Updated: Apr 6
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
A zoom-in view shows how the 4K version is missing the finest detail compared to the Blu-ray, after digital noise reduction was applied.
"3:10 TO YUMA"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy, 2007, R for violence and some profanity
Best extra: Commentary with director James Mangold ("Walking the Line")
SOMETHING is wrong with the new 4K Ultra HD version of "3:10 to Yuma."
We're not sure how it happened, but the 4K levels on James Mangold's 2007 western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale show heavy levels of Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), removing the majority of the natural film grain texture and finest detail from each individual frame. Weirdly, it sharpness resembles an upconverted DVD. The softness is so bad the Blu-ray looks sharper than the 4K.
That's a shame because the film with Crowe as sweet-talking outlaw Ben Wade and Bale as Civil War veteran and rancher Dan Evans is a winner, an inventive re-imagining of the 1957 version based on the short story by Elmore Leonard ("Get Shorty" & "Justified").
This form of digital scrubbing isn't new. Only a decade ago during the early days of Blu-rays, DNR raised its ugly head on several discs including "The Longest Day" and "Patton," both from 20th Century Fox. "Patton" was remastered a few years later, restoring the natural film grain and fine detail from the original 70mm camera negative. Darryl F. Zanuck's D-Day blockbuster still hasn't been fixed.
The majority of the 140-plus 4K discs released so far have shown first-rate results especially with the High Dynamic Range (HDR) application in which 4K provides added contrast levels from the shadows to highlights, and the expansive Wide Color Gamut (WCG – over one-billion colors are produced compared to 17-million colors on HDTV). The added bump in resolution provides extra clarity. It's a perfect excuse to upsize to a bigger screen and move your favorite chair closer to the action.
"3:10 to Yuma" was sourced from what looks like an old 2K digital intermediate, produced from the original 35mm film source (2.35:1 aspect ratio) captured in the Super 35 format, which creates a slightly larger film grain. Some of the biggest films since the 1980s were shot in Super 35 including "Top Gun," "Titanic," "Air Force One," "Perfect Storm," "Silverado," and "Terminator 2." The larger film grain is more likely what tripped up the 4K technician. They may have felt the grain from the old master was too large on their editing monitor. Clearly, however, it's a mistake. We informed Lionsgate of our concerns, but they have not yet responded.
On the Blu-ray, included in the 4K set, film grain appears balanced, revealing the smallest complexion fluctuations – whiskers, moles and freckles. Images are super sharp, even if the Blu-ray isn't perfect. Visuals suffer from contrast overload and excessive orange tone. Edge enhancement causes a slight halo effect around actors and objects, a common effect found on early Blu-rays. But here's the kicker, the halo effect is actually worse on the 4K.
There are a few bright spots with the 4K disc. Improved color balance removes much of the orange cast. There are brighter highlights and deeper black levels without loss of detail. A more immersive DTS:X soundtrack rocks the room when the 3:10 train rolls in.
DNR is a no-show in "The Expendables" and "The Expendables 2," both 4K releases this week from Lionsgate. Both were Super 35 sourced from 2K masters. Sony's 4K versions of "Salt" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" are both reference level and sourced from Super 35 film.
Side note, Universal's "The Bourne Identity," released six-months ago on 4K, showed the same flaws. It's just as soft as "3:10," and from an older 2K master and Super 35 film stock. Could the same post-production house have handled both "3:10" and "Bourne" for 4K? Who knows?
Lionsgate continues to be the only studio that carries over the bonus features found on the original Blu-ray onto the 4K. You shouldn't miss Mangold's commentary covering his inspiration to update Elmore Leonard's work: "It's the power of the story that drove me to make it and it's still relevant today." A down-on-his-luck rancher agrees to escort the notorious outlaw to catch the 3:10 to Yuma for a much-needed reward. Mangold's re-boot adds 30-minutes to the original starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford, without getting stale. He wanted to expand Evan's back-story, showing a veteran's reluctance to return to violence. Older westerns started off really fast, so Mangold's "3:10" bypasses the traditional opening credit sequence to plunge us right into the action as Evans' barn is burned to the ground because he missed a payment. Mangold describes Wade as a "bored king, who's still lethal and ruthless, with a pack of Rottweilers." But success has made the outlaw "ambivalent."
The disc also includes seven featurettes with interviews and behind-scenes footage showing the production setting up camp in the mountains of New Mexico. They built the town of Contention from the ground up, and refurbished an abandoned town. Other extras highlight weapons, the outlaw gang, the Transcontinental Railroad, and composer Marco Beltrami. There is a timeline of the American West and deleted scenes.
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer