The Ultra HD Blu-ray format is only a couple of months old, and already we have an impressive body of about 30 discs carrying 3840×2160 resolution images supported by strikingly realistic contrast, detail and color through the use of the new tool (for the home at least) of high dynamic range (HDR).

The Revenant, which was recently released in the new format from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, goes right to the top of the list. The disc was encoded using HEVC/H.265 compression in 2.39:1 aspect ratio and delivers HDR highlights and color grading in a subtle, yet compelling way, of communicating with light and shadow.

The Academy Award-winning performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, breathtaking cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki and innovative direction of Alejandro G. Iñárritu tells the griping semi-historical tale of a 19th Century wilderness scout’s harrowing struggle to overcome attacks by hostile Native American tribes, murderous French and Euro-American trappers and a mother grizzly bear protecting her cubs.

Read more of our review of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Edition of The Revenant after the jump:

The latter serves as one of the several gruesome punctuation points in the movie, as Hugh Glass, the story’s protagonist, is horribly mauled, and virtually left for dead by the party of trappers who hired him. Unable to be carried over a ridge of mountains, the near-death Glass is left in the forest with his half-Pawnee son, another boy, and the film’s chief antagonist, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is paid to tend the dying Glass and deliver a proper burial.

When the boys are out of sight, Fitzgerald wastes no time in trying to hasten Glass’ demise, but dispatches instead Glass’ son, when the boy returns unexpectedly and interrupts the uninvited mercy killing. Following the boy’s murder, Fitzgerald leaves Glass’ still breathing body uncovered in a shallow grave and runs off to gather the second boy and quickly return to their settlement relating Fitzgerald’s cover story of an attack by Arikari warriors. From this point on, Glass’ improbable saga of survival and quest for revenge ensues, with Iñárritu’s brilliant use of HDR effects on full display.

What makes The Revenant stand out from virtually all other Ultra HD Blu-ray titles released so far is director Iñárritu’s and cinematographer Lubezki’s use of specular highlights and color grading to visually paint the story in Michael Punke’s historical novel. After Glass is abandoned, the former prevalent greens of the forest become muted in dim blue overtones and the woodland transforms into the pale of winter.

Against this dim backdrop, Iñárritu uses the specular highlights of HDR in camp fires, sunbeams piercing down through the naked tree line and even stars in the sky to underscore the haunting Pawnee whispers of Glass’ previously murdered wife and recently murdered son, motivating him to endure and help deliver the vengeance belonging to God.

These points of light stand out as warm highlights adding richer shades of color to anything touched, like a paintbrush of light. This brings a deeper and more convincing sense of realism than we are normally used to seeing on standard dynamic range (SDR) video screens, and frankly, after comparing a conventional Blu-ray version against the Ultra HD Blu-ray, there was no going back.

The Blu-ray home video format some of us have held up as paramount for the past decade now looks flat and artificial in comparison. This brings a whole new level of storytelling to the living room 4K TV screen.

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Those who haven’t seen the effect of HDR (particularly from an Ultra HD Blu-ray title) are strongly encouraged to get to a consumer electronics store and see this welcome new technology for themselves.

Just as HDR helps paint the story of The Revenant with light, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 channel soundtrack tells the story in realistic sound. The dirge-like deep string musical tones in the music selected by Iñárritu haunts the film as effectively as the trickles of bright light in the forest highlights the whispers of specters urging the abandoned Glass along.

The Revenant (on sale now at Amazon for $24.95) is a pleasant surprise out of Hollywood at a time when every third release features the restart of some stale comic book franchise. Frankly, it would be entertaining in any format, but for those lucky early adopters of 4K Ultra HDTVs with HDR capability and a new Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the movie will bring hours of entertainment analyzing the cryptic messages of light and color Iñárritu and Lubezki are sending us in HDR. We highly recommend The Revenant as the new reference Ultra HD Blu-ray title in your collection.

We therefore award the Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of The Revenant 5 out of 5 hearts.5 out of 5

 

By Greg Tarr

 

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