Boasting 2160p resolution at 128Mbps with the very best lossless audio, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, UHD Blu-ray is finally here! But it’s important to keep in mind that this is still a brand new format, and for the moment, the content is fairly limited. There is also the fact that calibrating displays for enjoying the best picture quality possible is somewhat tricky since material in HDR10/WCG is not readily available. With that in mind, I did the best I could in calibrating my Sony Bravia XBR75X940C which is connected to the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Achieving 98% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, the picture quality is astounding when the Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) feature is activated. Worth noting is that this particular display automatically switches to a setting called "HDR Video" when such content is detected, but I leave the color space in “Auto” and only switch between in Rec.709 and BT.2020 to determine the transfer’s color grade.
Still, my colleagues and I have come to the general consensus that we should hold the UDH format to a higher standard and be much more conservative with our video scores. Essentially, what would normally qualify as 5-star presentation in standard Blu-ray could hypothetically be thought of as a 3-star video on UDH BD. It is still a significant improvement and will be a better viewing experience, but with this new format, we are looking for more than just sharpness and resolution. Now, we must also take into consideration how the transfer benefits from the HDR/WCG upgrade, which complicates matters since not all movies are produced in native 4K or mastered with 4K digital intermediates (DI). What this all amounts too is our attempt and promise to provide our readers with the most honest and accurate assessments as possible as we enter this new format.
Thirty years after the last installment in the 'Mad Max' franchise, and another thirty-six since the first that started it all, George Miller returns to his apocalyptic vision of the future in the high-octane bombast that is 'Fury Road.' And like the films which preceded it, this fourth entry in the series is a spectacular display of humanity barely surviving on the brink of extinction. When all four features are watched in sequence, this is merely another glimpse of a society slowly reverting back to greedy, animalistic instincts — a twisted progression of devolution. In Miller's wretchedly dystopic yet action-packed nightmare, those base natures give rise to power-hungry megalomaniacs and madness. In the opening moments, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), seen staring out into a lifeless desert abyss and munching on raw mutant lizard, announces that crazy is the new norm in a wasteland created by the careless pillaging of Earth's natural resources and atomic wars.
As if finally tired of doing family-friendly fare with tales that followed an optimistic pig and a dancing penguin, Miller opens this brilliantly spectacular motion picture with the loud sounds of engines revving. As soon as Max explains he exists somewhere between the dead and the living, the Australian-born filmmaker kicks it into high gear, tightly gripping the back of the audience's neck and doesn't let go until the last final minutes. For nearly two hours, Miller takes us on what could be the most insane road movie ever produced, once again setting the former MFP officer and widower in direct opposition to a lawless maniac. As in the previous films, our reluctant antihero has already given up hope of a new civilization, a lone scavenger driven purely by survival, and Hardy does a marvelous job stepping into the role that made Mel Gibson a worldwide star. He's now a wounded soul of very few words, on the verge of cracking, continuously haunted by visions of those he was unable save in the past.
In a script Miller co-wrote with graphic novel writer Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, the plot follows Hardy's Max through the Australian outback, grudgingly assisting the tough-as-nails Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in her best role in years) escape the tyrannical clutches of the messianic Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, best remembered as "Toecutter" from the 1979 original). Driving an armored tanker truck filled with water, gasoline and Joe's most prized possessions — five young women forced into breeding his children — the disease-ridden leader chases after them with his army of white-painted War Boys and with the aid of his equally insane brothers' war parties from Gas Town and Bullet Farm. What ensues is basically an extended scene of the road battles from 'Road Warrior' and 'Beyond Thunderdome,' and Miller saturates the screen with one breathtaking action sequence after grippingly stunning action sequence, each leaving a memorable impression.
It's visually striking choreography of live-action stunts seamlessly blended with CG wizardry, and it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference where one begins and the other ends. As though Miller were directly commenting on the current state of action movies, he demonstrates how to properly make an action film while harkening back to the days of good-ole fashioned practical special effects. Carefully working with cinematographer John Seale, Miller uses the full frame in dazzling fashion to immerse his viewers. He composes beautiful extreme wide shots to give a majestic sense of space and distance, and then spruces things up with medium shots and close-ups to heighten the suspense. Each one allows for the action to play out on the screen without the confusing rapid-fire edit cuts and lingers on the many expressive faces of the cast. With the highly-talented production designer Colin Gibson constructing the Frankenstein-like vehicles — one porcupine-like gang of marauders awesomely alluding to Peter Weir's 'The Cars that Ate Paris' — Miller succeeds on every level, delighting the senses as so few have in years.
Like the previous installments being inspired by current events, this fourth entry also boldly speaks to contemporary concerns about individuality and moral depravity, and Miller explores these ideas by alerting our eyes to a new action hero for the 21st Century, one we've been sorely missing for the last couple decades. Max may be understood as the plot's central figure, but this is actually Furiosa's show all the way, and Theron is a beautifully furious heroine that can tussle with any man. The film's title even suggests this is her journey, and Max is simply tagging along for the ride. Immortan Joe and his two brothers wield their oppressive power over the wasteland like a family dynasty with corporate reign over life-given necessities like water, implicitly referred to as "Aqua Cola." They also rule over everyone with an antiquated belief system that has young soldiers like Nux (Nicholas Hoult) welcome death with the promise of reward in the afterlife and view women as property without a say or right over their own bodies. Lead by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoë Kravitz, the five wives chant, "We are not things! We are not things!"
Sequels are traditionally seen as bigger and louder extensions of their predecessors, and 'Fury Road' is ultimately no different, taking the insanity that has been building over the course of three movies to gloriously thrilling heights. However, there is an ingenious theme brewing beneath all the bedlam, as if deliberately contradicting Jean Baudrillard's sentiment of a modernity with more information but less meaning. The film is a chaotic, anarchistic spectacle of punk-metal havoc that on the surface appears like a pandemonium of disorder, feeling like random ideas that were conjured on the spot, but it is a surprisingly articulate, straightforward tale that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat from start to finish. In spite of it being a sequel to a larger story, the production somehow feels wholly original because the visuals and stunts are dementedly elaborate, feeding to many of our childhood fantasies of playing with Hot Wheels toys. With so much in its favor, 'Mad Max: Fury Road' already steals my vote for the best action movie, if not the most satisfying film, of the year. Perhaps, even the best action movie of the decade!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Mad Max: Fury Road' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify the size of the content, or if the disc is dual-layered or tripled-layered. The new UHD disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The road to Valhalla is shiny and chrome on Ultra HD Blu-ray, but it’s also a treacherous and unforgiving journey with a few hazardous obstacles and mishaps along the way. Shot on a variety of HD cameras and upscaled from a 2K DI source, the HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10 arrives with a fairly good but not wholly satisfying presentation. Compared to other UHD releases thus far, one can almost imagine Immortan Joe yelling out, "Mediocre!" But, Max and Furiosa, nonetheless, charge towards the perilous challenge head on and come out in the end with a few cuts and bruises.
Immediately apparent is the increase in detail and improved clarity, offering several stunning and revealing moments that astonish similarly to its Blu-ray counterpart. Naturally, daylight sequences expose minute characteristics and marks in the rock formations, and individual pebbles of the dusty landscape are distinctly clear from other tiny rocks and from the thick clouds of dust while in the distance, mountain and hill tops are plainly discrete with visible jagged edges. Close-ups, of course, are the real showstoppers, as viewers can undoubtedly see the pores pouring with sweat, the well-defined wrinkles around the eyes of each actor and fine textures of the cast's faces which reveal a landscape of emotion as vast and complex as the desert terrain. The action sequences are sharp and detailed, even as debris flies all across the screen or the billows of smoke threaten to obscure the smallest bit of information. From the exterior chrome and the tools decorating the interior to individual bolts and nuts holding the Frankenstein-like monsters together, the tiniest imperfections in each vehicle are as clear as day, showing lots of wear and tear, scratches and abrasions from previous action, and small spots of discoloration and faded paint.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the overall picture is significantly brighter thanks to the boost in contrast levels, offering greater visibility of distant background information. Whites, in particular, are sparkling and gleam with incredible intensity without the slightest hint of blooming, making individual beads of sweat on the faces of actors sparkle and giving the shiny, chrome edges of vehicles a luminous shine. Compared to the Blu-ray, blacks are extraordinarily deep and opaque, oozing off the screen with incredible inky richness, which again add some pop to the presentation. In these areas, the dystopian epic clearly benefits from the jump to Ultra HD.
However, seeing as how the transfer comes from a lower resolution source, the 4K presentation also suffers from a few visible artifacts worth mentioning, most notably more than a few instances of mosquito noise that can be easily seen in the blue sky. Also, despite contrast looking pretty good, a majority of the video noticeably runs hot, so much so that large portions of the picture and several action sequences appear distractingly exaggerated. For the most part, the palette comes with some fairly vivid primaries and dazzling moments, but at the same time, those same colors come off much too intense and oversaturated. This is especially true of reds and its various shades, making explosions seem digital and cartoonish, and the scene with the massive tornado in the middle of the dust storm serves as a primary example of how bad the video can sometimes look, making the orange-yellowish explosions appear like blobs of red. Although shadows and the darkest portions of the screen show a marked improvement, many of the finer details are sadly engulfed by the levels of blackness, and we don't really see a great deal of variation between the various shades.
Warner Home Video has ported over the same Dolby Atmos soundtrack from the previous release for this Ultra HD Blu-ray version, so with that in mind, I will simply repeat what I previously wrote.
Miller and his crew rev their engines and roar onto the screen with an equally fantastic, demo-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack that'll give your system a serious workout. Right from the instant when the Warner Bros. logo is shown, the room fills with the sound of supped up motors spreading across the entire soundstage, immediately establishing a broad sense of space. When the action starts, it explodes with a huge wall of sound, showcasing excellent movement between all three front channels and the two front heights. This creates an awesome half-dome effect that feels as though the insanity was reaching over and above. Amid the mayhem, vocals remain distinct and precise so that we can hear every emotional conversation and even Tom Hardy's muddled lines. The low-end is definitely one of the design's highlights, packing serious oomph and power to every explosion, gunshot and gas-guzzling engine that growls across the screen, digging deep into the lower depths on a few occasions (bass chart).
It seems as though the rears are continuously active although, of course, during the softer, intimate conversations, they don't exactly play a significant role. Nevertheless, subtle atmospherics are still present to provide a sense of space and maintain an amusingly immersive soundfield. The best moments, without a doubt, are the astounding action sequences, utilizing every speaker in the room to stunning effect. Cars and motorcycles screech overhead, flawlessly panning from behind, above and to the front without a hitch. When cars explode, debris flies everywhere as though pieces of metal were raining down into the living room. The bodies of War Boys screaming to their deaths also move smoothly through the overhead speakers and land behind the listening area, creating an enveloping dome-like effect that really pulls viewers into the action. From start to finish, much like the film itself, the Dolby Atmos is incessant and relentless, delivering a remarkable 360° soundscape fans will absolutely love and will probably repeatedly listen to.
Thirty years after the last installment in the 'Mad Max' franchise, and another thirty-six since the first that started it all, George Miller returns to his apocalyptic vision of the future with the high-octane 'Fury Road.' Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, the film is a chaotic, anarchistic spectacle of punk-metal havoc that on the surface appears like a pandemonium of disorder, feeling like random ideas that were conjured on the spot, but it is a surprisingly articulate, straightforward tale that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat from start to finish.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray disc arrives with a strong 4K video presentation, but unfortunately, it also appears to be plagued with a couple of noticeable artifacts and doesn't quite have the pop we'd expected from the new format, bringing it down a couple notches. On the plus side, the same highly-enjoyable, reference quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack is ported over, along with the same collection of supplements, making the overall package worth checking out for fans and early adopters enthusiastic about the new format.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.