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.
In spite of a somewhat lengthy, and admittedly detailed, opening narration delivering pertinent expositional details, 'Hitman: Agent 47' is nonetheless a confusing, muddled action thriller that feigns and strains at appearing more complex than it actually is. And frankly, in a shoot-em-up movie whose target audience is those intentionally not wanting to think, but simply marvel at creative ways to see things explode with ear-piercing intensity, the plot's more elaborate and intriguing aspects ultimately become a footnote that will barely be worth remembering or discussing. Worst still is spending the next 90 or so minutes being repeatedly reminded of the existence of genetically-engineered super-soldiers known only by the number in which they were created by some nefarious organization uncreatively known as ICA (International Contracts Agency). In fact, it's rather insulting the filmmakers don't trust their audience to be smart enough to understand this when it was summarized at the start. The story is apparently so difficult to follow a small verbal prompt is prerequisite.
Based on the popular Hitman video game series, part of the movie's confusion comes from how exactly this relates to the first 'Hitman,' in which Timothy Olyphant starred as the shave-headed titular character with a barcode number tattooed on the back of his head and referred to as Agent 47. In that mostly-forgotten 2007 flick, the supposedly unemotional and merciless contract killer grew a heart to become Olga Kurylenko's protector and personal hero. Eight years later, Rupert Friend replaces Olyphant, coming across as an even colder, steely-eyed automaton that viewers are meant to believe is capable of emotions but lacks the visual cues necessary for understanding that. Evidently, Friend's Agent 47 already possesses a sense of humanity — though practically impossible to detect — in a screenplay by Skip Woods ('Sabotage,' 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' 'A Good Day to Die Hard'), who also wrote the first movie. So, the question becomes if this is a sequel or a reboot since there are times this story takes places without any knowledge of previous events.
Even if viewers choose to ignore that point — because after all, we're here just for the gunfights, the ass-kicking, and the check-your-brains-at-the-door explosions — it can't be denied Woods put more effort into this than is necessary. By that, I'm referring to the layers of mystery, intrigue, ridiculously dumb twists and turns that can be guessed within seconds of meeting certain characters. A good action flick works extraordinarily well with a simple, straightforward plot — look at 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'John Wick' or 'Edge of Tomorrow.' By contrast, Woods's cold-blooded killer with presumably a heart is once again tasked with being savior to Katia (Hannah Ware), a young woman searching for a mysterious man from her memories, who also possesses some untapped special skills. Zachary Quinto also shows up as the enigmatic John Smith, as if that's not enough of a clue to something more sinister, and used only to problematize the story with more secrets. The filmmakers withhold information for creating the appearance of shocking reveals, but honestly, it's very easy to see where all this is going and eventually, how it will end up.
Making his feature-length and American directorial debut, Aleksander Bach brings a good deal of energy and bravura to a rather mediocre story, largely thanks to some exceptional camerawork by Óttar Guðnason, who is himself making a big jump to a big-budget production such as this. Based on the visuals alone, 'Hitman: Agent 47' could potentially satisfy action junkies and fans of the video game series, but more discriminating cinephiles will chalk this sequel or reboot or whatever up as another example of why many contemporary action movies suck. The movie sadly falls victim to the rapid-fire editing style that muddles supposedly intense moments into often incomprehensible messes, either by cutting too quickly on the action and the point of impact or using close-ups on explosions when a wider shot would be more enjoyable. Even when some scenes show a little more restraint, entire sequences are confusing to follow because the photography is suddenly too flashy or the camera never stops moving long enough for audiences to gain a better sense of space. It's ultimately unclear what the point of this movie is when the filmmakers clearly don't know either.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'Hitman: Agent 47' 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. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
For this review, I'm watching 'Hitman: Agent 47' on a Sony Bravia XBR75X940C connected to the new Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. When calibrated, I was instantly impressed by the results, achieving 98% of the DCI-P3, and the picture quality is astounding when the Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) feature is activated. Worth noting is the fact that this particular display automatically switches to a setting called "HDR Video" when such content is detected. Expectedly, I favored this setting over the others when watching the movie, switching between the various modes and color gamuts for the sake of comparison. However, it's worth noting the video looks much better in the Rec.709 color gamut whereas BT.2020 seems too dark while harshly exaggerating reds to the point of being distracting and unnatural. Nevertheless, I believe the setting will greatly improve when calibrated and tweaked once I have the CalMAN C6-HDR colorimeter in hand.
But back to the point, using the "HDR Video" setting in the Rec.709 color space, the reboot of the popular videogame hits Ultra HD Blu-ray in a blaze of gunfire that explodes on the screen thanks an outstanding HEVC MPEG-H encode in HDR10. However, one area of concern was how well the source would translate to the higher resolution since it was not originally shot in native 4K. The filmmakers used the Arri Alexa XT Plus, which according to manufactures shoots natively at 3.2K at Rec.709 and later mastered in a 2K DI. It's unknown if Fox went back to the original elements for this new release or simply upconverted the DI since the color grade appears to be the same as the Blu-ray. The latter is probably more likely, and it shows here because there is a good amount of blooming with a few highlights worse than others. Thankfully, it's not to the point of causing any posterization, but it can be somewhat distracting at times. Sadly, I did spot a couple spots of very mild, practically negligible aliasing on the sharp edges of buildings. Aside from that, the picture quality is in excellent condition and I didn't detect any instances of banding.
In spite of these very minor and likely imperceptible issues unless pointed out, the presentation offers several amazing demo-worthy sequences. The video transfer is noticeably bright, vibrant and very energetic, particularly during many daylight sequences. Whites really pop off the screen with brilliant luminosity, giving phones, television screens and fluffy clouds an enthusiastic glow that's true to life. 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. We can plainly see subtle differences between Agent 47's collar and the pocket of his suit, but the best moments owners will likely use for demonstrating the format's potential will be the nighttime exterior shots of the city skyline where viewers can differentiate and make out individual buildings. The color palette definitely benefits the most from the jump to UHD, showcasing intensely animated reds and true to life blues, as seen in the skies. I highly recommend checking out the street shootout sequence between 1:10:00 – 1:11:40 where the taxis stuck in traffic best exemplify the format's ability to really bring out colors like never before.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the overall picture quality is quite impressive and far more detailed than its HD counterpart. Fine lines are razor-sharp from beginning to end, exposing the tiniest object in the distance or the minute blemishes on the walls and buildings of various German locations. Even during fast-paced action sequences, whether cars suddenly erupt in explosions or the rapid-fire editing turns gunfights into an incomprehensible mess, things remain distinct and resolute. Viewers can clearly make out each piece of debris flying through the air. Facial complexions are incredibly revealing with lifelike textures, often astoundingly so, divulging the most minuscule of hairs along cheek bones, small hints of five-o'clock shadow on male actors, and the faintest freckles. Daylight sequences, of course, are the most dramatic with pointed, determined outlines of the bricks of buildings, the insignificant fuzz in the fabric of Agent 47's suit, and even the gravel pebbles of the streets are visible, making this one of the finest 4k presentations yet.
In the audio department, the espionage thriller takes its aim with a thoroughly enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that immediately erupts on the screen with various computerized, digital noises floating all around while a voiceover quickly narrates important expositional details. Action sequences burst forth with enthusiasm, as debris flies overhead and to the sides, creating several amusingly satisfying moments of immersion and placing the listener right in the middle of the explosive mayhem. Unfortunately, quieter scenes are not quite as effective, as suddenly all the attention is redirected to the center of the screen, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Only, the sudden lack of activity in the rears is very apparent, practically calling attention to itself because the shortage of even the subtlest atmospherics is gone and makes the on-screen world seem lifeless. Nevertheless, action scenes burst with intense energy and excellent directionality.
The front soundstage is definitely the movie's most impressive aspect, delivering an incredibly expansive and broad soundscape with noteworthy channel balance. Whether it's cars or bullets, the action moves and pans from one side of the room to the other with fluid precision and fidelity, creating a terrifically engaging wall of sound that's littered with a variety of convincing off-screen activity. Even during the loudest segments, the lossless mix remains distinct and very dynamic with room-penetrating clarity, exhibiting outstanding detailing between the mids and highs without the slightest hint of distortion. Amid the pandemonium, dialogue and character interaction does not falter, as every soft-spoken line uttered by Agent 47 is at all times audible and intelligible. The low-end comes with a powerful and often authoritative presence, often delivering a palpable oomph to specific moments that resonate throughout the room (bass chart), making this a fantastic listen.
In spite of a detailed opening narration delivering pertinent expositional details, 'Hitman: Agent 47' is nonetheless a confusing, muddled action thriller that feigns and strains at appearing more complex than it actually is. Making his feature-length and American directorial debut, Aleksander Bach brings a good deal of energy and bravura to a rather mediocre story, but no matter the flash and style, the movie is ultimately boring and forgettable.
On the plus side, the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc arrives with a strong, near-reference 4K video presentation with the noticeable pop we'd expect from the new format, making it one of the best UHD releases available. Added to that, the movie also comes with a highly-enjoyable audio quality, along with a decent collection of supplements, making the overall package worth checking out for fans and early adopters enthusiastic about the new format.