Updated: Feb 13
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Academy Award best-supporting actor J.K. Simmons brilliantly plays the brutal instructor Terence Fletcher.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2014; R for strong language including some sexual references; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Whiplash” original short film with commentary
ANYONE WHO has ever been close to a serious musician knows (or often painfully learns) that the most important thing in his or her life is the music. It always comes first.
Writer, director, and drummer Damien Chazelle not only knows that, he lived it, and found a way to convey it, very powerfully and effectively, in this semi-autobiographical film.
The overriding theme of “Whiplash” is the teacher/student dynamic, with Academy Award best-supporting actor winner J.K. Simmons brilliantly playing the brutal instructor at a Julliard-type music conservatory, who uses intimidation, insults and humiliation to motivate his students. But the young actor, Miles Teller as the aspiring drummer, is equally compelling in his nuanced and almost scary transformation from frightened student into serious – even ruthless – musician.
19-year-old Andrew Neiman (Teller) who idolizes drummer and showman Buddy Rich is invited to play drums in the elite jazz band taught by the formidably bald, muscled, scowling Terence Fletcher (Simmons). His entrance into the classroom is met with terrifying respect, students jumping to attention with eyes cast down. The sense of satisfaction and privilege experienced by Andrew, for having been chosen, is quickly crushed by Fletcher’s abuse. Rather than running away, however, Andrew becomes increasingly determined to succeed. But, viewers will no doubt be asking, at what price?
(1) Andrew practices in an empty rehearsal room at Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City. (2) Andrew heads down 8th Avenue at 38th Street in Manhattan. (3-5) Andrew starts a conversation with Nicole (Melissa Benoist) and has a short-lived relationship with her.
“I’m not gonna be able to spend as much time with you. And when I do spend time with you, I’m gonna be thinking about drumming. And I’m gonna be thinking about jazz music, my charts, all that. And because of that, you’re gonna start to resent me.” – Andrew Neiman
To be honest, on-screen sharpness is a visual toss-up between the new 4K and Blu-ray editions of “Whiplash.” The culprit of the resolution similarity was Chazelle’s decision to capture the action on ARRI Alexa digital camera recorded at 2K and additional shots at 1080p with a Canon EOS 7D. The wide shots suffer the most with the limited resolution, as the shoestring budget of $3.2 million, must have driven the decision for the lesser cameras.
At times, the Blu-ray looks just as sharp, and other times, the 4K looks sharper with deeper blacks. When Andrew meets college student Nicole (Melissa Benoist) behind the counter at the movie theater’s concession stand, the Blu-ray actually looks sharper during this one distant shot as you can read the price of the popcorn and drinks more clearly. It seems the 4K highlights are dialed to hot causing blooming around the letters and numbers – making it a tough read. But, during the first Studio Band rehearsal session where Fletcher throws a chair at Andrew, the 4K facial toning is more natural and reveals more hair whiskers on the super close-up of the crazed instructor.
Excellent HDR toning is evident (Dolby Vision on digital platforms) during the finale on the stage of the Orpheum Theater in downtown L.A. subbing for Carnegie Hall. The rapid-fire editing from Tom Cross is in perfect tempo with the jazz beat, along with the razor-sharp close-ups from cinematographer Sharone Meir – which accentuates the tension and competitiveness between the conductor and student.
(1) Andrew was invited to be an alternate drummer for Fletcher’s elite jazz band. He arrives late for his first early morning practice session. (2) Fletcher looks over the "Whiplash" sheet music. Andrew watches core drummer Carl Tanner (Nate Lang) on drums. (3) Fletcher starts braiding the first-year student.
Here’s where Sony got it right. The Oscar-winning sound mix has a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which takes the experience to a whole new level on the 4K. The jazz percussion beats and orchestra fills the room from top to bottom and front to back with Hank Levy’s 1970s jazz piece “Whiplash.” The Blu-rays six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack levels off at your seating height. Both soundtracks produce an excellent bass response and mids and highs with crystal clear dialogue.
All of the bonus features are included on the enclosed recycled Blu-ray. They include a Q&A with Chazelle and Simmons at the Toronto Film Festival; a lengthy documentary called “Timekeepers,” in which several professional (mostly rock) drummers share information about their musical lives, inspirations, and careers; a deleted scene with optional commentary; and a very worthwhile feature commentary with Chazelle and Simmons.
Most interesting is the 18-minute short film that was made to attract financial backing, but ended up being shown as a stand-alone at film festivals, such as Sundance and New York. The short is almost exactly the same as an oft-shown scene in which Fletcher literally assaults Andrew during a class, slapping him repeatedly as he shouts questions at him. The physical and psychic humiliation, in the form of especially nasty personal insults, brings Andrew to tears.
In the short film, almost everyone in the scene is also in the feature – although Andrew is played by a young actor named Johnny Simmons (no relation to J.K.). He does a fine job, and is especially admirable for having had no experience as a drummer until one week(!) before shooting. Most of the other members of the various bands in the film, we learn, are all either music students or professional players.
(1-3) After being berated by Fletcher, Andrew practices on his speed and tempo, which leads to a number of bleeding blisters. (4) Andrew goes home and has dinner with his father (Paul Reiser) and his Aunt Emma (Suanne Spoke), Uncle Frank (Chris Mulkey), and cousins.
The commentary by Chazelle, the film's editor and a couple of producers, refers to the short as “a slice of a feature.” Chazelle used the short “to figure out what worked and what didn’t” for the final film. The production was on a compressed and exhausting 19-day shoot with 150-hand-drawn storyboards, followed by eight weeks of editing.
He never explains why he went with Teller for the role instead of Johnny Simmons, which is a bit irritating. Perhaps the fact that Teller was an experienced drummer was the deal-breaker. That noted, Teller is just terrific in the part, and appears in almost every scene.
You've got to wonder how “Whiplash” surfaced as the next 4K release from Sony? Yes, it’s critically acclaimed and won three Academy Awards (Simmons, Film Editing, Sound Mixing), plus it was nominated for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay from one of Hollywood’s best young directors, but with its resolution limitations weren’t there some more deserving Columbia/Sony films to be released on 4K?
You could’ve started with this list of Columbia/Sony true 4K mastered films that also won the golden statue for Best Picture: “It Happened One Night” (1934), “You Can’t Take It with You” (1938), “All the King’s Men” (1949), “From Here to Eternity” (1953), “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) already on Sony 4K, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) on 4K, “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), “Oliver!” (1968), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Gandhi” (1982) on 4K, “The Artist” (2011) – forgot, it’s only a 2K master.
And, if many of those are already in the unannounced Sony 4K pipeline, then how about some of these mastered in 4K?: “American Hustle” (2013), “Captain Phillips” (2013), ‘Moneyball” (2011), “Julie & Julia” (2009) and “Hitch” (2005).
— Peggy Earle and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1&2) Four hours of grueling competition leads to Andrew earning the chair to play at the next contest. (3) Andrew is injured during an automotive accident heading to the competition, which leads to another encounter with Fletcher.
The final showdown - Fletcher vs. Andrew
The 4K/HDR toning and sharpness are the finest during the finale, which also extracts a fine post-production film grain look.