Shyamalan’s unforgettable “Unbreakable” on 4K UHD
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a university security guard returning to his home in Philadelphia after a job interview in New York City. He becomes the only survivor out of 131 passengers after the train derails.
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“UNBREAKABLE” – The Slow Burn Origin Story
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2000; PG-13 for mature thematic elements including some disturbing violent content, and for a crude sexual reference; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Oddly, the deleted scenes!
SUPERMAN WAS put on a spaceship to earth when his home planet blew up. Batman’s parents were gunned down in a street robbery. Peter Parker was bitten by a glow-in-the-dark spider ...
Superhero origin stories. In comics, it used to take two or three pages for the set-up, and then it’s off to the derring-do and crime fighting.
What if the entire story was the origin story?
With some interesting statistics about comic books and their readership, M. Night Shyamalan’s neo-noir superhero thriller, “Unbreakable,” opens in a department store in the early 1960’s, where Mrs. Price (a rock-steady Charlayne Woodard) has just given birth to her little boy, Elijah. Shortly after, it is revealed there is something seriously wrong with the poor kid, osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). He’s so delicate, his arms and legs were broken in-utero.
(1&2) A doctor is called to a department store dressing room to check on Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), who’s just given birth to her baby, Elijah. The bad news is the infant’s arms and legs were broken in-utero. He has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). (3) David daydreams during the train ride back to Philadelphia. (4) While surfing TV channels, Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark) discovers his father’s train has derailed.
Cut to present day and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is on a train journey back to a crumbling marriage from a failed job interview. He’s obviously a nice guy, but you just know he's carrying some kind of crushing weight. He notices that there's something going on with the train – AND we cut to a hospital, where Dunn wakes up, the sole survivor of a horrifying wreck.
He is unscathed.
Not even a bruise.
David is brought home by his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright, credited as Robin Wright Penn) and son, Joseph, played by a heartbreaking Spencer Treat Clark. There’s a little elaboration about the wreck in the deleted scenes. The train derailed and was then struck by a freight heading in the opposite direction. David mentions his watch was crushed flat on his wrist yet has no physical injury.
At home, the heaviness is still with him. He and his wife are strangers to each other and his son is terrified of losing his father. Everyone is traumatized by David’s near miss. In a touching scene, Audrey makes an overture to her husband and you can see where they might have a chance to reset things.
(1) David’s wife Audrey and son Joseph greet him in the hospital lobby, relieved he’s all right. (2) A despondent David eats a bowl of cereal. (3&4) He and Audrey sleep in separate bedrooms. As he heads upstairs she asks, “What happened? In New York.” He responds, “I don’t think I got the job.”
Elijah Price, now grown into an eerie and intense Samuel L. Jackson, contacts David and posits that he might actually be endowed with super powers. Price is now a dealer in high-end original comic book art. David breaks off the meeting, convinced he's being scammed, but Price is relentless ... and the evidence is mounting.
Deliberately paced, “Unbreakable” moves toward a horrifying, yet muted, dénouement. We learn about David Dunn and his powers, but we also learn the terrible secret of Elijah Price, who the neighborhood children used to call “Mr. Glass.”
“Unbreakable” was the follow-up project to Shyamalan’s Oscar-nominated “The Sixth Sense,” also starring Willis. The immense popularity of that film hurt audience and critical response to the first of the writer/director’s superhero trilogy, which includes “Split” and “Glass.” Shyamalan was somewhat dismayed to find that "Unbreakable” wasn't marketed as a superhero film like he intended, but as a psychological thriller.
That’s a shame, because it is a complete gem, with not a bit of wasted time or dialogue, and top-notch performances. Willis plays against type as a man who has completely lost his place in his world, and Clark is immensely appealing as his father’s idolizing little boy. They share one of the scariest scenes in film history, based on a real-life experience of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV in the '50s. James Newton Howard’s score never gets in the way, only adding to the atmosphere. When Shyamalan approached him for the job, he ran him through the entire storyboard. According to Howard, who has scored over 100 films, no one he’d ever worked with before had done that for him.
This is my third viewing of “Unbreakable” and it gets better every time.
(1) After attending a memorial service for the train victims, David finds an envelope from Limited Edition on his windshield. (2) David watches the Franklin State University football team practice during a rainstorm. (3&4) In a flashback scene, young Elijah’s (Johnny Hiram Jamison) receives a gift from his mother - a comic book! She promises him a new comic every week, but there’s a condition. The isolated child must spend time outside, and learn to deal with the bullies who call him Mr. Glass.
All the bonus features are carryovers and they’re very good. As noted, the deleted scenes are great. These are usually throwaways – meaningless and poorly shot – only one step above the cutting room floor. Shyamalan introduces the collection, providing background on each fully realized scene. He explains what he had in mind and why he chose to pull it from the film.
Find a “Behind the Scenes” featurette with Shyamalan, Willis, Jackson, producers Sam Mendel and Sam Mercer, along with James Newton Howard. "Comic Books and Superheroes" features icons Will Eisner, Denny O’Neil, Dave Gibbons, and Trina Robbins, with Sam Jackson (waxing poetic about his lifelong love affair with the comics), Scott McCloud, Michael Chabon, Alex Ross, Hollie Brignall, Jenny Robb Dietzen, Christina Wilkner, and material from the Comic Art Museum of San Francisco.
Theres also a storyboard sequence of the David Dunn character at the train station. The final extra shows Shyamalan’s teenage film-making; his first fight sequence. ’
(1) Fast-forward and we find Elijah owns a store, Limited Edition, dealing in high-end, original comic book art. When a customer tells him he wants a page for his toddler son’s birthday, Elijah says, "You must think you’re in a toy store," and refuses the sale. (2&3) David and Joseph visit Elijah’s gallery. Elijah refers to pictographic lore, telling them, “I believe comics are our last link to an ancient way of passing on history.” (4) Joseph falls asleep in his dad’s bed.
“Unbreakable” was shot on 35mm (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and digitally edited so Shyamalan could adjust colors and contrast. Disney now gives “Unbreakable” a fine 4K HDR10 and Dolby Vision (digital) upgrade sourced from the original camera negative and interpositive negative. The enclosed Blu-ray also struck from the new 4K master, which is well worth its cost since the previous 2008 Blu-ray was one of the worst looking discs ever, showing edge enhancement and DNR.
Keep in mind this is not a bold, colorful superhero extravaganza. The story and its visuals are subtle works of art. Shyamalan’s beloved Philadelphia is a drab, dim place, occasionally rain swept in what’s possibly a reflection of David Dunn's depression. Scenes are rife with grays and solid blacks, but you’ll find detail in those shadows and bright bits of color. Contrast is very good, showcasing detail and fine, consistent grain. Complexions are authentic and natural.
As the film progresses, Dunn’s self-awareness increases, and the atmosphere gains clarity. The final scenes are sunny and brightly lit, reminding me of the ending of “Seven.”
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is clear and crisp on the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs. It’s pretty much the same as the original, delivering a perfectly balanced mix of dialogue, effects and score. It excels in both quiet and action sequences. Again I ran subtitles and again, I didn’t need them.
There are a cubic ton of superhero films out now, special effects-driven sagas with lots of explosions, wise-cracks, and non-stop action. “Unbreakable” came out over 20 years ago and stands up to today’s crop like a filet mignon against a box of popcorn.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) Elijah meets up with David, a security guard during a Franklin State football game. As the crowd enters the stadium David has a vision of a man carrying a gun, and refuses to let him in. (2&3) Elijah follows the man toward the underground train station, where he falls down the stairs, breaking several bones. (4) In another odd twist of fate, Elijah meets Audrey Dunn, his physical therapist.
(1) A frustrated Elijah visits a comic book store and causes a scene. (2) In another flashback, David recalls the car accident that ended his football career. Again unharmed, he saves Audrey from the fiery crash. (3-5) David has another vision after bumping into people at the 30th Street train station. The man in the orange jumpsuit will invade a family home. David locates and battles the killer. (6) David and Audrey reconcile.