Review: `Logan’ Ultra HD Blu-ray Set Makes Good 4K HDR Test Material
To its credit, 20th Century Fox has been one of the most bullish contributors of content to the latest 4K Ultra HDTV medium, and the recent release of Logan on Ultra HD Blu-ray adds another tool to the stable of demonstration material to evaluate the evolving nature of Ultra HD displays.
I say this not because the Ultra HD Blu-ray version brings any revolutionary advances in the use of high dynamic range (HDR) specular highlights and expanded color gamut to tell the story – as the groundbreaking UHD Blu-ray version of Fox’s The Revenant did. It doesn’t even add a new HDR version like Dolby Vision — this is basic HDR10.
Instead, it is the removal of colors, by including black-&-white (B&W) versions of both the Ultra HD and the standard Blu-ray disc that gives us a chance to marvel (no pun intended) at the improvements that both 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR contrast provide in gray scale form.
The producers call these added B&W discs the “Noir” versions, which according to the original intention of the genre was to express a mood of pessimism and fatalism, originally in dark detective films of the Forties and classic thrillers like Citizen Kane and later Raging Bull. More recently, it’s been extended into the graphic novel space in tri-color features like Sin City.
On the surface, taking the effect into the X-Men franchise might seem a little pretentious. After all, comic books use an exaggeration of colors to paint stories about heroes with exaggerated powers. But given the finality of the tone in what is positioned as the last chapter in this particular library (or at least for this cast) of comic book characters, the film Noir adaptation works well. In fact, I found myself preferring the B&W version to the original full color one for the mood it sustains. It also helps to break the monotony of the litany of X-Men episodes that preceded this.
That said, I fully expect the X-Men saga to continue, although it might be with a new cast of young pre-fab mutants who make their debut as the last of the originals (apparently) shuffle off this mortal coil.
Read more of our review of Logan after the jump:
The story line here revolves around the next phase in the on-going fight of the mutants against the insecure leaders of humanity, unable to accept anything that might compromise their uncontested power over the world. Most of the mutants have been conquered and presumably eradicated.
We find Logan (Wolverine) at the limits of his immortality, nursing an aging and unstable Xavier, whose frequent earth-quake producing seizures require that he be controlled with continual injections of a medication that leaves him in a state of induced dementia.
Under attack, they must hide from the world in a desolate abandoned warehouse, where Logan contemplates solutions for suicide while living in a body that perpetually heals itself.
Xavier and Logan are contacted by a woman from a secret lab operating South of the Border to create a new race of test-tube mutants that would be weaponized and controlled, until, of course, they can’t be.
The mysterious woman (who gets quickly dispatched) has taken from her employer a young girl that we find out has the same mutant affliction/power and surly attitude as the Wolverine. She needs Logan’s help to take her to a remote location where all of the escaped mutant children are to meet to presumably start the cycle of mutantity all over again. You can pretty much guess how the rest of this movie plays itself out.
As it goes, the story line and characters are very much in keeping with past X-Men features, including the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of X-Men: Days of Future Past. But in this saga, there is very much a sense of the end, which the director embellishes with several interesting visual treatments. This includes both full color and B&W versions of the movie on four separate Ultra HD and Full HD Blu-ray discs.
The use of HDR makes for an entirely different effect here in the Ultra HD B&W version than in the full color adaptation, and in itself serves as a good lesson in film making. First, despite the name, there are no pure blacks or whites in B&W — only varying shades of gray. That’s perhaps appropriate in conveying the perpetual good/evil struggle the Logan character embodies, here and over the course of the X-Men franchise.
In 4K HDR, B&W is enhanced by degrees of fine detail visible in dark shadows and bright whites. However, the full brilliance of specular highlights evident in most full-color Ultra HD Blu-ray discs is gone, replaced by more muted though brighter whites in B&W without the yellow and orange accents punching them up and producing 3D qualities that stand out from surrounding background.
In fact, everything in this medium appears like a 2D still photograph. Obviously, without color there is no color volume, accept for the brightness enhancement in dark and white grays. However, every now and then flashes of brilliant white are evident from the lightning bolts produced by the finger tips of the appropriately empowered mutant in the movie.
Interior sequence of the movie are sharp and darkly toned, making the overall look resemble the B&W ink drawings of a graphic novel rather than the grainy, flickery washed-out gray of an actual Forties feature film.
Exterior sequences were also full and detailed, particularly sky shots where white clouds standout against the sky, to the point where you almost feel the blue rather than see it with your eyes.
Comparatively, the full color 4K/HDR version of the Logan Ultra HD package offered much richer and deeper colors than the standard color Blu-ray. But there wasn’t much to write home about in the specular highlight effects here. The color and brightness elements aren’t as vibrant as they are in some other recent Ultra HD discs.
But in black and white, the 4K resolution stands out in sharper, more precise fine detail, and wide contrast.
This helps to tone down the effect of the buckets of blood that are spilled throughout this feature.
In contrast to the starkness of the B&W images, the multichannel soundtrack (including Dolby Atmos 3D surround) was brilliant and immersive. This gives a sense of color to the sound that includes an excellently realistic balance between rear and front channels, with dialog that is always clear and up front.
The subwoofer presentation supplied an ample amount of shake to make us feel the effects of Xavier’s terrible seizures without causing unsecured objects in the viewing room to tumble off of shelves.
For those with the time and inclination, the Logan 4K Ultra HD package offers an exhaustive and informative collection of extras including an extensive commentary track by writer/director James Mangold. Here the filmmaker discusses some of the choices he made to enhance the storytelling process with the tools available to him.
The standard color Blu-ray disc adds a “Making Of Logan” feature filled with interviews from the cast and crew and including fascinating behind-the-scenes shots. Also offered are trailers and six alternate scenes, available with or without commentary from Mangold explaining why they weren’t selected for the final edit.
As X-Men movies go Logan is among the best since the very beginning of this prolific franchise, and the four-disc Ultra HD Blu-ray package makes for a compelling and fascinating presentation that virtually requires the purchaser to watch this movie more than once.
Purely for entertainment value, I’d be less excited about the film. The performances of Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman are as solid as ever but the story line is typical of comic book fare. Frankly, the whole X-Men thing seems to have run its course for this reviewer. (That said, I’m sure that it hasn’t).
Where this 4K/HD Blu-ray Disc package really pays dividends is as a good test disc to evaluate new Ultra HD Blu-ray players and 4K UHD TV displays. Here you’ll find some valuable visual tools to demonstrate a TV’s ability to handle gray scale and 4K resolution, as well as to get a sense of what HDR is all about without colors to help it along.
We therefore award Logan 3.5 out of 5 stars.
By Greg Tarr
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