“La La Land” remains a winner
Updated: Jan 26, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAMES SHOTS
"LA LA LAND"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy, 2016, PG-13 for some profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K) iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: Commentary with Damien Chazelle, the youngest to win an Oscar for Best Director, and composer Justin Hurwitz, who won Oscars for Best Original Score and Song
IT'S HARD to imagine writer/director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz were just college roommates at Harvard, when they started crafting their passion project, the magical "La La Land."
Created in the tradition of the grand MGM musicals of the 1940s and '50s, Chazelle and Hurwitz set their tale in contemporary Los Angeles. It's filled with toe-tapping tunes, and received 14 Oscar nominations, tying the records held by "All About Eve" (1950) and "Titanic" (1997).
"It just happened musicals were the movies that were inspiring us," Hurwitz says in one of the 10 featurettes on the 4K and Blu-ray discs. They began by watching the films of Vincent Minnelli, who used the bold Technicolor process for "An American in Paris," starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, and "Band Wagon," with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. They also studied the innovative camera techniques used by co-directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," considered the greatest musical ever.
Both Chazelle and Hurwitz are musicians, who played in a band during their freshman year at Harvard – Chazelle on drums and Hurwitz on keyboards. Sophomore year, they quit the band and devoted everything to movie-making. They had a full musical script for "La La Land," with all of the songs and score nailed down, but realized it would be almost impossible to find backing for a newbie director and composer.
As undergrads, they collaborated on a low-budget film, "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" (2009), filmed in black-and-white on 16mm. It's the story of jazz trumpeter Guy and Madeline, a grad student, who live in Boston. It received favorable reviews, and a 90-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "La La Land's" struggling jazz player, Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, and struggling actress Mia, played by Emma Stone, who won Best Actress for her role, bear a striking resemblance to "Guy and Madeline."
When they were unable to get "La La Land" off the ground, Chazelle wrote and directed "Whiplash" (2014), with musical assistance from Hurwitz. Both hoped it would seal a deal for "La La Land."
"Whiplash" won the top-prize at Sundance, and was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Screenplay for Chazelle. It won three: Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons as a sadistic music instructor, and for Film Editing and Sound Mix. Pre-"Whiplash," Chazelle also whipped up the script for "10 Cloverfield Lane," which he was scheduled to direct, until "Whiplash" became a go. "We had a lot riding on 'Whiplash,' and it's hard to imagine that kind of lighting in a bottle striking again," says "La La Land" producer Fred Berger.
"La La Land" ended up winning six Academy Awards on that strange February 26 night earlier this year, when Faye Dunaway, who had received the wrong information, mistakenly announced that it had won Best Picture. A few minutes later, "La La Land" producer Jordan Horowitz took the microphone, saying, "This is not a joke. 'Moonlight' has won Best Picture," and showed the ABC cameras the correct envelope.
"La La Land's" 4K and Blu-ray includes an enlightening commentary with Chazelle and Hurwitz, who deliver production details in friendly, lighthearted banter. By the third take on the second night, Ryan and Emma nailed it. Their dancing and singing was perfect. So was the camerawork for "A Lovely Night" captured in one, continuous take at six-and-a-half minutes. They recall how it took 35 takes to get the perfect synchronization between the stunt guy and the camera operator for the rooftop jump into the swimming pool. They also talk about how they convinced the lead singer of their old college band to take on the '80s cover band singer, when Gosling's Sebastian plays a red keytar at a party.
An 80 minute, multi-part making-of documentary highlights details about the two-day shoot on the freeway, where clouds nearly ruined the sequence for "Another Day of Sun"; Gosling's piano lessons with teacher/coach Liz Kinnon, where he practiced two hours a day, five days a week for three months straight. He was so good they cancelled his hand-double. They recall how musician John Legend transformation into an actor (he's quite good); the onscreen chemistry between Ryan and Emma, which Chazelle compares to Bogart and Bacall, and Fred and Ginger; location filming throughout L.A., including Griffith Observatory for a mid-air waltz between Sebastian and Mia, and a revealing demo track with Chazelle and Hurwitz singing "City of Stars" and "A Lovely Night." Hurwitz's music is not on par with Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, but definitely enjoyable.
Captured on 35mm using anamorphic lens to produce an old school CinemaScope (2.55:1) aspect ratio, "La La Land's" visuals look like they were transported from the 1950s. It's a gorgeous watch on 4K/HDR, providing some of the richest colors ever seen in a home theater.
Chazelle and Linus Sandgren, who won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, purposely painted each scene to mimic the look of classic Technicolor films. Everything was done in camera, without post-production color-painting. It makes the darker scenes from the nightclub and the twilight dance between Sebastian and Mia so much more profound and three-dimensional, with expanded contrast and solid black levels. Film grain is natural, enhancing that cinematic look. The only slight dig is, it's another 2K master from a 4K source and then upconverted for this presentation, with pixels lost that can't be recovered. Still, most of "La La Land" was filmed with wide-angle lens, which reveals the added resolution more readily from facial detail to background sharpness.
The 4K and Blu-ray both get the added Dolby Atmos soundtrack putting viewers right into the scene, from the night club to Sebastian's apartment as he tries to play music composed by Thelonious Monk, while listening to the vinyl record.
You couldn't ask for a better visual and audio experience at home than Damien Chazelle's "La La Land." I can't wait for his next film, "First Man" about the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer
“La La Land” pays homage to the dream sequences of the 1950s musicals – “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Oklahoma.”
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