Quentin Tarantino’s 6th film, the WWII revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds takes a baseball bat to the old 1080p Blu-ray with a brand new 4K release from Universal Studios. This bloody hilariously violent film gave fans one of the funniest Brad Pitt performances and made Christoph Waltz an Oscar-winning household name. 12 years after its theatrical release, Universal Studios locks and loads with an impressive upscaled 4K HDR10+ transfer, the same excellent 5.1 surround mix, and the same set of bonus features. This disc is in the business of asking you if you want to upgrade for picture quality only, and cousin, business is a booming! Highly Recommended.
The Nazis have occupied all of France putting the country in a death grip of oppression. “The Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) scours the countryside searching for Jews in hiding. While in hiding in Paris, one of Landa’s missed targets Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) runs a cinema that is set to premiere the latest German propaganda war film about a young soldier for Hitler himself. And then, arriving in France ahead of the invasion to liberate Europe of the Nazi scourge are the Basterds. Led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a band of Jewish soldiers terrorizes Nazi divisions brutally maiming, killing, and scalping their targets. Now the Basterds have a chance to take out the big man himself and that’s an opportunity too juicy to pass up.
We previously reviewed Inglourious Basterds in the way, way back of 2009. If you want to read that review, you can do so here.
To be honest and straight at the outset, I actually really didn’t like Inglourious Basterds the first time I saw it. I just didn’t know what to expect I guess. I loved the opening introduction scene of Hans Landa interrogating a simple local farmer over the location of some missing Jews and the setup for Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna. Then I loved the introduction of Aldo Raine and The Basterds. But as the film progressed, I just wasn’t feeling how these very different story elements intertwined.
On one side of the coin, you’re getting this pitch-perfect potboiler thriller, and then on the other, you’re getting this goofy bloody splatter 70s exploitation-style action movie. I just didn’t gel with it. But, as I do with so many movies I don’t often like the first time out, I gave it another shot. And another. And then another. Slowly I was turning into a fan and appreciating the tonal whiplash with each viewing.
While I don’t think it’s Tarantino’s best film - that’s still a tight tie between Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction - I don’t think it’s one of his worst either. Part of what’s helped me change my mood on this film are his later efforts Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Those are far better movies in my book because he laid the groundwork for the kind of films they were with Inglourious Basterds.
This skewed exploitation presentation of historical events works now because he’s refined his hand at it. Admittedly I still think Basterds is a bumpy flick, but I keep finding more things to love about it beyond appreciating how damn good Christoph Waltz was in this film. I love it when Brad Pitt can dive into a character like this and hell, I found myself thinking Eli Roth was a decent actor! The potboiler thriller elements with conversations that ebb and flow and then peak suddenly are some of Tarantino's best dialog writing. For a director who loves to hear his characters talk, he gave his cast a lot of material to chew on!
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Inglourious Basterds takes its first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray scalp with a 2-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. The included 1080p Blu-ray is the exact same disc from 2009. The included digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible. The discs are housed in a standard sturdy black two-disc case with an identical slipcover. The 4K disc loads to Universal’s typical static image with an animated bonus features menu bar along the right side of the screen.
[Quick little Update Note 10/6/21] - After spending more time with this for a third viewing in as many days, I noticed some slightly pixelated edges in a few scenes I hadn't noticed before - some small background objects in the Tavern scene, small background objects when Landa is interrogating von Hammersmark about her shoe, and a couple of other scenes. Not huge issues and not immediately apparent or distracting enough to pull me out of the moment. They were really only noticeable in medium/wide shots and then for fleeting moments. Because of this, I am kicking back my scoring a half star. I still feel like this disc offers some refined details and the HDR grading does a great job with improved image depth and some welcome color enhancements.
Back in 2009, Inglourious Basterds was a demo disc of the era. Gorgeous picture and amazing audio. Without a new 4K DI, I was skeptical of how much better this image transfer could possibly be. Color me impressed because this is gorgeous. Even sourced from a 2K DI and upscaled, the image gains refined fine details, a healthier grain structure, and thanks to HDR10+ (and base HDR10), the image has additional depth with a more robust color palette.
First up - fine details and film grain. As I said, the 2009 Blu-ray was a great disc and a tough act to follow, but this upscaled 2160p 2.40:1 transfer manages to offer some notable upgrades. The most telling improvements come in the form of middle shots and closeups. There’s a lot of tight framing on faces and you can appreciate all of the details around the eyes, mouths, hairlines, and one particular neck scar. Even Mike Myers and Rod Taylor's makeup work gains a boost. You can even spot cleaner details in the costuming and set design work. Again, I haven’t heard anything to suggest this film was given a new digital intermediate, but I’m really excited by these enhancements.
The benefits of this release keep rolling with HDR10+ and HDR10. My primary setup is Dolby Vision/HDR10 compatible so my first round watching this disc I didn’t get the full HDR10+ experience. But even with base HDR10, the color timing, black levels, and contrast are gorgeous. That opening shot of Denis Ménochet’s LaPadite chopping at that stump with the golden dusky yellow setting sun is stunning. Colors are more lively and lifelike with healthier skin tones. Reds, yellows, and blues all pop beautifully. The climax is really something! Those yellow/amber tones of the French cafe, the bold letters of the theater marquee - everything really pops nicely. I did go back and roll it on my Samsung QLED, and it was damned impressive again with HDR10+ - but because of the size of the set at 32 inches, I don't consider it a reference unit to judge by.
Black levels and bright whites get some HDR love as well. Part of what I loved so much about the opening was just how beautifully shot it was; those balances between light and dark with the golden yellows and browns of autumn. How Landa’s paperwork sits in this bright beam of light on the table but Landa and LaPadite rest in the shadows. And that carries through the rest of the film Blacks get nice and deep inky and shadows offer finer gradience all the way in-between with nice bright crisp natural whites. These may be incremental improvements, but they’re notable.
While some folks may lament the absence of an object-based audio mix for this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Inglourious Basterds, it’s important to remember this DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix was a beast in its day and remains so. Dialog, sound effects, scoring, music cues - this is a pitch-perfect soundscape as is. If you flip on DTS Neural:X the elements get some additional spacing for some stronger impact where it counts most. A genuine Atmos or DTS:X track would have been something, but I can’t claim to be disappointed when this track still has so much to offer.
Again continuing the recycling train, this disc comes with the exact same bonus features as before. The benefit for this set is that all of these extras made it to the 4K disc, so you actually really have no use at all for the included 1080p Blu-ray.
Films are an experience. And because you might not experience a film the same way twice, I try to do my best to give the less-than-favorites I encounter another shot. Some rise in my esteem, others fall farther. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is one of those films that got better with each viewing. Not enough to call it my favorite of his catalog, but enough to say I really enjoy it now and look forward to revisiting it.
Now that Universal Studios is giving Inglourious Basterds a promotion to 4K, it’s a good reason to revisit it! Now, the only thing this set has to offer is a greatly enhanced viewing experience. The 1080p Blu-ray was reference quality in its day, but I found this new 2160p HDR10 and HDR10+ presentation to be simply beautiful - and well worth the upgrade for. However, I can see folks hoping for a more aggressive object-based audio mix and/or a new selection of bonus features being a bit deflated with this release. To that point, I’ll simply argue that the price point to upgrade for image quality only isn’t too severe. And if you've never owned this film, well that just makes the decision a little easier. I’m safely calling this one Highly Recommended.
[Note] After adjusting the image score, it lowered the overall review average down to a solid respectable 4/5 rating. The film is still great, I still think the image is an improvement, and the audio mix is still impressive, so I'm keeping the overall Highly Recommended rating in place.