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.
Have you ever wanted to see a movie that received a terrible rap from critics, put off seeing it due to the reviews, only to eventually see it and find that it was nowhere near as bad as the reviews stated? Having seen it twice now, I can tell you that 'Pan' is worlds better than Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. Surprisingly, it also gets better with a second viewing – especially with this fantastic high-def Blu-ray presentation.
If you've read my semi-controversial review of 'Hook,' then you already know that I'm a grand fan of Peter Pan tales (with the exception of the 2003 rendition of 'Peter Pan'). There's a greatness to J.M. Barrie's timeless tale. As a child, it filled my mind with a wonder so powerful that it never left. When I first saw 'Pan' in theaters, because of that nostalgic love and my deep admiration for director Joe Wright, I came in with huge expectations. I left the theater pleased, but not wholly satisfied. Watching it a second time on Blu-ray, and knowing what I was getting into, I not only enjoyed it quite a bit more, but found the complete satisfaction that I expected and missed the first time.
Through creative writing, 'Pan' gives solid answers to the questions that Peter Pan fans have had in the back of their minds. Where did Peter come from? How did he get to Neverland? Why is it that he can fly while none of the other Lost Boys can? For the most part, this is the core of 'Pan.' We get all of those answers and more through this fun, family-friendly origins story.
'Pan' kicks off with a quick teasing introduction that shows Peter's mother (Amanda Seyfried) mysteriously abandoning her baby at a London orphanage and telling the infant that they'll reunite before long. Cut to 12 years later. World War II is raging through Europe. Peter (Levi Miller) remains in the cruel orphanage that's ran by corrupt and spiteful nuns that rival those in the original 'Problem Child.' Every so often, Peter and the other children awaken to find that some of their fellow orphan friends have been adopted in the night. Suspecting the evil nuns of being up to something, the two hide away late one night to see what really happens to the kids. Just as they suspected, the nuns are in on a crooked deal that allows the pirates of Neverland to purchase the children for slave labor. And this is where the fun begins.
There are a lot of thing in 'Pan' that don't work too well. We'll get to that in a minute. But director Joe Wright is no chump. If you've seen any of his previous films – especially 'Atonement,' 'Hanna' and 'Anna Karenina' – then you know that he's extremely creative when it comes to concepting and visual design. It's during Peter's pirate kidnapping that Wright's trademark style first kicks in. Like a spectacular staged play or a Cirque du Soleil performance, pirates drop from wonderfully lit pillars of light through the ceiling with bungee-like ropes and snatch the children up in single quick fluid movements. After boarding the pirate's flying ship, they begin their departure for the Second Star to the Right, but catch the attention of the British Air Force. Mistaken for an secretive German war plane, the pirates engage in a high-speed dogfight over London. The result is an exhilarating action scene that's only made better with a 3D presentation.
After arriving in the slave mines of Neverland, we meet the film's villain, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). The merciless bad guy is much more evil than Captain Hook has even been portrayed. His slaves serve one purpose: to mine for the crystalized remnants of pixie dust. When Blackbeard first learned the value of pixie dust, all Neverland pixies vanished. Knowing that he would kill them all, they went into hiding. The only people aware of their whereabouts are a band of savages that live deep within the jungle and roguely combat again Blackbeard and his pirate army.
Believing that newcomer Peter might be the prophesied messiah of Neverland, fellow slave miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) partners with Peter for a daring escape that will connect them with the so-called savages led by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara).
There are many elements in 'Pan' that work extremely well. But on the flipside, there are also a couple that don't work at all. Fortunately, those that do work – the fun screenplay, the chemistry between the leading actors, Joe Wright's wonderful direction and brilliant design (including two pieces of amazingly animated backstory storytelling) – work exceptionally well and are strong enough to overshadow those that don't work. My theory on the film's failures stem from the fact that this is Wright's first studio picture. I believe that he had a much grander, ambitious and artistic vision in mind, but that the studio jumped in and meddled with his creativity. The two elements that don't work so well are: music and CG effects. Much like Steven Spielberg's 'Hook,' 'Pan' benefits from wonderfully large and gorgeous set pieces. Unfortunately, there's also an overabundance of CG effects that ultimately end up clashing with the practical ones. Perhaps this was always Wright's intention, but the CG animation definitely isn't the greatest when paired with the practical.
When it comes to the musical issues, it's not the scoring that I'm referring to. John Powell's score is great and only made greater through the Blu-ray's stunning Dolby Atmos mix. The music that I'm referring to is of the unfitting and inconsistent variety. I'm fine when filmmakers decide to throw seemingly unfitting music into their films – like what Quentin Tarantino did by adding rap into the soundtrack for 'Django Unchained.' I'm all for it. Surprise me. Make something work that otherwise wouldn't work – but what's done with music here is not only unfitting and unexplainable, but it's also entirely inconsistent.
Once in Neverland, Peter and the other miners stop working so that Blackbeard can introduce himself to the newcomers. The thousands of slave miners and pirates begin chanting the lyrics to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." When I first saw 'Pan,' I was initally caught off-guard, but thought to myself, If they're going to make this a quasi-musical picture that's creatively in the vein of 'A Knight's Tale,' then I'm on-board. Like I said, I'm always up for a good director proving me wrong. And if any director was going to do that, it would be Joe Wright. But he didn't. Instead, it's only done on two occasions, then left by the wayside. Shortly after the Nirvana song, The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" is performed in the same chant-fashion by the miners - and then it ends. We don't get another musical variation ever again. It's as if they filmed the entire movie with contemporary musical selections, only to have the studio give the concept the axe in post-production and realize that they couldn't cut around those two tracks. It's not like there weren't other chances to add more music either. Two other scenes with the savages offer up similar settings and potential moments for pop music renditions, but the music is completely average, unforgettable and inconsistent with the first two uses.
Is 'Pan' as unforgettable and timeless as Disney's animated 'Peter Pan' or Spielberg's 'Hook?' No – but it's definitely not bad. Don't let the negative critical response fool you. Aside from my overly-critical critic friends, everyone else that I know who saw 'Pan' enjoyed it as thoroughly as I now do.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Pan' 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 child's fantasy flick discovers it can fly on Ultra HD Blu-ray thanks to some happy thoughts and a fairy-dust covered HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, boasting several demo-worthy moments along with a few slightly less satisfying scenes.
The presentation shows lots of razor sharp details throughout. The threading and stitching of the tattered, scraggy clothing worn by Peter and Hook are incredibly distinct, revealing visible wear and tear along with a variety of smudges, dirt and very faint brown stains. By comparison, Blackbeard's flashy attire is immaculately clean and spotless, exposing every intricate line and ornament, while every fiber, strand and string in the outfits of the island natives is discrete and striking, particularly in close ups. The grain, scratch and grooves of the wood in the pirate ships are plainly visible even during poorly-lit sequences, and viewers can make out the veins and streaks of the giant leaves surrounding the native's home. Facial complexions are equally astounding, showing every pore and wrinkle with lifelike textures.
Watching in the "HDR Video" setting, colors are extraordinarily luxurious and practically scream from the screen, lavishing nearly every scene with an energetic pop. Worth noting, however, is that the elements used don’t appear to have been color graded for BT.2020 because the presentation really looks best in the Rec.709 color space. Also, while primaries are, for the most part, vibrant and glowing, reds sadly come off oversaturated and a little too loud, sometimes making the orange-yellowish explosions of cannons or of fire seem like digital, cartoonish blobs of red. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Where the benefits of the wider color gamut really shine and demonstrate the possibilities of the new format are in the scenes with the island natives and their village, displaying an eye-popping and incredibly varied array of colors. While primaries in the clothing, strings and flowers dazzle the eyes, the other hues, particularly the magentas and teals, hypnotize with a vivacity and brio rarely seen in movies. The last quarter of the movie during the big battle sequence inside the fairy world offers several amazing demo-worthy highlights.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the transfer showcases incredibly deep, full-bodied blacks throughout, which are, in fact, one of the video’s most impressive aspects. Brightness levels are extraordinarily dynamic with precise gradations in the grayscale, delivering pitch-black shadows that never obscure the finer details in the darkest portions and providing the image an appreciably film-like, three-dimensional appearance that's consistent. There are clear, subtle distinctions in the different shades of Blackbeard’s outfits, from the various belts strapped across his body to the light scratches and wrinkles in the leather, and individual stars shine brightly in the night sky with appreciable realism. However, worth noting, some poorly-lit interiors can seem a bit too dark and gloomy. On the other end of that, the picture, on the majority, is quite bright and vibrant, given whites a brilliant, energetic pop. With spot-on contrast, the glow of the sunlight bounces off objects with dramatic luminosity, whether from the edges of wooden ships, off the large leaves of the forest or from the puffy, bubbly clouds. In the end, the fantasy adventure soars to UHD Blu-ray with a great 4K picture quality that early adopters and fans will enjoy.
Peter finds his happy thoughts and takes flight at home with a terrifically enjoyable and often immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack that’ll leave viewers feeling as though they are soaring through the air with the characters. The design makes excellent use of the entire soundscape, with action sequences being the most memorable, as would be expected. Whether it’s an airship, Peter Pan, the distinct buzzing of fairies or the debris of explosions, objects move from the front of the room to the back and through the overhead channels with flawless panning. Quieter scenes, such as when Pan, Hook and Mr. Smee are walking through the forest, the random sounds of the wildlife and the rustling of leaves can be heard all around with subtle echoes in the ceiling speakers, creating a highly amusing dome effect that puts viewers right in the middle of the action. Although there are not too many moments like these, such sequences are much appreciated and wildly entertaining.
Where the lossless mix benefits most is in the front soundstage, allowing John Powell's score plenty of room to breathe. Spreading wide and evenly across all three channels with excellent warmth and clean fidelity, the music, right from the start, makes the entire film feel spacious, exhibiting outstanding clarity and sharp details between the various frequencies. Listeners can distinctly make out individual instruments and notes within the orchestra. Background activity is a near-constant, delivering a wealth of sounds and several understated noises that convincingly occupy the entire screen while also nicely extending into the height channels, adding to the immersively satisfying dome-like effect. Dialogue is clean and precise in the center, and the low-end brings a welcoming palpable oomph to the explosions and provides every action sequence with excellent depth, making this a fun and exciting soundtrack.
To reiterate Luke's original thoughts
There's a conundrum when it comes to movies that only get better with repeat viewings. After all, how are you supposed to get to those repeat viewings if you didn't love it in the first place? Between that and the unearned lambasting that 'Pan' received during its theatrical release, it's going to be difficult to get others to agree with my positive opinion of it – but this wouldn't be the first iteration of Peter Pan that caused some negative feedback to come my way in the forums. Joe Wright's 'Pan' isn't perfect, it carries a couple undeniable flaws, but the positives highly outweigh the negatives. Wright's creative style and direction excel in ways that the vast majority of family movies do not.
On the plus side, this Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with a strong 4K video presentation. Unfortunately, it also comes with a couple minor but noticeable issues worth noting. Still, the same top-notch Dolby Atmos audio presentation 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.