UHD Blu-ray is finally here! Boasting 2160p resolution at 128Mbps with the very best lossless audio, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the new format's most promising feature — what actually makes it a significant step up over standard Blu-ray — is content in high-dynamic range with a 10-bit video depth (HDR10) and a wide color gamut up to BT.2020 (WCG). And there's also the promise of Dolby Vision in the near future, which is set to push picture quality to 12-bit video depth and theoretically in 10,000 nits peak brightness.
It's worth noting this is a brand new format, and for the moment, the content is fairly limited. Then, 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 must admit I did the best I could on my display, which is the Sony Bravia XBR75X940C, to calibrate using Spears & Munsil and SpectraCal CalMAN C3, which I plan to upgrade to the C6-HDR very soon, in a DCI-P3 color space. Thus, in reviewing the current slate of content — titles offered a couple weeks in advance via Best Buy — our readers will please forgive these initial impressions and expect some trial and error as we continue to fine-tune our picture quality assessments and methodology.
In spite of that, 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.
Surprisingly more engaging and stimulating than the recent slew of YA adaptations flooding theaters of late — with a couple exceptions, of course, such as 'The Giver' and 'Ender's Game' — 'The Maze Runner' is essentially a re-imagining of William Golding's Nobel Prize-winning classic Lord of the Flies. Although not on the same level of intellectual subtext or embracing allegorical themes about human nature with any genuine seriousness, which could be argued as a drawback and possibly to its detriment, the film nonetheless touches on concerns of civil order, power struggles between adolescents and the tension of groupthink mentality, however mildly. Granted, the script by television producer Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin, based on James Dashner's novel, ultimately shrinks away from such topics, backsliding to the central mystery about the giant concrete walls surrounding the boys.
Thankfully, this is not an altogether bad thing, however, because the movie's strongest success comes from trying to solve that conundrum, of seeking answers to the riddle of why the boys are there while also solving the maze without dying. This is even at the cost of risking the almost idyll-like community the group has diligently worked at establishing for the last three years. Of course, the boys never felt any reason for jeopardizing their pastoral commonwealth dubbed the "Glade," other than sending the occasional "Runner" for mapping the intimidating labyrinth. That is not until the newest member Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) comes along, disrupting an ill-conceived harmony with his curiosity, skepticism and an unexplained determination to challenge and explore the maze for himself. True to Golding's influence, even if only a coincidental correlation, Thomas is the benevolent and selfless Ralph, down to his willingness and perceived lack of fear investigating the Maze and the horrible creatures residing within.
Those beasts, called Grievers, are mechanical, bug-like, bloodthirsty monsters which apparently keep guard at night, making the solution and possible exit all the more challenging because according several others, no one survives the night if trapped inside. Regardless, Thomas refuses to accept his situation as his final fate, taking a gamble in order to rescue two boys and manages to kill one of the Grievers, learning more in a couple days than any other in years. This raises tensions among the group, particularly with Gally (Will Poulter of 'We're the Millers' and 'Son of Rambow' fame) who seems to have been itching to take charge after designated leader Alby (Aml Ameen) falls ill. His opposition, however, is the smaller but seemingly wiser Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), the true second-in-command who clearly wants to maintain peace yet finds Thomas's probing determination infectious enough to bend the rules.
Like lab rats under constant observation, which is not too far off from the truth without also being a spoiler, how the boys tackle and cope with their predicament is ultimately the real test — the predictable core of the plot one can easily guess from the previews. And to spice things up, both as a convenient device as well as a method for adding mystery, the story throws in Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the only female while also the last member of the Glades who curiously knows Thomas. Though her inclusion seems meant to only hurry up the pace, 'The Maze Runner' offers just enough thrills and excitement with a central mystery that's genuinely engaging. Despite the somewhat frustratingly cliffhanger twist that seeds more questions, ensuring audiences will return for the second installment, director Wes Ball makes a strong full-length feature debut by keeping the tension between the boys fundamental and the CG visuals a supplemental aspect to an already agreeable story.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'The Maze Runner' 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 if the correct size of the content, or if the disc is dual-layered or tripled-layered. The new UHD disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
The dystopian actioner makes another mad dash through the Ultra HD Blu-ray maze with a top-notch, reference quality HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10. Shot entirely on digital cameras and coming from a 4K digital intermediate with new color grading, the YA adapted actioner makes a great transition to the new format, nicely displaying the possibilities of what can be done when the elements are remastered to take advantage of the technology.
Watching in the "HDR Video" setting and in the BT.2020 color space, the presentation boasts several stunning moments, showcasing a wide array of rich, vibrant colors. Greens and blues, in particular, are pulsating and energetic, animating the screen with life and some fairly beautiful photography. The reddish orange shine from fire and lamps illuminate nighttime sequences with an interesting glow that admittedly sometimes feels exaggerated without being completely unpleasant or objectionable. Although faces can seem a tad digital at times, flesh tones overall appear healthy and accurate to the warm, tropic-like climate, giving the actors a natural rosy appeal. True to the cinematography of Enrique Chediak, the presentation comes with a deliberately drab and limited look to better match the survival adventure subject matter, but then again, the movie was filmed in the ever popular teal-orange palette, which already doesn’t make for the prettiest of pictures.
Nevertheless, contrast is spot-on and well-balanced with brilliantly dazzling whites that make computer screens and lab coats pop off the screen, while fluffy clouds glow against the bright blue skies. Honestly, there weren't too many opportunities for whites to truly impress, but that's more due to the intentional photography than a fault in the format. In fact, one of the best moments where contrast was quite vivid was during the second half when Thomas and Minho investigate one of the Griever's lairs. The sun bounces off the concrete walls and the edges of the enormous, rust-covered blades with serious, true-to-life intensity, brightening the entire frame. On the other end of that scale, brightness levels are very dynamic with excellent gradations in the grayscale, delivering pitch-black shadows that never obscure the finer details in the darkest portions. Whether inside the gloomy maze, the poorly-lit huts or during dark nighttime sequences, the subtlest differences between background and foreground objects are plainly visible while also being able to distinguish black straps and belts from one another.
Presented in a 2.40 aspect ratio, the transfer shows clean distinct lines in the rugged clothing of the characters, the wooden huts, the surrounding foliage and along the grey stone walls of the maze. Rust marks on the concrete structure are plainly visible while pores and negligible blemishes in the cast are exposed. Facial complexions appear natural and stunningly lifelike, exposing individual pores, the tiniest wrinkles and negligible blemishes in both close-ups and medium shots. Viewers can plainly make out the tiniest scratches in the wooden spears, the bamboo sticks and the smallest tears in the outfits. Tiny pits, chips and imprints along the concrete walls are as clear as day, and the rust, age and rickety gears on the metallic legs of the Grievers can be seen even within the darkest shadows. Overall, the movie makes an excellent debut on UHD Blu-ray.
The sci-fi thriller makes a run for UHD Blu-ray with the same superb and awesomely effective DTS-HD MA soundtrack as its Blu-ray counterpart, so I'll simply reiterate those same thoughts as before.
Rear activity is simply phenomenal, delivering a wealth of atmospherics that discrete and consistent right from the start. The wind blows through the trees in the distance, the faint subtle sounds of movement in the maze disturb the obvious silence of the Glade, and the voices of the boys when gathering in a crowd surround the listener. When exploring the maze, the wind is noticeably and creepily hollow, echoes bounce of the large concrete slabs, and the walls adjust with frightening aggressiveness and presence. Most exciting is hearing the clicking or the metallic stomping of the Grievers convincingly panning all around, creating a terrifically immersive 360° soundfield.
In the front soundstage, the lossless mix generates a wall of sound from the moment we see Thomas riding the elevator to the top. The loud, rackety sounds of grinding metal, cans bumping into each other and air swooshing downward are plainly heard with credible realism off-screen. Throughout the rest of the runtime, imaging remains broad and spacious with outstanding balance and fluid movement between the channels. Dynamic range exhibits clean separation between the mids and highs, allowing the unique stomp of the Grievers on concrete an impressive sense of presence. Although it doesn't actively dig deep, the low-end is equally noteworthy for providing the action, especially when related to the maze, with striking weight and impact. With excellent dialogue reproduction in the center, the movie arrives with reference audio.
Essentially a reimagining of William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies, 'The Maze Runner' is surprisingly more engaging and stimulating than the recent slew of YA adaptations flooding theaters of late, focusing one central mystery and the tensions between adolescent boys.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with an excellent, demo-worthy 4K video presentation, nicely displaying the possibilities of what can be done when the elements are remastered to take advantage of the technology. Also, the same reference quality 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.