extras. It comes highly recommended, and makes a curiously effective companion-piece to last week's 4K release of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket too.
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