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 by Steven Cohen
"Manners maketh man."
A lever is pulled and a wall suddenly opens to reveal a secret room filled with weapons and high-tech gadgets. There's a lighter that doubles as a grenade, a pen that can administer a deadly poison, and an armored umbrella that shoots bullets. It's a scenario pulled straight from any number of classic spy flicks and TV shows. It's the stuff that secret agents are made of. Fully embracing all of these playful old-school elements, Matthew Vaughn's 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' acts as a 21st Century love letter to the fantastical world of cinematic espionage. Packed with action, humor, and a fun satirical edge, the film becomes a gleefully postmodern take on the spy genre, twisting narrative conventions into something wholly unique yet still endearingly familiar… and always impeccably dressed.
Based on the comic series, 'The Secret Service,' by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the film follows a young British thug, "Eggsy" (Taron Egerton), who is recruited to become a secret agent for the covert and mannerly Kingsman organization. As Eggsy goes through the dangerous training process, his mentor, Harry (Colin Firth), attempts to thwart a global conspiracy involving a maniacal tech genius named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). But when Valentine's plans for destruction get out of hand, the rookie spy is forced to suit up for battle, leaving the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
Paying loving homage to retro Bond flicks and classic espionage shows like 'The Avengers,' 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,' and 'Danger Man,' the film adheres to the more outlandish and silly side of spy moviemaking -- complete with electrocuting watches, over-the-top villains, and underground bases. But more than just a tongue-and-cheek retread of the past, Vaughn offers a contemporary and faintly meta-spin on the genre. Cheekily self-aware without ever crossing the line into parody or spoof, the script reimagines traditional 60s spy conventions, playing off audience expectations while, as the director points out in the included special features, turning the dial firmly to eleven.
Speaking of turning the dial up to eleven, the movie is home to some seriously insane action sequences that are among last year's most kinetic and brutal set pieces. Yet as bloody as the over-the-top violence can be, the film's impeccable fight choreography helps to bring an oddly elegant sensibility to all of the carnage. Vaughn mixes up carefully assembled fast-cuts and slow motion shots to accentuate the characters' skilled combat and cool weapons, offering a deliberate and carefully honed aesthetic that mirrors the protagonists' own deadly yet still gallant personalities.
One rather incredible fight scene set in a church is especially noteworthy. Impressively edited to look like a single unbroken take, the sequence follows Harry as he unleashes the full extent of his lethal abilities, enhancing his escalating rage by never cutting away, letting the free-flowing massacre build and build uninterrupted. Of course, this kind of excessive violence certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea -- but while the sometimes graphically cartoonish content can get a bit out of hand, the director tempers the potentially disturbing bloodshed with a remarkably assured tone that maintains a wonderfully sharp satirical edge (especially during the "explosive" climax).
Thankfully, the movie is much more than just flashy style and action, as the cast and filmmakers manage to create a plot and group of characters that are actually worth caring about. Through Eggsy's "hooligan" to "gentleman" arc, we're given a secret-agent twist on the typical 'My Fair Lady' storyline, allowing audiences to experience the thrilling highs and treacherous dangers that come with learning how to be a spy. These training sequences make up the brunt of the film's second act, and newcomer Taron Egerton does a great job of selling his character's transformation, making it easy to invest in his story. Likewise, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, and Samuel L. Jackson, all offer strong supporting turns as well, with the latter two bringing some fun physicality and welcome eccentricity to their roles.
But as great as all of the performers are, special note really has to go to Colin Firth. Honestly, there's really no other way to put this… Firth absolutely kicks ass in this flick. As the suave Harry Hart, the veteran British performer becomes the ultimate refined, courteous, and utterly badass big screen spy, legitimately giving every past and present James Bond a run for their money. After watching the film, there's really no one else I could see in the part, and the movie simply would not work as well as it does without his effortless charm and unexpected air of danger.
Fully bringing 60s era spy action into the 21st Century, 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' celebrates and subverts the conventions of the espionage genre, resulting in a funny, exhilarating, and genuinely clever new take on secret agents. Playfully immature yet still strangely sophisticated, the film's satirical sense of humor perfectly complements its outrageously gleeful violence, and the likeable characters always keep things grounded with a surprisingly strong emotional center. Sure, limbs are severed left and right, and a few dirty jokes are thrown in here and there, but despite all the juvenile remarks and graphic bloodshed, the filmmakers never once forget their manners -- making this one of the most polite movies to ever feature a man getting his body split in half.
The Ultra HD Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Kingsman: The Secret Service' recruits Ultra HD Blu-ray viewers 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 6/19/2018.
'Kingsman: The Secret Service' battles its way onto Ultra HD Blu-ray with an excellent HEVC H.265 encode that bests its Blu-ray counterpart on all technical levels. Featuring HDR for those with compatible displays, it is framed in a 2.39:1 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.
But how's da movie look, bruv?
I placed the original Blu-ray on my Top Ten Demo Discs of 2015 because it offered a wonderfully sharp picture (and great sound), but this Ultra HD Blu-ray is even better.
I honestly didn't expect much improvement in perceived resolution, given that this movie was photographed and finished in 2K, and then upscaled for this release. But it's truly there. Check out the longer shots of Eggsy's apartment complex for a direct A-to-B comparison. On the Blu-ray, sharpness trickles off; on the UHD, sharpness travels all the way to the back of the frame. CGI material looks terrific too. Even the opening titles are more resolute.
Next lets chat about the wider color space. This highly stylized universe is perfect for showing off HDR. All sorts of purples and teals and yellows -- particularly during the villain's lair climax -- draw eyes to the world's production design. Bright skies are also a highlight, with lifelike gradients between the Sun and darker areas. Nighttime exteriors also pop with deep black levels, shadow detail, and more engaging color choices.
In terms of flaws, there is some softness, mostly in a few establishing shots (one of London near the opening) and occasional closeups. And some viewers may nitpick about focus around the frame's edges, but this is likely due to the anamorphic lenses used during principal photography.
While not quite the top tier of Ultra HD content (tips my hat at 'Life of Pi' and, hopefully, 'Mad Max Fury Road'), 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' none the less delivers a highly resolved 4K presentation with improved resolution, vibrant colors, and wonderfully clean gradients between brighter and darker objects. It bests the Blu-ray in every way.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray carries over the same 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix from the original Blu-ray release. For my viewing, I ran the mix through the Dolby Surround upmixer on a Denon AVR-X6200W in a 7.2.4 configuration made up of KEF R Series speakers and subwoofers. The results are terrific, particularly during action sequences and or anything music heavy.
And while I might personally rate this track a little higher than Steven, I agree with his comments:
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Fun and bombastic during action scenes, the track does a great job of livening up the fight sequences.
Dialogue is clean and mostly well prioritized, but there are a few moments where speech is mixed just a tad too low for my tastes, getting some lines lost under louder sounds (the skydiving scene, for instance). Action set pieces feature aggressive design work with solid surround use and strong low frequencies. Whizzing gunshots, falling bullet shells, explosives, and roaring engines are all spread nicely around the room with an appropriate kick. Likewise, there are key bits of directionality, like when a character exits to one side of the room, smoothly transitioning his footsteps from the left to the right soundstage. With that said, the track's sense of general ambiance is fairly minimal and outside of action scenes, the film lacks a bit of atmosphere. Thankfully, the thumping music helps to add more personality to the audio, and the score and songs come through with strong fidelity, separation, and range.
Though it's not as textured or layered as some other contemporary efforts, the sound design perks up nicely when it needs to, offering immersive thrills during all of the shootouts.
All Bonus Materials on this release can be found on the Blu-ray Disc. Here's Steven again on what was included:
Fox has provided a solid assortment of supplements including a great behind-the-scenes documentary and some image galleries. With that said, the director makes repeated mention of lots of material that had to be cut from the final film, and sadly none of these deleted scenes are included.
Kingsman: The Secret Service Revealed (HD, 92 min). Viewable in 6 parts or all together, this is a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the film's production with cast & crew interviews and on-set footage. The participants discuss the origins of the premise, changes from the comic book, finding the right tone, casting (spoiler alert: everyone loves Colin Firth), directing style, props, weapons, costumes, stunt training, and how they accomplished the impressive church fight scene. Filled with great production insights, this is a fantastic inclusion that fans will definitely want to check out.
Galleries (HD). Three galleries labeled "Behind the Scenes," "Sets," and "Props" are included, offering a large assortment of production images.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 min). The trailer is included with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.
'Kingsman: The Secret' is another great choice to be one of the first Ultra HD Blu-rays. This post-modern deconstruction of the spy franchise is brutal, bloody, and a blast from start to finish.
As an Ultra HD Blu-ray, I would argue this HDR 10 4K presentation bests its Blu-ray counterpart in every way. Resolution is sharper. Colors more vivid. Gradients smooth.
Should you buy it?
The only reason not to buy this title is if you bought the previous Blu-ray and have no plans whatsoever of upgrading to a 4K HDR display. If you've gone, or are going, 4K with HDR 10, 'Kingsman' comes Highly Recommended.
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.