Here we are, friends. 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is finally upon us. 100Mbps. 3840 × 2160 resolution. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capability. Support for multiple High Dynamic Range standards, including HDR 10 (an open platform HDR with 10-bit video depth & a peak brightness of 1,000 nits) and Dolby Vision (12-bit video depth with a still-theoretical peak brightness of 10,000 nits). Wide Color Gamut (WCG) is also supported, should filmmakers be so inclined, boosting performance from Rec 709 color space all the way up to Rec 2020. For the purposes of our discussion here today, and as is common in the industry, the term "HDR" will serve as an umbrella term for both contrast and wider color capabilties.
Before we jump in, it's important we cover a few bases...
Reviewing a new format like Ultra HD Blu-ray obviously comes with a wee bit of trial by fire. My colleagues, you the reader, and I all need to get used to the format, our new displays, and gain access to more accurate calibration tools. And, while I personally wish we could forgo numerical star ratings -- review CONTENT is much more important -- it's the world we live in.
So please know we're going to be very conservative with our ratings, and Ultra HD Blu-ray Video Scores are on a completely separate scale from Blu-ray Video Scores.
In other words, depending on all sorts of circumstances, a film with a 4.5 or 5-star Blu-ray transfer could hypothetically see a 3.0-star Ultra HD Blu-ray... And this 3.0-star UHD BD could provide a more pleasurable viewing experience.
Why is this? Two things. With a clean slate, we can ensure only the best of the best earn a perfect 5.0 star rating, and that we're judging against like like-capabilities. Rating UHD BD vs BD isn't a fair contest.
Second, while audio options haven't changed versus Blu-ray, Ultra HD Blu-ray video is an entirely different beast, with all sorts of new variables. Not only do we have to consider everything we would when reviewing a Blu-ray, but we're doubling horizontal resolution and throwing in new HDR technologies. This complicates the process because, even in 2016, not all films are produced and finished in Native 4K, so there's going to be some upscaling of content. And when one throws HDR at a compatible display, the display enters a new mode with more brightness, more contrast, and more colors. Oh, and all of our displays are different, not everyone has an HDR capable display, and the ones that do will come with a variety of performance levels.
Despite all of this, and some inevitable growing pains, we're dedicated to bringing you the most honest and accurate coverage possible. We're stoked about this new format, and are glad you share our enthusiasm in chasing a high quality home cinema experience.
Written Matthew Hartman
Since my colleague Shannon T. Nutt already wrote a pretty fantastic review for 'The Martian 2D,' I am going to forgo my standard review approach since I agree with basically all of his points. 'The Martian' for me was damn good theater-going entertainment, plain and simple. It was a space epic that didn't take itself so seriously as to command the scrutiny of something along the lines of '2001: A Space Odyssey' nor was it frivolous throwaway popcorn fun like countless other space adventure films. 'The Martian' sat somewhere in the middle offering a fantastic blend of science fiction with real-world practical science to be believable. I saw it on an IMAX screen and it blew me away. Partly because it was director Ridley Scott's best film since 'Gladiator' (I actually really loved that movie). Since Shannon already did a great job breaking down the movie, the only thing I can offer for this look at 'The Martian 3D' is my thoughts on the film as an adaptation of the Andy Weir novel.
Adapting source material isn't an easy task. Taking a play or a novel and making it something new isn't as easy as photocopying pages and putting them on screen - although some filmmakers have tried that with some comic book adaptations. More than capturing the main events and casting the right person to play a particular character, I've long felt that adapting a book, comic book or a play is all about capturing the heart and soul of the original work and not being a complete slave to the source material. To that end, I'd say screenwriter Drew Goddard hit a home run with his adaptation work.
My wife and I have a thing where we find an entertaining book and read it together at night. It proves to be a great way to unwind after a long day, spend some time together while also staying caught up on our reading list. 'The Martian' was an absolute blast to read and damn near impossible to put down. We finished it inside of just a few nights, every page made you want to keep going and find out what happened next to Mark as he "scienced the S#!%" out of his situation. As one problem was solved another problem arose, and in fantastic form, Andy Weir would frequently have Mark Watney say exactly what we were thinking. How much could go so wrong for just one guy? The tension, the drama, and most of all the humor was what kept us up late at night turning pages one after another.
Since the book was a huge hit a movie was a no-brainer, we could tell it was going to happen, but "who would they cast and who would write and or direct it?" were big questions for us. Matt Damon is fantastic casting, he's a serious actor with a sense of humor who has a knack for playing a believable everyman, someone just like Mark Watney. When Drew Goddard left the director's chair for the apparently now abandoned 'The Sinister Six' Spider-Man tie-in film, Ridley Scott took over. At first, I was a little hesitant about this. While I will defend most of 'Prometheus,' it was still a problematic 'Alien' off-shoot movie, and the less said about 'Exodus' the better, but I had hope. Scott proved with 'The Martian' that not only can the man deliver a visually arresting film, but it can be filled with dynamic characters and still have a sense of humor. 'The Martian' as a film turned out to be a purely entertaining movie for entertainment's sake.
As an adaptation of a novel, I loved it. I loved that it hit most of the main points and problems Mark faces without becoming a redundant bore. What worked in the book probably wouldn't have translated to the screen in an effective or efficient way. After all, I don't think we needed to see the Rover flip over or Mark getting lost on his way to the Ares 4 for the film to still be a suspenseful and entertaining journey. Without saying much more for spoilers sake about the climax, I will say that the filmmakers wisely made the "big save" a lot more action packed and dramatic than the book did by letting the last problem for the crew and Mark to solve be the biggest one in the entire story. For my money 'The Martian' stands alongside movies like 'No Country For Old Men,' 'The Green Mile,' 'Ghost World,' 'L.A. Confidential,' and 'The Silence of the Lambs' as one of my favorite book-to-screen adaptations. It makes this list because it doesn't try to cram in every single little event of the book, but instead captures the heart and soul, and in the case of 'The Martian,' the adventure and humor. I've seen this movie three times now and I haven't gotten tired of it yet, and I doubt I will anytime soon.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Martian' orbits Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment as part of a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack. There are no trailers before the UHD Main Menu, and the Digital HD redemption code -- good for services like UltraViolet or iTunes -- will expire 1/12/2019. FWIW, I redeemd my code on VUDU; it is for the 1080p HDX resoultion, not UHD, which is a shame.
This set does not include the excellent 3D version of the movie.
'The Martian' colonizes Ultra HD Blu-ray with a strong and vibrant HEVC H.265 encode, with HDR 10 for those with compatible displays, and is framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
For the purposes of this review, I'm using a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player connected to a 2015 Samsung JS8500 Series LED-LCD Ultra HD TV that supports HDR 10 and is capable of recreating over 90% of the DCI P3 and over 68% of the Rec 2020 color spaces. This display is doing a pretty good job, particularly at its mid-tier price point, but I would highly recommend buying either an OLED or LCD with Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) for added HDR performance. There were numerous sets announced at CES 2016 that we hope to cover later this year. Lastly, if you own a 2015 Samsung display and are experiencing any banding issues when HDR engages, try turning on "UHD Color" for the HDMI port connected to the UHD BD Player. It's under Advanced Settings.
Back to the film itself...
Let's begin with what works. I've read comments on our forums and Facebook page that describe 'The Martian' in Ultra HD Blu-ray as akin to watching a 3D movie. Sharp, colorful, a window into another world (even for those without HDR). And for the most part, I share these sentiments.
I did numerous A-to-B comparisons -- at a pixel-peeping distance -- between this UHD BD and the standard BD, and a few things stuck out. There is some additional perceived resolution on wide / special effect shots (the Hermes orbiting Mars or Earth). Shadow detail is also noticeably better, plus there are several extraordinary night time shots (check out the one around 00:36:25). There are also visible details in spectral highlights (look for any scene with solar panels). And finally we have the wide color gamut. Wow, just wow. Reds and blues and greens leap off the screen, producing an extremely attractive image. I recently went to the Dolby Cinema prototype lab in Los Angeles to screen 'The Martian' in Dolby Vision, and this presentation very much lives up to that (though the Dolby Vision version had better black levels AND was in 3D).
However, all of these positives come at a price: noise. As Shannon mentioned in his Blu-ray review, this production combined numerous sources into a 2K DI master. According to Fox, this Ultra HD Blu-ray received a new color grading, and represents a combination of upscaled 2K material and downrezzed 5K content. I suspect upscaling is an issue with this release. Minor Blu-ray blemishes -- mostly interior shots inside the HAB or aboard the Hermes -- become gritty noise in Ultra HD Blu-ray even with display sharpness filters set to zero. Granted, it's quite possible my particular TV enhanced this sensation, but I haven't noticed a similar amount of noise on UHD HDR streaming titles, nor on the 'Kingsman' UHD Blu-ray. I also found the black levels in this presentation to be good, but not great (the color of space was brighter than the letter boxing).
I also noted in my A-to-B comparisons that the K8500 upscales 'The Martian' Blu-ray quite well. Were it not for wide color and added shadow / highlight details, I would almost prefer the Blu-ray because it's less noisy. However, the Blu-ray crushes shadow details far more often.
Overall, 'The Martian' is a strong Ultra HD presentation, and certainly competes with the Blu-ray 3D as the ultimate way to watch this movie (if Blu-ray 3D had HDR, it would be no contest). It's also a terrific title to test out a new Ultra HD display; if -- after checking all other settings -- you find banding, you likely don't have a true 10-bit panel. And, if the Mars environment (and actors' faces) skew too rosy of a red, you likely need to adjust your calibration. It certainly helped me get mine in line.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray carries over an identical 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix from the original Blu-ray releases, which is excellent. Since I was more focused on the video, and because I have an awesome 7.2.4 KEF R Series in for review, I ran this track through both the Dolby Surround upmixer as well as DTS:NeuralX with positive results. Either way, you're going to enjoy this track.
Here's what Shannon T. Nutt originally wrote on the subject:
The featured audio track here is a 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio that will really show off one's home theater and which I'm giving a reference quality ranking. Not only is there noticeable and distinct separation for 'The Martian's more quiet moments, but some wonderful surround use and LFE booms during the movie's more action-packed sequences. Those disco tunes peppered throughout the movie sound pretty great too, for the record. While dialogue is primarily front and center, it's clearly rendered and – thankfully – mixed properly with the rest of the track. There's also a noticeable sense of immersion provided throughout the film. This is some fantastic audio, and even though it's quite early in the year, I doubt we're going to get a much better sounding release in 2016 than 'The Martian'.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, the Ultra HD Blu-ray also contains a 5.1 English Descriptive track, as well Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and a French 5.1 DTS. Subtitles are offered in English SDH and Spanish.
All Bonus Materials on this release can be found on the Blu-ray Disc, which is identical to the 2D edition. Here's Shannon again on what was included:
Signal Acquired: Writing and Direction (HD, 9 ½ min.) – Director/Producer Ridley Scott is on-hand to tell viewers how Andy Weir's novel was turned into a screenplay and eventually this movie. Also offering comments are Andy Weir himself, plus Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producer Aditya Sood, Producer Simon Kinberg, Executive Producer Mark Huffam, and NASA Planetary Science Division Director James L. Green.
Occupy Mars: Casting and Costumes (HD, 14 min.) – A look at both the casting of the movie's roles as well as the costumes used in the film. Included here are comments from Matt Damon, Ridley Scott, Producer Aditya Sood, and Producer Simon Kinberg, among others.
Gag Reel (HD, 7 ½ min.) – Most blooper reels on home video releases are far too short, but this is a nice lengthy look at some of the flubs, blunders, and blown lines that happened during the shoot. As you can probably guess, many of these involve star Matt Damon.
Ares III: Refocused (HD, 17 min.) – This is a faux-documentary about the rescue of Mark Watney, featuring some of the actors from the movie in-character in 'talking head' interview segments.
Ares III: Farewell (HD, 3 ½ min.) – This short bonus feature has Matt Damon in character as Mark Watney introducing his fellow crewmembers via a webcam in a segment meant to take place prior to the events of the movie (as the crew first makes their way to Mars).
The Right Stuff (HD, 3 ½ min.) – Another bit of faux-footage, this time featuring the actors in-character taking psychological exams after being in isolation as part of their training. I thought this bit was rather entertaining...it's a shame they couldn't find a place for it in the movie itself.
Ares: Our Greatest Adventure (HD, 3 ½ min.) – America's favorite astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, appears here in another faux bit where he talks about the Ares mission to Mars.
Leave Your Mark (HD, 1 min.) – Wondering what happened to Mark after he returned to Earth? He became a TV pitchman, of course! This is an Under Armour sports clothing commercial with Matt Damon in character as Watney. No, I'm not kidding!.
Bring Him Home (HD, 1 ½ min.) – Another faux clip that shows the world united to get Watney back safely to Earth. This could also have been used as an effective promotion trailer for the movie, although I'm not sure if it was or not.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 min.) – The original theatrical trailer for 'The Martian'. The trailer does give away too many surprises about the rescue mission, so for newcomers, I suggest only looking at this after you've watched the movie.
Production Art Gallery (HD) – This section full of production artwork for the movie is divided into three sections: Earth, Hermes, and Mars. The sections can be viewed together or individually, and viewers have the option of using their remotes to navigate or just sitting back and watching a slide show presentation (which runs about 16 ½ minutes in all).
'The Martian' is a perfect choice for one of the first titles released on Ultra HD Blu-ray. It's an epic-yet-intimate story with a huge fan base, tight screenplay, and jaw-dropping visuals.
As an Ultra HD Blu-ray, the results are net-positive, but mixed. Ultra HD boasts HDR 10 with exemplary colors and shadow/highlight details, but at the cost of some noise. This title doesn't always provide a sharper image than an upscaled 1080p Blu-ray. And to be fair, 3D is an equally evocative way to experience this production.
Should you buy it?
If you're a fan of the movie and own (or are planning to buy) an HDR-capable 4K TV, or if you haven't bought any of the previous Blu-ray releases, 'The Martian' is Highly Recommended. As I write this, this edition is even cheaper than the Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack.
However, if you're a fan of the movie but adore 3D, this is effectively a double dip, so I'd say Give It A Rent (via a service like 3DBlurayRental.com) first to test it out yourself.
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.