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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > Faith > Religion > Espionage > Spy > Satire > Comedy > Science Fiction > Outer Space > Exodus: Gods & Kings (2014)/Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)/The Martian (2015/all Fox 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays w/Blu-ray)

Exodus: Gods & Kings (2014)/Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)/The Martian (2015/all Fox 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays w/Blu-rays)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ HD Picture: B Sound: B+ Extras: C/C+/C+ Films: C/C+/B-

Now we commence with our coverage of the first releases we've had the chance to see in the new 4K 2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray format. Having gone from DVD to the even better, now-regular Blu-ray format, many said it could not get better than that. I was not so sure. Now, its nice to see I was correct to expect more. As fine a Blu-ray can be, I never found it up to the best 35mm or 70mm film prints all the time (though the best releases can be stunning) or even the rarer, solid HD digital projection in theaters that actually did not look phony like so many that did and still do. There were often color, detail and definition limits in 1080p that were not always overcome. Full 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray now really offers what a solid film print could deliver and with these first three titles courtesy of Fox, we can see the plus and minus sides of newer productions as well as the possibilities of the new format.

We start with two recent Ridley Scott films and one of Matthew Vaughn's more interesting films.

Scott's Exodus: Gods & Kings (2014) has the director somewhat revisiting the Biblical Epic territory he did so well with Gladiator, but this new version of the story of Moses (Christian Bale here) is more explicit about the religious side of the genre and wants to be a more serious, realistic take on the tale. Ambitious as that is, this runs 2.5 hours and manages to drag more than it should, though the same can be said for both the silent (1923) and sound (1956) versions of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Still, like most productions of this current revival cycle of Biblical releases, these inspirational films are not that inspirational.

The casting also offers Joel Egerton as Ramses, Sigourney Weaver as Tuya, Aaron Paul as Joshua, John Turturro as Seti, Tara Fitzgerald as Miriam, Ben Kingsley as Nun, Ben Mendelsohn as Viceroy Hegep, Maria Valverde as Zipporah and a solid supporting cast that makes sense for the most part, yet after so many bad TV versions of this tale and just its overfamiliarity and endless references (in and out of pop culture), the makers valiantly fight an uphill battle to make this film work that is like getting to its own promised land of a new narrative that offers something fresh ans new we have not seen on the subject. Well, they don't quite make it, but there are times and scenes that do ring true and this is one of the more ambitious religious films in the cycle. Too bad it never really triumphs in the end. This is not to say read the book, don't wait for the movie, but just make sure you are awake enough to see the movie because it is a bit of a hull.

Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) is his attempt to try out his take on the spy genre in a more explicit way than Layer Cake (with a pre-Daniel Craig) hinted the possibilities at, but instead of the James Bond model that has produced the most successful current spy franchises, the film (like the underrated Guy Ritchie revival of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015), reviewed elsewhere on this site) goes for ground in the genre not traveled as much and certainly as British as anything out there.

Colin Firth is Harry Hart (with a name as reference to Michael Caine's spy Harry Palmer, thus the reason Caine shows up in the film), who runs the super-secret title organization, recruiting potential agents for training (Palmer was a criminal pushed into the spy game starting in the classic Ipcress File (1965), which led to a trilogy of theatrical films from former Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman) just as the rise of a dangerous new arch enemy (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up with superior biotechnological know-how to dip the world into chaos.

Based on a graphic novel comic book, the filmmakers understand that the spy genre is a British genre and they do have fun with it, including referencing the classic 1960s British TV spy classic The Avengers with Patrick Macnee (et al, and its 1970s revival The New Avengers by default) to show its connection to and reasons for attempts at wit. Unfortunately, the film gets to carried away with its intertextual spy genre references to the points of distraction following Vaughn's knack for going overboard, though that does not make this as silly as the 1967 Casino Royale. This was successful enough that a sequel is under way, one which will hopefully go for more story instead of being an endless stream of references to other films and TV shows.

Of course, the genre already had been through this by the time it was being spoofed in many films of the time (models for Austin Powers), the TV hit Get Smart and in the more comical Hollywood takes on Bond in the two Flint films with James Coburn and four Matt Helm films with Dean Martin (comical adventures that played things straight). This film tries to go overboard which still staying in control and not being overboard, but it cannot quite pull this off. It is still a unique entry into the genre and has its moments, but it becomes too much at about the halfway point when we realize it cannot get on with it and just goes on and on. At least it has consistent energy, but it needed to be a bit more... kick-ass.

Scott's The Martian (2015) has Matt Damon as an astronaut stuck on Mars, but instead of your usual stuck-in-a movie we've seen far too many times, the makers play on Damon's talents for subtle comedy, the fact that we humans are closer than ever to finally making the longtime dream come true to go to the planet and what it might be like when we've barely settled the place. There are noted technical inaccuracies not unlike Peter Hyams' Outland (1981, now out on a solid Blu-ray) and the film is not a serious hard science film, but it has enough going for it that you can see why it was a critical and commercial hit.

If you don't like Damon, you'll find the film very trying, but since I do and think he can act, he does a really good job here. Still, I would have liked a slightly more serious, even meditative character study (the genre has seen this in the human alone in space before in many a film), but it is a film that just justifies its length and is one of Scott's better films of late (since American Gangster at least) and is definitely worth a look for all the things that work.

The 2160p HEVC/H.265, HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced 2.35 X 1 Ultra High Definition image on all three features do offer generally better playback than their basic Blu-ray versions, but not always as much as could have been hoped for. We also encountered some playback anomalies we expect are, like the early days of the first DVD and Blu-ray players, inherent to the new format's equipment and connections being so new, they won't be a problem later. We tested the sole player on the market with two competing brands of UHDTV and got different results in noise, banding and other minor issues. Thus, we'll stick to the software at hand, which is fine for the format and better than your usual high quality regular Blu-ray, but even with good shots in each case, these could all look a bit better.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Exodus has the most digital visual effects and most limited color range of the three releases, so the 4K version is going to see the least amount of benefits and most transitional issues. Still, the 4K edition usually has better depth, detail and resolves the Video Black range better, so it is the preferred way to see the film, even with flaws and limits inherent to the original production that can have too many digital effects for its own good.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Kingsman has the most complex use of color and visual effects throughout, so it sees the most improvements in its 4K version versus the still-decent standard Blu-ray included. Being a hyper version of the spy genre, Vaughn and Director of Photography George Richmond (whose camera operating work before moving up to DP includes Quantum Of Solace, Children Of Men and (DP support on) Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) keep the visuals going as they move around the genre in an expected kinetic graphic novel comic book approach. Thus, it is the best of the 4K releases visually, but not so much so that it gets a higher letter grade because some of the production design only looks so convincing and some of the violence and action looks as goofy as it is. Still, the picture is the most solidly stable of the three.

That leaves the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Martian being limited by the environment Damon's character is stuck in, but any digital work is better and more stable throughout, though it struck me that the lower-budgeted Duncan Jones film Moon (see elsewhere on this site, also in Blu-ray) looked at least as good and maybe even better in parts, though the actual planet Mars is a different story and world that earth's own moon. The 4K version still outdoes the regular Blu-ray simply by virtue of its superior Video Red alone throughout, not having that phony maroon look where it should be more naturalistic red, so it looks and feels more like being in and on the film's version of mars. That puts this one in the middle of the three for performance. An upgraded 4K edition was later issued, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

We did not see any of these films in 3D or Blu-ray 3D as of this posting, but it is hard to believe any 3D versions could outperform the 4K that much, if at all.

All three films were issued in Dolby Atmos 11.1 lossless mixes and presented that way in their best theatrical bookings, but the 4K Blu-rays here repeat the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mixdowns the regular Blu-rays (also included in all three cases) contained with D-BOX Motion Code for seats that move with .1 bass if you are lucky enough to have that as part of your home theater set-up. Having only the 7.1 mixes on each 4K release might disappoint home theater fans and fans of the film a bit, but these are all still fine, solid, active, modern surround mixes from directors who are sound conscious. Scott's demonstrated his love and grasp of multi-channel sound since the 70mm blow-up release of his second film, Alien (1979, see the Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site) and Vaughn's soundtracks can get as wild and noisy as his narratives, so no worries of a lack of serious performance in any case here. I'll be curious to see how Fox approaches 11.1 mixes for the 4K format down the line.

Extras in all cases include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices and Blu-ray versions of the films. This is good and is done because while the 4K Blu-rays have no extras, you can find extras for each on the regular Blu-rays, leaving room on the 4K discs for higher playback bitrates which is really preferable. Exodus adds a feature length audio commentary track with Scott and scriptwriter Jeffrey Caine, the Exodus Historical Guide and Deleted & Extended Scenes, Kingsman adds a 6-part Behind The Scenes Revealed featurette and 3-section Stills Gallery and finally, Martian adds a Production Art Gallery, Gag Reel and 8 making of featurettes.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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