Updated: Jan 11, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
College student Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) encounters a killer gator in the crawl space of the family home.
4K Ultra HD (digital), Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for bloody creature violence, and brief profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime/Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Beneath Crawl”
LOOKING FOR a good scare before Halloween?
Paramount’s “Crawl” sends in the killer gators to chase divorced dad Dave Keller (Barry Pepper) and his college-age daughter Haley (Kaya Scodelario), who are trapped inside the crawl space of their Florida coastal home during a Category Five hurricane. The action-packed thriller runs at a blistering pace – only 87 minutes including end credits, making it one of the summer’s surprise hits. It received high praise from top critics earning a 78 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The low budget production was filmed a million miles from Hollywood in a Serbian warehouse converted to a flooded cul-de-sac neighborhood for just over $13 million, and grossing nearly $90 million.
But even with all the good vibes, Paramount snubbed a physical 4K-disc release to push it exclusively onto 4K digital in the U.S. This is a profit gouging strategy. Studios make substantially more money going straight to digital compared to the manufacturing and distribution costs of packaged discs.
Paramount, the smallest of the major studios, and others have become gun shy releasing any film on 4K-disc unless it cracks a $100 million. Back in February, Paramount released a 4K-disc of the horror/war adventure “Overload,” with a box office take of just under $50 million. Since then only a handful of their titles have been elevated to 4K. The remake of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” and it's 1989 original both got a 4K upgrade and so did Elton John’s bio-pix “Rocketman,” which made over $200 million. Paramount’s most profitable title of the year, Transformer spinoff “Bumblebee,” earned $467 million and also made it onto a 4K disc, plus Michael Bay's modern military retelling of "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (2016).
(1) Haley's a member of the University of Florida swim team. (2) During a flashback, Dave Keller gives young Haley instructions during a swim meet. (3) Haley heads toward the coastline to find her father, who's not answering his phone as a Category 5 hurricane takes aim on the Gulf coast of Florida. (4) Strong winds and rain caused an auto accident, as Haley approaches the scene.
The one future bright spot is that Paramount will release a treasure – “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a holiday classic and one of its most lucrative titles. It premiered on 4K digital last year. Forty-nine weeks later, it will become a physical 4K.
In September Hollywood’s home entertainment trade publication Media Play, listed the Top 50 selling 4K titles since the 2016 format launch. It comes as no surprise the Top 10 is dominated by comic book movies from Marvel and DC. The two bestsellers were The Avengers “Infinity War” and “Endgame”; the lone non-comic book title was “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Others included “Black Panther,” the two “Deadpool” films, “Wonder Woman,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Paramount has four films on the complete list: No. 37 – “Star Trek Beyond,” No. 38 – “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” No. 42 – “Bumblebee” and No. 45 – “Transformers: The Last Knight.”
Paramount was gung-ho for 4K in 2018, releasing a number of favorites: “Grease,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart,” “Forrest Gump,” the “Jack Ryan Collection” and “Mission: Impossible” franchise. You have to wonder if those titles underperformed leading to this year’s shutdown?
On a positive note, Paramount has been more forthcoming with 4K digital releases including “Chinatown” No. 21 from AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list, with Dolby Vision, and the same for sci-fi classic “The War of the Worlds” (1953). Joining them are recent titles “Instant Family” and “Wonder Park.”
(1 & 2) Haley prepares to enter the crawl space and finds her father badly injured by a gator attack. (3) The storm waters continue to rise. (4 & 5) At a convenience store across the street from the Keller house, a couple steals an ATM machine. As expected the gators spots them.
During the 30-minute featurette “Beneath Crawl,” (digital and Blu-ray) French horror director Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes,” “Piranha”) wanted to make sure the audience joined the Keller family in his gator infested flick. Especially since “It’s a survival story that takes place in just one day. You want to be a part of their experience,” he says.
For 15 years, producer/director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) tried to recruit Aja for one of his projects. He first noticed his work after watching Aja’s French slasher film “High Tension” (2005). “He’s the type of director who knows how to create great suspense,” Raimi says. He first tried to snag Aja to direct mystery thriller “The Messenger” (2007), but it was a no go.
When the “Crawl” script started to circulate it was an “immediate connection” for the French director. Brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen wrote the screenplay after Michael noticed alligators roaming around his Florida apartment complex. “Everyone is so causal having them living among us,” he says. The brothers knew they wanted to write a “slam-dunk no-brainer.” So, they paired the gators with Florida’s other nightmare – hurricanes.
The Rasmussen's script achieves the right balance of scares with a father and daughter drama. Pepper, in the father’s role, says he wore several personal items to connect with his character, who’s still reeling from his broken marriage. They include a necklace his wife gave him, and a bracelet from his daughter. He also wore his own boots, so “I wouldn’t have to search for the character, [and] could be Dave,” he says.
Most of the action happens under the house in a crawl space where the gators have gathered to get away from the rising water. Four water tanks were built to hold 5 million liters, using wall panels to hold the water, plus it was filtered to keep it clear and heated. Every morning the water temperature started around 100 degrees, but by day’s end, the cast and crew were shivering even while wearing wet suits.
Since VFX gators would be added during post-production the actors relied on artist visuals and model doubles on the set. “I had to go back to being a child and fully use my imagination,” says British actress Kaya Scodelario (“The Maze Runner”). Aja used a microphone to direct Scodelairo and Pepper’s actions to the gator’s locations.
Another featurette highlights the monster’s bodies, colors, eyelids, teeth and movements. There are 1.5 million alligators alone in South Florida; they can reach a running speed of 25 mph. They also have 80 razor-sharp teeth and 2,125 pounds per square inch of biting power. Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn, and there have been 27 fatal attacks on humans in Florida in recent years. A gruesome five-minute animatronic alternate opening sequence is available, where a family attempts to escape their flooding home.
(1) Haley and her father aren't sure they will survive. (2 & 3) Haley tries to escape through a storm drain where gators continue to search for their next victim. (4) Haley gets back inside the flooded house.
Unfortunately, the 4K digital presentation was disappointing showing no real visible difference compared to the 1080p disc. The HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning is slightly darker, but the color palette is nearly identical. Mastered and rendered in 2K, Aja and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (“Shazam!,” “The Nun”) used the ALEXA Mini 3.4K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) for the extremely difficult shoot in darkened tanks with waist-high water.
If Paramount had provided an Ultra 4K disc results would’ve been different – especially since the video bit rate per second is much higher guaranteeing a more refined image. The overall sharpness on the 4K digital and Blu-ray is still very good, and shouldn’t disappoint anyone with a 60-inch or smaller screen. The overall color palette leans toward earth shades; facial toning is natural without any excess red or orange cast.
Hands down the Blu-ray provides the better audio option with an eight-channel uncompressed DTS-HD soundtrack, distributing plenty of sound effects around the room. The overall volume is below standard in the digital version. It is not properly balanced for home listening. I had to dial my volume up by 10 decibels to get it to the normal range. The soundtrack is also compressed using an outdated Dolby Digital 5.1 in six-channels. On bigger systems, you’ll notice a less defined dialogue track, while the effects are less noticeable.
Who’s to blame? We’re not sure, but picture and sound should have been much better in an Ultra 4K presentation. Adding a Dolby Atmos soundtrack would’ve been nice, too. Paramount, it might be time to re-think the new policies and give home viewers more 4K classics and new releases on physical discs and digital.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1 & 2) Dave and Haley make it outside with their family dog Sugar and hope for a rescue.