“Logan” goes noir in 4K Ultra HD
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital Copy, 2017, R for strong brutal violence and profanity throughout, and for brief nudity; streaming via Amazon Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K) YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Commentary from director James Mangold ("3:10 to Yuma," "Walk the Line")
REIMAGINING the gritty, character-driven "Logan" into a black-and-white film noir presentation for 4K and Blu-ray was more organic than preconceived, director James Mangold says in his commentary – one of the best by any director.
It began with simple black-and-white photograph posts on Mangold's Twitter feed. The dramatic imagery, captured in New Orleans and the high desert country of New Mexico, were instant hits. Followers asked – and some were hoping – if "Logan" was being filmed in B&W. Mangold liked the look, too, advising that B&W could become his definitive version.
Mangold and cinematographer John Mathieson ("Gladiator," "X-Men: First Class") used strong side and back lighting which helped Hugh Jackman's Logan a.k.a. saber-clawed Wolverine transition into quality noir visuals. "Logan" is the third film Mangold-Jackman film after "Kate & Leopold" (2001) and "The Wolverine" (2013).
It's 2029 and mutants are nearly extinct. Logan is now mortal; he's old and worn-out, walking with a limp and self-medicating. He's also working as an Uber limo driver, with a route along the Texas and Mexico border, while tending to an ailing Charles Xavier who's slowly losing his mind. The pairing of Jackson, his ninth film as the Canadian mutant, and Patrick Stewart marks the duo's farewell to the X-Men Universe. An 11-year-old girl named Laura (X-23) with claws of her own is played by newcomer Dafne Keen. She's convinces Logan and Charles to take her to the U.S. and Canadian border to escape bounty-hunter Donald Pierce played by Boyd Holbrook. The story is reminiscent of classic westerns such as Eastwood's "Unforgiven" and George Stevens' "Shane," along with Peter Bogdanovich's 1970s B&W road picture, "Paper Moon."
Captured on 3.2K digital cameras (2.35:1 aspect ratio) and, most importantly, mastered in 4K, the chromatic color capture was the theatrical version by 20th Century Fox. "Logan" received enthusiastic critical praise and made a whopping $607 million in worldwide box-office receipts.
As the featurettes and commentary were being assembled for home viewing, Mangold convinced Fox Home Entertainment to release the monochromic (B&W) version as well – a first on the 4K format. Warner Bros. had recently released George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road" in B&W during a film festival, and then on Blu-ray in December 2016. "It's the best version of the movie," Miller said of the B&W release in a Warner video clip. For "Logan's" four-disc set (4K: B&W and color; Blu-rays: B&W and color), the 4K B&W was positioned on top. The intention is to get viewers to pop it into the player first.
Mangold and his colorist handled the B&W 4K/HDR toning with the utmost care, insuring each frame and scene replicated a striking and balanced gray-scale ranging from deep blacks to upfront mid-tones to brilliant highlights. Scenes became more dramatic in the hard edge contrast that "carves the actors out from background," Mangold says. The treatment emphasizes each actor's performance, without the distraction of environmental colors. Clearly, this is subjective, but for a guy who loves B&W and old noir classics, it's a welcome sight right up there with Best Foreign Oscar winner "Ida" (2013) and Spielberg's masterpiece, "Schindler's List."
The greatest boost was the HDR expanded contrast levels, whose intense highlights replicate the effect of hot and dusty skies – and nearly vaporize the flesh off albino mutant Caliban, played by British actor Stephen Merchant. A number of scenes filmed at night and in the dark confines of an abandoned water tank are more cohesive with increased shadow detail and depth. The mid-tones have clarity unlike any seen before.
Many fans will still be drawn to the color version of "Logan," an outstanding watch with its shades of orange, brown, blue and degrees of gray. The 4K also showcases the desired natural complexions, while the Blu-ray pushes skin tones to the warm side. Resolution is remarkable on all four discs, while the 4K versions have extra punch – evident in distant objects on wide shots and added facial detail on tight shots.
Both 4K discs are coded with the all-encompassing Dolby Atmos soundtrack for height speakers. Gun blasts and environmental effects benefit the most. So does Marco Beltrami's score, with its tonal shades of Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone. The Blu-ray delivers on an effective eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack.
All four discs include Mangold's commentary in which he explains the film's genesis. He and Jackson wanted to bring the curtain down on Jackson's Wolverine, ending what he calls "the default settings of the super hero films and [their] repetition." They questioned what really frightened Wolverine. After exploring the movie lore, the comics and supervillains, Mangold discovered Logan was scared of one thing – love and being dependent on others. So he wrote a 60-page treatment in which Logan becomes consumed with caring for an aging father and a child. It's a universal theme, and Mangold drew from others who faced similar responsibilities.
The enclosed Blu-ray has an 80-minute "making-of" documentary, with over a dozen interviews from Mangold, the producers, and cast and crew. Jackman calls Stewart's performance "heartbreaking, beautiful, layered, textured and complex, plus at times, unbelievably lucid and clear." You'll also see Dafne Keen's audition tape with Jackman; it's extremely raw and full of promise.
Clearly this film and home presentation is for adults, so parents – be diligent in your responsibilities. Be sure to give the black-and-white version a spin. Jackman and Stewart are superb.
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer