If you’re a fan of Westerns, “News of the World” should be at the top of your list


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

(1) Tom Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a newsreader who travels from town to town giving the news “for anyone with 10 cents and the time to hear it.” (2) Along the way, he encounters an untamed, 10-year-old girl Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel) raised by the Kiowa tribe after her German parents’ farm was ambushed.



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“NEWS OF THE WORLD”

4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2020; PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: Paul Greengrass Makes “News of the World” featurette







THREE MONTHS before the first case of COVID-19 hit the U.S., writer/director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks were in the high desert of New Mexico re-creating the mood and texture of Texas during post-Civil War Reconstruction with the absorbing Western “News of the World.”

Greengrass is a lifelong fan of Westerns and wanted to work with Hanks again. “He can take a scene, and suddenly you’re in it,” he says. It’s their first collaboration since 2013’s “Captain Phillips,” the docudrama in which Hanks played Capt. Richard Phillips, whose container ship was overtaken by Somali pirates. It received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

On Monday, “News of the World” was also recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Oscar nods for cinematography, sound, production design, and original score.


(1-4) The opening scene was captured with the excellent 4.5K ARRIRAW digital cameras, inside a dark barn with just a dozen or so lanterns as a crowd gathers to listen to Capt. Kidd.





VIDEO

The 4K Ultra HD disc serves up a beautifully crafted film with exquisite 4K visuals and enveloping Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Greengrass and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian,” “Crimson Tide”) captured the dusty landscape near Santa Fe on 4.5K ARRIRAW digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), which extract exceptional contrast latitude from highlights to shadows with minimal light.

The film begins in 1870, as folks struggle to survive in the aftermath of the Civil War. The high-resolution camera captures a dark barn lit with just a dozen or so lanterns as a crowd gathers to listen to Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (played wonderfully by Hanks). A veteran of three wars, he’s “a man tested beyond endurance,” says Greengrass.


In a gentle voice, Kidd reads the news from a handful of regional newspapers. He calls himself a newsreader and travels from town to town giving the news “for anyone with 10 cents and the time to hear it.” The outdoor scenes are just as dramatic, with striking vistas from morning’s earliest light to the warm glow of sunset and into the night with just a glimmer of a small campfire.

The 4K (disc and digital) is sourced from a true 4K master – the clarity and sharpness are top-notch, from facial close-ups and costumes to distant forests and mountains. The upgrade over the Blu-ray is quite noticeable. The disc has been coded with standard HDR10 and the more controlled metadata HDR10+, but, unfortunately, it's viewable only on Panasonic and Samsung 4K TVs. Multi-handheld cameras are used throughout, but without Greengrass’ shacky imagery and rapid-fire editing, a trademark of his three Jason Bourne films and “United 93.” To prepare for “News,” he and Wolski watched several John Ford films and the 1964 Italian film “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.”


(1-3) At daybreak, Kidd leaves the North Texas town and heads south toward the Red River, and encounters Johanna alone and scared. She only speaks Kiowa, which he doesn't understand. (4&5) The two camp for the night and he reads her federal Indian Agency papers, which ordered her 400 miles to the south, to an aunt and uncle in Castroville, Texas.








“I wanted to make film about a storyteller who finds good news in dark times.” - Paul Greengrass, writer/director



AUDIO

The eight-channel soundtrack is a treat, echoing throughout the mountains, valleys, and your home theater. Gun blasts reverberate from corner to corner, while the lovely, mostly quiet score by nine-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (“Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Defiance,” “The Fugitive”) builds from a small ensemble to a full orchestra as the story unfolds. The music was recorded during the pandemic, which presented a challenge with social distancing. The bigger numbers were recorded twice to create the sound of a 90 piece orchestra.

EXTRAS

“The story rests on two characters and two performances. They are the heart of the film,” Greengrass says in one of the four featurettes. As he heads south from Wichita Falls, Texas, Kidd encounters an untamed, 10-year-old girl wearing buckskins. Raised by the Kiowa tribe after her German parents’ farm was ambushed, Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel) doesn’t speak English. They embark on a dangerous, 400-mile journey to her aunt and uncle’s settlement in Castroville, Texas.

Based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, “News of the World” takes its time to unfold as the two lost souls face a number of obstacles, including a gang of desperados who want to purchase Johanna. It ends in a classic gun battle on a rocky hillside – similar to Anthony Mann’s finale in “Winchester ‘73” (1950) with James Stewart.

The similarities to Ford’s 1956 masterpiece “The Searchers” are also undeniable. It starred John Wayne in one of his best performances as Texas Confederate veteran Ethan Edwards, who undertakes a decade-long search for his 9-year-old niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), who was kidnapped by Comanches after her family was murdered and their homestead burned to the ground.

Before heading to New Mexico, Hanks stacked two apple boxes in his living room to practice as if he was riding a horse. Once on the set, he rode his horse two hours a day for three weeks before the riding scenes were filmed. “I had sort of ridden tourist horseback rides, but I had never actually been in a saddle and became one with the animal,” he says. He also learned how to maneuver a wagon, which eventually crashes over a hill during a chase.

You’ll also learn how many snake wranglers were needed to make sure Hanks, Zengel and the crew didn’t accidentally step on rattlesnakes.


(1&2) Kidd and Johanna arrive at the Red River and he hopes former soldier Simon Boudlin (Ray McKinnon) and his wife Doris (Mare Winningham) and can take her in for three months until the Indian Agent arrives back from the Indian reservation. (3) Johanna tries to run away and Kidd decides to take her south and they end up in Dallas at Mrs. Gannett’s (Elizabeth Marvel) boarding house.








Another featurette highlights the involvement of the Kiowa Nation. “They came with all of the tonality, all of the history,” Hanks says. “Their culture still exists today in a world so completely different, and they do it by way of family togetherness.”


Kiowa Elder Dorothy Whitehorse Delaune, one of the last true Kiowa speakers, gave her blessing to the production. “Our language is a mystery and you have to have been raised with it or it’s almost impossible,” she says. Delaune took Zengel under her wing and taught her about their belief systems and reverence for the natural world, Greengrass says.


They are descendants of people to whom a grievous injustice was done. Everybody who made that film reflected on it. I certainly did.” – Greengrass



With Westerns such a rarity, this opportunity shouldn’t be missed, and “News of the World” doesn’t disappoint.


Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer


(1-4) Three desperados want to purchase Johanna and they chase Kidd and the young girl to a rocky hillside for a classic Western gun battle. (5&6) “News of the World” was filmed in the high desert near Santa Fe during October and November of 2019. Much was filmed in the early morning, the later afternoon, and into twilight for its Oscar-nominated cinematography.







(1) Kidd and Johanna encounter Mr. Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy) who rules Erath County with an iron fist. (2) After a wagon accident and losing their horse, Johanna negotiates a horse from the Kiowa tribe. (3&4) They finally arrive in Castroville, Texas, as Johannas aunt and uncle work the earth.





(1-3) Kidd heads to San Antonio where his home is located and finds his wife Maria Luisa Betancourt Kidd buried in the church garden. She died of cholera. “There’s nothing you could have done,” says, Mr. Branholme.










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