4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
“THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images and brief strong profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube
Best extra: “Shooting in Isolation” featurette
BITTER cold is unbearable – just ask actors Kate Winslet and Idris Elba. The two trudged through knee-deep snow in subzero temperatures for over a month to make survival thriller “The Mountain Between Us.”
The cast, crew and Palestinian-Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad (“Omar,” “The Idol”) was helicoptered most days above the tree line between 8,500 feet to 10,500 feet up into the rugged Purcell Mountains in Canada substituting for the U.S. Rockies.
Winslet plays Alex Martin, a photojournalist who’s desperate to get to New York City in the next 24-hours to make her wedding day. Elba, who plays Ben Bass, a Baltimore neurosurgeon, is scheduled for surgery on a 10-year-old the next morning. Both get stuck at an Idaho airport when their flight is canceled because of an approaching winter storm.
Alex hires Walter (Beau Bridges), a veteran of the Vietnam War – and his partner, a golden retriever – to pilot his twin-engine plane to Denver, where they hope to catch a redeye to New York. When Walter doesn’t fill out a flight plan, we know disaster looms.
As expected, the winds pick up and storm clouds soon surround the tiny plane. Then Walter’s speech becomes slurred and he slumps over. He’s having a stroke.
The majority of the film is a fight for survival with shades of Tom Hanks’ character in “Cast Away.” Charles Martin wrote the book, which was adapted for film by J. Mills Goodloe. His novel was first optioned by Fox a decade earlier.“When they crash on top of the mountain plateau, there’s not a single 60 watt light bulb within 60 miles,” Martin says in the featurette “Shooting in Isolation.” “You look around and you think, ‘This is Mars.’”
Abu-Assad, who had previously worked mostly in the Middle East, wanted his audience to feel the survivors’ pain. Producer David Ready recalls Abu-Assad’s pitch during one of five featurettes: “This can’t be a phony Hollywood CGI survival story. It has to be real. We have to feel the cold. The actors have to feel the cold.”
Ever-changing weather conditions kept Abu-Assad and his crew on their toes. If the helicopters were grounded for the day, they filmed near their base camp at several set pieces including a cabin. When conditions deteriorated on the mountain and the helicopters couldn’t extract everyone, two survival huts made from cargo containers and supplied with heaters and food provided refuge. The temperature dropped to 38 below zero several times. Cameras were kept running so they wouldn’t freeze; batteries were secured in electric blankets.
Alex and Ben face a number of clichéd perils: a hungry predator, frostbite, a raging river and a frozen lake. And yes, you guessed it, there is a romance.
Fox provides a worthy upconverted 4K image from its original 2K master. Facial detail, clothing texture and individual snowflakes reveal a nice uptick in clarity. Plus, panoramic mountaintop views filmed by cinematographer Mandy Walker (“Hidden Figures,” “Australia”) are presented in high-resolution 6.5K. The process captures the subtleties between the white snow, the blue skies, and Elba’s dark skin hues. Distant mountain peaks are super sharp, but how much more would’ve have been revealed if “The Mountain Between Us” had been mastered in 4K? It would have been pure visual magic.
The 4K and Blu-ray both share similar color toning, but images really pop in 4K/HDR contrast levels, especially during dark scenes and there are plenty of those. Elba’s face also has greater separation between his dark brown coat and the deep blue sky.
The 4K and Blu-ray both have a first-rate eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack. Environmental sound from the ever-present wind, wildlife, distant jetliners and falling rocks fill the room. The musical soundtrack from Ramin Djawadi ("Game of Thrones," "Iron Man") was used sparingly.
The 4K and Blu-ray discs also include a so-so commentary with the director.
“The Mountain Between Us” may not be Kate Winslet’s and Idris Elba’s best film, but the two give it their all in the most difficult conditions.
- Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer