In The Heights is the first musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda that he wrote in college highlighting the neighborhood he grew up in of Washington Heights New York City that covers three days in the lives of several residents as they try to make a better life for themselves. Through many awards on stage, the play was converted to this feature film and it's simply amazing. The 4K transfer with Dolby Vision along with the Dolby Atmos audio track is excellent. There is one excellent bonus feature to boot. Highly Recommended!
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda became the household name with the iconic stage play Hamilton, he wrote and created a story called In The Heights while he was a sophomore in college. This one-act play was accepted into the university program, where he added his unique hip-hop and salsa stylings in a story about the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan, New York that takes place over three days. After winning the Tony awards on and off-broadway for years, Miranda took his first project to the big screen with Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) sitting in the director's chair that results in a fantastic, music-infused journey that hits all the right notes, even if it plays out a little long with its 143-minute run time.
Originally, In The Heights was in a stronghold over at Universal Pictures back in 2008 with Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing, This Is It) serving as director, but once Hamilton became the most popular thing on the planet, Ortega's vision was dismissed and Chu and Miranda set out with Hamilton alum Anthony Ramos starring in the film. What followed was an amazing and diverse cast that came aboard this musical ship that follows a predominantly Dominican neighborhood over the course of a few days as each character talks, sings, and dances about what dreams and futures they visualize.
The cast of Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Olga Merediz, Dascha Polanco, and more all live in Washington Heights and begins by telling the story of how much they love their small neighborhood and what they do for a living. Ramos plays Usnavi, who owns a bodega on a busy corner and was raised by Claudia after his parent's deaths, who is the neighborhood mom to many. Usnavi dreams of opening a store on the beach in the Dominican Republic one day and makes its meet in the meantime. He has help and friends with Benny and the women ad the beauty salon. But when his crush Vanessa comes back into town, all bets are off as the two try to figure out their next chapters in life, hopefully with one another.
Through gossip, dancing, a winning lottery ticket, tragedy, and finding a place in an expensive city, the characters of In The Heights speak to their loyalty to their neighborhood, gentrification, and what it means to stick with family through thick and thin. Romance is thick in the air with many of the characters while others are looking out for the well-being of the younger kids and all the trouble they could be getting into. It's a remarkable story told through song and dance that allows everyone to get a beautiful glimpse at the Dominican culture.
Having Chu direct the film was the right choice. His attention to a visual detail that brings this Washington Heights city to a new layer of beauty and depth is very visible here. Song numbers that evoke '50s era musicals are excellent with a couple dancing on the side of a building during a sunset or a big fun musical cue all set at a public pool stand out. The choreography is energetic and smooth all the way through and the lyrics from Miranda are most memorable and fantastic. Miranda takes a back seat as the main actor here where Ramos and other shine brightly. Their emotions during the sadder moments of the film are felt and earned where their physical dance routine sare impeccable from start to finish.
The one small flaw is that film runs well over two hours and at times, that sting of longevity and pacing rears its head. The film could've been condensed down a few minutes for a tighter movie on the big screen without losing any major plot or character arcs. Still, by the end of the film, In The Heights is simply amazing and another great addition to the musical genre.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
In The Heights dances its way to 4K Ultra HD with a 4K Disc + Blu-ray Disc + Digital Code from Warner Bros. The discs are housed in a hard, black plastic case with a cardboard sleeve that features the artwork of cast dancing on the street of Washington Heights. The artwork is a bit blurry for some reason. There is an insert for a digital copy inside.
In The Heights comes with a fantastic 2160p 4K UHD transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 that takes this visual masterpiece to another level. This movie is baked perfectly with the entire color spectrum and accentuates the bold and rich color palette in both the bright exterior sequences as well as the darker interior scenes during the blackout.
With the help of Dolby Vision, these colors are just amplified to a more nuanced balance of perfection. During the opening number, the entire cast sings about living in Washington Heights as the characters walk to work and commute around their neighborhood, which is full of bright primary colors. Blue brick walls with all colors in the Crayola box showing up on signage, street signs, graffiti, and clothing make for a flawless utopia of color. The orange, red, brown buildings in the background contrast most triumphantly with the blue skies above, the green leaves in the trees and street signs, along with the many uses of pinks, reds, blues, yellows, and every other color in the wardrobe. The Dolby Vision upgrades the many layers of colors when it comes to the faded and older buildings and props, revealing the different aged colors over the years. Inside the beauty salon, there are tons of warmer colors mixed with purple that look fantastic. And with the big pool musical number, the excellent blue water really pops off-screen that goes well with the many colors of swimwear.
When the blackout happens, most scenes are steeped in darkness and low-lit sequences. The black levels here are deep and inky and give fantastic shadows in the moonlight along with flashlights that light up the screen. Candles also give the colors a nice amber glow here. In these darker sequences, the filmic element comes through better with a different layer of grain, which looks nice. The skin tones are natural as well. The detail is sharp and vivid, revealing great closeups of facial pores, individual facial stubble hairs, strands of curly hairs in the beauty shop, makeup effects, wrinkles, and beads of sweat. The textures in the clothing show great craftsmanship at every turn as do the backdrops of the decaying buildings of the neighborhood.
During the blackout, the detail is still sharp, but it's a tiny bit softer due to the darkness, shooting on location, and the grain. However, this is more for style and tone rather than a transfer issue. This 4K Disc is a great uptick from the 1080p HD counterpart that adds more to the color palette and detail throughout. There are no major issues with banding, aliasing, or noise.
This release comes with an excellent Dolby Atmos track and just sounds energetic from start to finish. This film isn't a big action blockbuster, so there aren't a ton of explosions or debris flying through fire around all the speakers. It's not that type of sound design.
That being said, this is a fully immersive mix of music and city sounds that puts any listener into the middle of the fun. The music of the film just flows loudly through all the speakers with fantastic directionality of the singing voices. Sound effects of vehicles driving by, people sweeping the street, footsteps, fire hydrants raining water down, and doors opening at storefronts all sound off nicely from the entire speaker system. The music really compliments all of the sound effects in each scene. There's a great low end of bass with each musical number that brings out those lower notes with a good rumble.
The dialogue is very clean and clear, and truly easy to understand with its fast=paced lyrics and dialogue. It's sweet music to the ears. The height speakers come through when people are singing and dancing on staircases and buildings from above, along with water droplets from the fire hydrants. These elements are not constant but come through when they need to be. There were no audio problems to speak of.
There are about 58 minutes of bonus material here. The only real one is a big making-of featurette that covers most elements of the production. Other than that, it’s just sing-alongs. There could have been more here.
In The Heights is a wonderful, energetic, and important musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda that is brought to life on the big screen by Jon M. Chu in a fantastic way. The movie pays homage to that golden age of musicals that came before while setting a new standard of storytelling, emotion, and music here. Even though the run-time can seem long, by the end of the movie, there's a big smile on everyone's face. The 4K image with Dolby Vision looks excellent and the Dolby Atmos track is amazing. THere's only one real extra on the disc, which is excellent, but there could have been more in this area. Highly Recommended!