Celebrating its 40th Anniversary, David Lynch's The Elephant Man remains an emotionally impactful tale of the human condition as it follows the unfortunate life of John Merrick, played by an exceptional John Hurt. The classic cult drama finds a home on 4K Ultra HD with a gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentation, an excellent DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo track and treasure trove of special features. Courtesy of StudioCanal UK, the SteelBook edition makes for a Highly Recommended addition to the 4K library.
The Elephant Man arguably remains David Lynch's most accessible and easy to grasp film, along with his family drama The Straight Story. However, being straightforward and furthest from his more abstract works doesn't mean Lynch is any less a visionary. Working with cinematographer Freddie Francis, the eccentrically stylized filmmaker demonstrates the same skill and mastery as his other, more challenging productions. He still manages to weave some of his usual surrealist curiosities in a plot centered around the friendship of London surgeon Frederick Treves (an excellent Anthony Hopkins) and John Merrick (a captivating John Hurt), the young man who worked the freak show circuit as "The Elephant Man." Nevertheless, like its titular character, the film is somewhat of a curiosity and novelty in Lynch's oeuvre, an emotionally-gripping tale largely driven by our sympathy for Merrick's plight, reminding us of humanity's monstrous indifference as well as its capacity for selfless compassion.
For a more in-depth take on The Elephant Man, you can read Josh Zyber's review of the French Import Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Imported from the United Kingdom, StudioCanal brings The Elephant Man to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a three-disc SteelBook edition. The triple-layered, Region Free UHD100 disc sits comfortably on the panel opposite a Region B locked, BD50 disc sitting atop another Region B locked, BD25 disc containing supplemental material. All three are housed inside an attractive SteelBook package with a black-and-white image of John Merrick on the front and the film's most infamous quote on the back. At startup, the disc commences with a choice between German, French or English before switching to a menu screen with full-motion clips, music playing in the background and the usual options along the bottom.
The emotional bio-drama finds a home on Ultra HD with a stunningly beautiful HEVC H.265 encode. Struck from a brand-new restoration and remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, which was reportedly supervised by David Lynch , the native 4K transfer shows sharp lines in the London streets, the architecture and in the Victorian furnitures. The smallest imperfection and flaw in the woodwork of the hospital or the walls of the grimy neighborhoods are observable. The threading and stitching in the costumes are distinct, and close-ups, in particular, are highly-revealing, exposing every pore, wrinkle and negligible blemish. Most impressive, we can better make out and appreciate Christopher Tucker's prosthetic make-up effects.
As to be expected, the 2160p video comes with a fair amount of soft, blurry sequences scattered throughout, but overall, the picture is consistent and often striking. For a forty-year-old production, the elements appear to be in excellent condition, and the film has never looked this good on home video. Awash in a very fine layer of natural grain, the end result is a stunningly gorgeous and film-like encode.
Although shot entirely in black-and-white, Freddie Francis's cinematography benefits tremendously in this Dolby Vision HDR presentation. The outstanding contrast and brightness balance supply the poignant drama with brighter, more radiant whites, from the clothing and the lettering in Mr. Bytes's circus banner to the walls of the hospital and the ivory in Merrick's grooming kit. Specular highlights have remarkably crisp and resplendent while maintaining tight, narrow glow around the hottest spots. Likewise, black levels are significantly richer and stygian with inky, velvety shadows that never take away from the finer details, providing the 2.35:1 image with a discernable three-dimensional feel and a lovely cinematic quality. (Dolby Vision Video Rating: 88/100)
StudioCanal brings David Lynch's classic to UHD with a relatively new DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo soundtrack. When compared to its DTS-HD 5.1 counterpart from the 2009 Blu-ray release, this version does not reveal any significantly discernable differences.
Like its predecessor, it remains true to the original Dolby Stereo design with all the attention focused on the dialogue and performances, and background activity is nicely balanced across the entire soundstage with various atmospherics smoothly moving between all three channels. The one arguably notable improvement is the superbly clean and extensive mid-range, maintaining sharp, detailed clarity throughout with precise, well-prioritized vocals. Meanwhile, the low-end has its moments though minor, providing effective impact when required and appreciable weight in the score.
The lossless mix also does well when applying the receivers' Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, effortlessly spreading many ambient effects into the top heights. This adds a strong sense of immersion to Alan Splet's sound design while also, nicely expanding John Morris's score, making the film all the more engaging and haunting.
For a more in-depth take on the audio quality, you can read our review of the standard Blu-ray HERE. (Audio Rating: 84/100)
Bonus material is spread across a pair of accompanying Blu-ray discs.
Blu-ray Disc One
Blu-ray Disc Two
David Lynch's The Elephant Man arguably stands out from the filmmaker's more surrealist, hallucinatory pieces, yet the biographical drama following the final years in the life of John Merrick oddly fits with his oeuvre. Featuring exceptional performances by John Hurt as the titular character and Anthony Hopkins as the doctor who befriended and cared for him, the film is captivating portrait of a person's plight to be seen as more than their rough exterior in light of humanity's ironic capacity for both cruelty and compassion. The classic cult drama finds a home on 4K Ultra HD with a stunningly gorgeous Dolby Vision HDR presentation, showing a dramatic improvement over its Blu-ray predecessor, and an excellent DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo soundtrack. With a wealth of bonus material to boot, this SteelBook edition from StudioCanal UK makes for a highly recommended addition to the 4K UHD library.