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.
It was bound to happen. After decades of male domination in the action movie realm – from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise – it was only a matter of time before a woman entered the fray and tried to create a character with as much style and staying power as James Bond and Jason Bourne. Well, who better to take a stab at crashing the boys club than Angelina Jolie? She's had some training, having walked a few miles in Indiana Jones' shoes as that sexy, intrepid tomb raider, Lara Croft, and kicked the skinny butts of both current squeeze Brad Pitt in 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' and James McAvoy in 'Wanted.' And let's face it, it doesn't hurt that she's arguably the most beautiful woman on the planet. So why not make the leap and measure her moxie against the big boys' egos and biceps? Flex those lips, Angelina, and show those macho men who's the boss!
Jolie walks the walk pretty damn well in Phillip Noyce's by-the-numbers 'Salt,' but has trouble talking the talk, thanks to a thankless screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (who asserted himself much better with the sleek, elegant 'Thomas Crown Affair' remake) that relies too heavily on action movie clichés and predictable plot twists. Though few actresses look as comfortable brandishing a weapon or engaging in hand-to-hand combat than Jolie, whose steely-eyed glare and feline agility make her a natural for this rough-and-tumble genre, her physical prowess can only take her so far. She may kick, punch, and fire away at the bad guys with ease, but can't overcome the clunky story and superhuman stunts that relentlessly sabotage her at every turn. If she (or the producers) hoped to spawn a franchise, I don't think they'll get their wish, because 'Salt' just doesn't possess the cachet that has distinguished other breakout formulas.
Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a CIA operative who's fingered by a defector as a double agent intent on assassinating the Russian president, an act that would severely jeopardize U.S. security. Salt vehemently denies the charge, yet realizes her husband (August Diehl) could be a government target. In typical Hollywood fashion, she escapes the CIA's tight net and army of pursuers – led by Agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) – and tries desperately to find and shelter him. Such a path, however, plunges her deeper into a web of violence, espionage, and double crosses that makes us question her patriotism and motives. The requisite array of twists and turns, flashbacks and ambiguity, along with a series of over-the-top action sequences, keep the plot's engine churning, but it's all still rather dull. No matter how hard the filmmakers strive to ramp up tension and action, 'Salt' remains largely a one-note affair, lacking the emotional highs and lows necessary to fully engage the audience and suspend our disbelief.
Noyce, who was forging quite a promising career with such relevant and weighty films as 'The Quiet American' and 'Rabbit-Proof Fence,' takes a step backward with his first "big studio" picture in many years. Though his style remains classy and he makes the most of what he's given, the material just isn’t up to snuff. Noyce fashions some indelible images, but they're only memorable as snapshots, not key elements belonging to a greater whole. And while it's intriguing to see Jolie don a series of different guises to elude detection (the most outlandish – and creepy – of which is a male military officer), it's hard not to view her various looks as one big gimmick.
And then there are all those stunts. You gotta hand it to Jolie for having the guts to perform as many death-defying acts as she could, but the lion's share are so unrealistic they inspire not admiration but rather jaded head-shaking and cynical chuckles. Salt isn't supposed to be Spider-Woman (though her husband is an arachnologist and she carries one of his deadly specimens around with her, so who knows?!), but she certainly acts like her most of the time, leaping from a series of highway overpasses onto a succession of tractor-trailers, swooping multiple times across an elevator shaft, and emerging unscathed from a barrage of brutal collisions and confrontations. Unless she possesses the same instantaneous healing powers as Wolverine, it's impossible to explain her resiliency.
Jolie gives the role her all, yet despite her considerable talent and physical attributes, the character isn't interesting enough to sufficiently carry the film, let alone inspire a series of sequels. The first-rate supporting cast doesn't fare any better. Schreiber looks bored most of the time, and who can blame him? Add to that the fact that this Blu-ray includes two alternate versions of the film (an unrated director's cut and unrated extended cut) and it's pretty obvious no one involved with the production really had much of a clue as to how this assemblage of action scenes should turn out.
'Salt' is an enjoyable enough ride for fans of the genre, but it could use some pepper to spice itself up. Its preposterous plot ultimately turns silly, and the indestructible title character becomes more robotic as the film progresses. Though Jolie tries her best to break into the action movie boys club, I don't think she'll be getting a bid to that exclusive fraternity anytime soon.
The super-secret spy turned homemaker and back again evades capture repeatedly on Ultra HD Blu-ray with an excellent HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, boasting several demo-worthy moments along with a couple slightly less satisfying sequences. Shot on traditional 35mm film on a variety of cameras and later mastered in a 4K digital intermediate, from which we can safely assume this transfer is likely derived although with a new color grading. Compared to other UHD releases thus far, this one should serve as a great example of what can be accomplished with a higher resolution source and the possibilities of this new format on older non-digital productions.
Watching in the "HDR Video" setting and in the BT.2020 color space, the picture quality comes with a noticeable uptick in definition and clarity from its Blu-ray counterpart. It’s not always a night and day difference, with several scenes looking softer than others, but on the majority, viewers will be quick to note sharper lines and edges around cars, buildings and various office furniture. Even fast-paced actions sequences where fights and clashes can sometimes look like a blur, things remain sharp and detailed. The stitching on Salt’s many different outfits are distinct while the folds and creases of her black trench coat are unmistakable, and the fabric of the suits worn by the male cast is always apparent and salient. Facial complexions appear natural and stunningly lifelike, exposing individual pores, the tiniest wrinkles and negligible blemishes in both close-ups and medium shots. Poorly-lit interiors are equally revealing, showing every object, figurine and lettering inside a character’s home and every button, knob and switch inside the dark, cold offices are plainly visible from a distance.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the transfer showcases incredibly deep, full-bodied blacks throughout. Various gradational details are appreciable and plainly visible, allowing viewers to clearly make out the minor differences between every character's suits and see the faintest wrinkle in Salt's black coat. Even during poorly-lit interiors and the darkest portions of the frame, namely in the interrogation scene and when the President hides in the underground bunker, the smallest object, button and imperfection on the wall is easy to perceive and distinguish. Although much of the photography appears somewhat restrained, contrast is nonetheless spot-on and pitch-perfect with brilliant, glowing whites along the border of buildings and in the clouds. The sunlight in daylight sequences shimmers and gleams off the metallic, chrome edges of cars with impressive realism. Shot in a teal-orange palette, the picture doesn't show the sort of vivid array of colors we'd expect from the format, but primaries are nonetheless animated and often sumptuous, providing the cast with a nice, healthy glow. In the end, the espionage thriller arrives on UHD Blu-ray with a great 4K picture quality that offers a step up over its Blu-ray counterpart.
For this UHD Blu-ray release, Evelyn Salt comes out of hiding with an awesomely thrilling Dolby Atmos soundtrack that'll plunge viewers right into the middle of the action.
The jump up from its DTS-HD MA predecessor is fairly evident early on as the movie opens with our heroine being interrogated and tortured in some grimy, damp basement. The room fills with the sounds of water dripping, pipes clanking and the voices of actors reverberating off wet concrete walls. One of the best moments where the sound design really shines in the last third of the movie when Salt meets with the Russians at a shipyard. As characters walk inside the barge, voices echo, random noises ring and the creaks of metal expanding and contracting fill the room with incredible realism all around and above, creating an immensely satisfying dome effect. However, overheads appear more reserved for intense action sequences, such as when Salt is continuously making an escape and the crushing of metal, along with glass debris, the sounds are discretely heard flying everywhere. The sides and rears do the majority of the work with various ambient effects throughout the movie, generating a very pleasing and occasionally immersive soundfield.
Much of the activity and design is maintained in the fronts, taking full advantage of the added height channels. James Newton Howard's score most notably benefits from the extra space, spreading into the front overheads with excellent separation between the instrumentation, creating a half-dome effect that's highly engaging. Imaging feels incredibly expansive and spacious with superb channel balance and movement across the screen. As mayhem erupts during another of Salt's deceptive capers, the action sprawls like a wall of sound with the clatter and commotion of cars crashing into each other, bullets whizzing back and forth, and alarms singing panic exhibiting distinct, detailed clarity in the mid-range. Dialogue and whispered conversations are well-prioritized and always intelligible amid the dismay and noisy hysteria. The low-end is equally satisfying and wonderfully responsive, delivering some palpable weight to explosions and gunshots with notable authority.
'Salt' is surprisingly bland, despite some exciting action scenes and the sexy panache of Angelina Jolie. Its predictable, preposterous story defies logic, as does the heroine's superhuman ability to withstand a barrage of blows and perform an array of fantastical stunts.
The espionage thriller arrives on Ultra HD Blu-ray with a strong 4K video presentation that offers a notable step up over its Blu-ray counterpart. Also, the audio presentation has been equipped with an excellent, sometimes demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, 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.