TRUE 4K MASTERING / HDR FRAME SHOTS
THE LIST of movies is the very best in 4K viewing from disc or streaming. The criteria required the original source to be mastered in 4K and nothing less.
No upconversion from 2K to 4K on this list.
Daniel Craig returns for his fifth and final appearance as James Bond. Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) is frightened as SPECTRE assassins blast Bond’s DB5 with bullets.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“NO. 1 - “NO TIME TO DIE”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021; PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong profanity, and some suggestive material; Streaming Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The 45-minute documentary “Being James Bond” (4K disc only)
AFTER THREE delays and 18 months, Daniel Craig finally returned for his fifth and final appearance as James Bond. Moviegoer’s response was remarkable. “No Time to Die” became a blockbuster making over $770 million worldwide – 80 percent from overseas.
I saw “No Time to Die” on a large IMAX screen and found, with its varying aspect ratios, the best movie experience I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” Both films were captured on larger format IMAX cameras and 35mm, and were mastered in True 4K.
For Craig, Daniel Craig, it all started 15 years earlier, when Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli selected the 37-year-old actor for the role, the first blond to play the world’s most famous secret agent. Hundreds of actors were considered including Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, and Colin Farrell to become the next 007.
Fukunaga and cinematographer Linus Sandgren (“La La Land,” “American Hustle”) decided to capture Bond in the biggest format possible, with the first 24-minutes filmed on large-format IMAX cameras. All footage on IMAX, 65mm and 35mm was in True 4K providing the highest resolution and clarity possible. There’s a slight disappointment that the IMAX scenes are not presented in the theatrical 1.90:1 aspect ratio, with extra framing above the actors’ heads and below. Sandgren composed the frame with the intended 2.39:1 ratio from the 35mm Panavision cameras and anamorphic lens. The natural film grain is intact and organic, most evident on the 35mm film stock, and much smaller and refined in the IMAX scenes.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading bring lush colors from the warm tones of Matera and Jamaica, to the cool blues and whites captured in the dead of winter in Norway. The greens and browns of the Scottish Highlands are well saturated, with a panoramic backdrop for an off-road chase scene. Night scenes are full of deep shadows and inky blacks, while holding plenty of detail. Highlights are controlled, without blown-out hot spots.
The 4K disc and 4K digital include the eight-channel Dolby Atmos enveloping environment, with clear dialogue, powerful explosions and gun effects bouncing around the room, and a deep, punchy bass response. Hans Zimmer handles the score with a nice touch of brass and strings, and it’s a nice surprise to hear John Barry’s classic love theme from Bond film No. 6 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
Suitor John Willoughby (Greg Wise) escorts Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) on a countryside walk near the Barton Cottage, a small home where Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters lived after being evicted from Norland Park.
NO. 2 - “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1995; PG for mild thematic elements; Streaming Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Adapting Austen” featurette
WHEN SONY announced the second installment of its Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD series everyone assumed Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976) would score the finest 4K restoration. But, I quickly discovered “Sense and Sensibility,” the adaptation of Jan Austen’s often-forgotten first novel was actually the set’s crown jewel with spectacular clarity and striking HDR grading.
The adaptation was from Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson (“Howards End”) and Taiwan-directed Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Life of Pi,” Brokeback Mountain”), which was his first English language film. It ended up on more than 100 10-best lists and received seven Academy Award nominations with Thompson winning an Oscar for her screenplay.
Producer Lindsay Doran had read Austen’s novel in the early 1970s while living in England. “I “loved it. It’s my favorite book,” she says during the featurette “Adapting Austen.” Early on she always thought of it as an obvious movie, and once becoming a movie producer she searched for more than a decade to find the right writer. She demanded it to be written in the Austen style and language, plus it would have to “make me really laugh,” she said.
Much of the classic tale follows the two older Dashwood sisters: Elinor played by 36-year-old Thompson and the younger and more romantic Marianne played by Kate Winslet. The available bachelors include Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), and John Willoughby (Greg Wise).
The original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was recently remastered in 4K with remarkable results. It features some of the richest greens you’ll ever see with superb facial clarity, as the natural film grain dances across the screen. Sony also produces a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack with its romantic orchestrations and vocal solos by soprano Jane Eaglen.
— BK III
Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Indiana Jones, a professor of archaeology at a small New England college. He’s recruited by U.S. Army Intelligence to locate a sacred artifact before Nazi agents seize the all-powerful relic.
NO. 3 - “INDIANA JONES and the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1981, PG for violence and profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The creation of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
TO CELEBRATE the 40th anniversary of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Paramount meticulously remastered each of the four franchise films. The original 35mm camera negatives were scanned in 4K, with HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading applied to give each adventure new life. Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt also created a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Sorry, but the original soundtracks are not included.
“Raiders” was the top-grossing film of 1981, which received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. It won four Oscars for Best Sound, Film Editing, Visual Effects, and Art Direction. And, it was selected No. 66 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years 100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition of America’s Greatest Films.
Thank goodness for Steven Spielberg approving this TRUE 4K restoration (2.39:1 aspect ratio). He believes in keeping natural film intact, as we see in varying levels depending on the film stock used in different scenes. Grain is more evident in the highlights – especially in the sky from a Cairo rooftop where we meet Egyptian Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), who becomes Indy’s right-hand man in extracting the Ark of the Covenant from the Well of Souls.
The new 4K master provides a major bump in resolution, with expanded clarity in Douglas Slocombe’s Oscar-nominated cinematography on distant buildings, trees, mountains, and the cast of thousands in the desert. The same with facial detail as you can see every freckle on Marion’s face (Karen Allen) and the same with the whiskers on Indy.
The new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack provides a nice boost to height speakers creating a more enveloping environment, but strangely, we found a slight decrease in bass response compared to the DTS-HD soundtrack on the previous Blu-ray. The audio is still balanced from front to back and side to side. It’s energetic throughout with sound effects and John Williams’ fantastic score!
— BK III
Clint Eastwood plays veteran Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, who battles a trained government killer Mitch Leary played by John Malkovich, who threatens to kill the U.S. President.
NO. 4 - “IN THE LINE OF FIRE”
4K Ultra HD & Digital copy; 1993; R for violence, profanity, and sexuality; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Commentary with director Wolfgang Petersen (“Air Force One”)
PRODUCER JEFF Apple had been inspired by the story of a guilt-driven Secret Service agent since his teenage years. Decades later in 1990, he commissioned novice screenwriter Jeff Maguire to finalize the premise: Veteran Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), who failed to protect JFK from assassination, gets a chance to redeem himself when trained government killer Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) threatens the current president.
This is clearly one of Sony’s best 4K remastering jobs of the year. The original camera negative was captured on Panavision cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and fitted with anamorphic lens from cinematographer John Bailey (“Silverado”). It was scanned in TRUE 4K, where the digital files were graded for the expansive HDR10 and Dolby Vision (digital). From the opening frames to the final image, the movie is unbelievably sharp, with natural film grain and bright, crisp grading, controlled highlights, and deep dark shadows.
Since the launch of the 4K format, most of the 4K/HDR presentations from all the studios have been darker than its HD counterparts. Sometimes they’ve been way too dark. Here, the picture is perfectly balanced. Facial toning is natural and rich, offering superb clarity, extracting every mark on the actors’ faces, as well as the finest of detail and texture in their costumes. Exterior scenes are particularly detailed, as in showing thousands of onlookers during a presidential motorcade in Washington D.C. There’s also a campaign rally in Denver, where Petersen used footage from a Clinton/Gore rally, and digitally inserted his own president. Now the Clinton/Gore signs are readable because of the 4K resolution.
Sony has also created a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack. It’s also first-rate from the effects to the music cues of Morricone’s score. Overall fidelity is top-notch in bass response, as in the passing motorcycles and gunshots. The front and center dialogue is never lost. Strings, electronic keyboard, and brass all ring true.
“In the Line of Fire” was highly praised by critics and received three Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor for John Malkovich, Best Screenplay for Jeff Maguire, and Film Editing for Anne V. Coates.
— BK III
Newcomer Franco Nero plays a former Union soldier, now a gunrunner, who rescues Maria (Loredana Nusciak) from Mexican revolutionaries and a small army of red-hooded Confederate miscreants.
NO. 5 - “DJANGO: TWO-DISC LIMITED EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, 1966, unrated, violence, mild sexuality and language
Best extras: A new commentary with author-historian Stephen Prince
MADE about the time that the great Sergio Leone was completing his Man With No Name trilogy, “Django” made Franco Nero a star and ushered in a new concept of Westerns and anti-heroes that is still influencing filmmakers today. (Nero had a small role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”)
Arrow, which scored big a few months back with “Tremors,” goes two-for-two with “Django” (1.66:1 aspect ratio). The original 35mm camera negative was restored and remastered in 4K, delivering a reference-quality print that’s, in a word, exceptional.
Detail in the costumes, worn faces, and exteriors and interiors (“Django” was filmed in Spain and outside Rome) is sharp throughout and a thin layer of grain is fittingly cinematic. Blacks are deep and the whites brilliant, too, and let’s hear it for Dolby Vision HDR toning – the array of colors, from the saturated red scarves and hoods of Jackson’s degenerates to Django’s Union blue, are a true feast.
The original audio was also remastered to create the robust, lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track. Dialogue is clean and clear courtesy of the center speaker and the gunfire packs plenty of punch. One more word about the dialogue: By all means, choose the original Italian and English subtitles. The dubbed track is gawdawful.
— Craig Shapiro
Tom Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a newsreader who travels from town to town giving the news. Along the way, he encounters an untamed, 10-year-old girl Johanna (German actress Helena Zengel) raised by the Kiowa tribe after her German parents’ farm was ambushed.
NO. 6 - “NEWS OF THE WORLD”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2020; PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, thematic material and some language; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Paul Greengrass Makes “News of the World” featurette
THREE MONTHS before the first case of COVID-19 hit the U.S., writer/director Paul Greengrass and actor Tom Hanks were in the high desert of New Mexico re-creating the mood and texture of Texas during post-Civil War Reconstruction with the absorbing Western “News of the World.”
Last year, it was recognized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Oscar nods for cinematography, sound, production design, and original score.
The 4K Ultra HD disc serves up a beautifully crafted film with exquisite 4K visuals and enveloping Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Greengrass and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian,” “Crimson Tide”) captured the dusty landscape near Santa Fe on 4.5K ARRIRAW digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), which extract exceptional contrast latitude from highlights to shadows with minimal light.
The 4K (disc and digital) is sourced from a true 4K master – the clarity and sharpness are top-notch, from facial close-ups and costumes to distant forests and mountains. The upgrade over the Blu-ray is quite noticeable. The disc has been coded with standard HDR10 and the more controlled metadata HDR10+, but, unfortunately, it's viewable only on Panasonic and Samsung 4K TVs. Multi-handheld cameras are used throughout, but without Greengrass’ shacky imagery and rapid-fire editing, a trademark of his three Jason Bourne films and “United 93.”
The eight-channel soundtrack is a treat, echoing throughout the mountains, valleys, and your home theater. Gun blasts reverberate from corner to corner, while the lovely, mostly quiet score by nine-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (“Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Defiance,” “The Fugitive”) builds from a small ensemble to a full orchestra as the story unfolds. The music was recorded during the pandemic, which presented a challenge with social distancing. The bigger numbers were recorded twice to create the sound of a 90 piece orchestra.
— BK III
Tim Robbins plays Maine banker Andy Dufresne. Sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his wife and lover, he still pleads innocent. Oscar-nominated Morgan Freeman for his role as Ellis “Red” Redding, the prison black-market supplier.
NO. 7 - “THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1994; R for profanity and prison violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K) YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Hope Springs Eternal” featurette
AUTHOR STEPHEN King had a hand in “Shawshank’s” director/writer Frank Darabont’s early career when the filmmaker selected his short story “The Woman in the Room” (1984), a 30-minute short, to be his first film. Darabont went on to write scripts for and direct TV series episodes and adapted and directed “The Green Mile” and “The Mist,” films that were also based on King’s work.
But, “The Shawshank Redemption” kept speaking to his heart. “Many considered it not very cinematic,” Darabont says in the featurette “Hope Springs Eternal” (disc & digital). “But, to me, it seemed the most cinematic because it dealt with the human heart.” King gave Darabont his blessing and the rights for a $1, wondering if it would ever be made. When “Shawshank” appeared in theaters, the author felt it was a first-rate adaptation, “Just amazing.”
Millions of viewers agree.
Darabont was determined to maintain the “voice of the author” through the character Ellis “Red” Redding, the prison black-market supplier, who continues to face an unforgiving parole board. It’s another exceptional performance by Morgan Freeman.
“Shawshank Redemption” was filmed at the abandoned Mansfield Reformatory prison in Mansfield, Ohio, during a four-month production period. The story spans 1946 to 1967, illustrating how a powerful and layered friendship grows between Red and Maine banker Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. Dufresne was sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his wife and her lover; he continues to maintain his innocence as the years crawl by.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins (“1917,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Skyfall”) received his first Oscar nod for Darabont’s adaptation. He captured the film’s sweeping imagery on Arriflex 35mm cameras (1:85:1 aspect ratio), with gorgeous composition and lighting. The original camera negative was scanned in 4K and mastered in the higher resolution by the folks at Warner Bros.
The HDR10 grading features deep-deep blacks with controlled mid-tones and bright highlights. Overall, the color palette is cool, using every shade of blue and gray imaginable, with only a few moments of warm tones.
There is no Dolby Atmos upgrade included here, but it features an excellent six-channel uncompressed DTS-HD soundtrack balanced between quieter dialogue moments and Thomas Newman’s fully orchestrated Oscar-nominated score, the first of 15 he’s received.
— BK III
Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince assemble the Justice League: Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Flash (Ezra Miller), Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa).
NO. 8 - “ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE”
4K Ultra HD; 2021; R for violence and some language; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K) HBO Max
Best extra: 24-minute “Road to Justice League”
HOW OFTEN do movie fans force a Hollywood studio to re-edit and re-release the original theatrical cut of a movie?
They weren’t happy with the third installment of Zack Snyder’s DC Universe trilogy “Justice League” that hit the multiplex in the fall of 2017. They demanded Warner Brothers scrap the Joss Whedon edit, and finish the original by Zack Snyder. The campaign was relentless.
Snyder had filmed 100 percent of his version, as well as set up two versions – a rough five-hour edit, and a three-and-a-half hour director’s cut. But when tragedy hit Snyder's family in the spring of 2017, he and his producer wife Deborah stepped back from the picture. While they grieved the loss of their daughter Autumn, 20, Warner Bros. asked writer/director Joss Whedon to complete the film.
Whedon gave the film a much lighter touch. It only ran two hours, using a fraction of Snyder’s original footage. The original score from composer Junkie XL (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) was replaced with a new score from Danny Elfman (“Men in Black,” “Corpse Bride,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas”).
But when “Justice League” premiered in 2017, it was a box-office disaster, and fans were furious. At first, Warner denied the “Snyder Cut” existed, though, in the end, they had to ‘fess up. Eventually, Warner allocated $70 million so Snyder could complete his vision, adding more visual effects and several minutes of new footage filmed during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“I’m excited for fans to get to see this giant, four-hour movie that’s completely singular to their investment. If you followed the first two movies, this movie really kind of takes you into an immersive scope and scale.” — Zack Snyder, director
Snyder has completely reshaped the norm by framing his version in the old-school square-shaped 1.33:1 aspect ratio. TRUE 4K mastering delivers jaw-dropping visuals, which were captured on traditional Super 35 film, with one scene from an 8K digital camera. This is only a guess, but the ongoing FX shots are more likely in 2K. Total FX rendering time alone would have easily taken more than a year.
Overall clarity is superb – especially the details on actors’ faces – since the framing is so much tighter compared to the super widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
The eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack is nice. It’s balanced from front to back, with effects and music cues from Tom “Junkie XL” Holkenborg going to height speakers. A number of songs are included in this cut: two from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “There is a Kingdom” and “Distant Sky”; Rose Betts' cover of Tim Buckley’s 1970 “Starsailor,” and a traditional Icelandic song “Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu.”
— BK III
Noble knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) arrives back in his home country after a decade away during the Crusades.
NO. 9 - “THE SEVENTH SEAL”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, 1957; unrated
Best extra: Commentary with Kat Ellinger, film critic and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine.
WHEN “The Seventh Seal” premiered in Sweden in 1957, it received mixed reviews from Swedish critics. But as has it rolled out around the globe, it developed a “series of slow-acting explosions” among the international intellectual moviegoers that established Ingmar Bergman’s reputation as the “pre-eminent cinematic visionary of his time,” says Variety critic Jessica Kiang in her enclosed essay. Another Bergman favorite “Wild Strawberries” was released just eight months after “The Seventh Seal,” which didn’t hit U.S. art house theaters until October 1958.
Bergman the son of a stern and abusive Lutheran minister examines man’s most internal conflicts of “light and dark, God and doubt, purity and corruption, innocence and cynicism,” says Kiang. The stark black and white frames open on a rocky shoreline in medieval Sweden, as noble knight Antonius Block played by the late Max von Sydow, and his squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return home from the violent Crusades and find their country ravaged by the Black Plague. The knight is confronted by the embodiment of Death and challenges him a game of chess.
The release from the British Film Institute is their first 4K Ultra HD disc, with more promised in the future. The Australian western “The Proposition” (2005) has been scheduled for February 21. The Swedish Film institute scanned the original camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio) in 4K, and removed all scratches, marks, and film flutter. The results are striking, with an expanded HDR10 grayscale from controlled highlights to detailed mid-tones and deep dark shadows without crushed blacks.
Overall clarity is superb with good dose of natural film grain and the enclosed Blu-ray also sources from the new 4K master. The Swedish audio has also been restored and remastered 2.0 mono track and includes English subtitles.
— BK III
New best friends Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) finally get airborne with their scrap scooter by riding down an island hillside.
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2021, PG for rude humor, mild profanity, some thematic elements and brief violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Our Italian Inspiration” featurette
ONLY SEVEN weeks after its exclusive run streaming on Disney+, Pixar’s 24th animation feature “Luca” jumped onto 4K Ultra HD on physical disc and digital for purchase and rent. The warmhearted charmer set in the late 1950s-early ‘60s is a summer coming-of-age tale of two boys on the Italian Riviera.
Some Pixar staffers were unhappy over Disney’s decision to forgo “Luca’s” theatrical release. One anonymous Pixar artist told IndieWire, “These movies are crafted for the big screen. We want you to watch these movies with no distractions, no looking at your phone.”
In the featurette “Our Italian Inspiration,” director Enrico Casarosa says “Luca” was inspired by his childhood in Genoa on the Italian Riviera. “I spent many summers on these beautiful beaches on the coast,” he says. Casarosa left his home country to chase his animation dreams in the U.S. “You miss your home, but with this [Luca] I’m trying to embrace my roots … and the memories of running around as a kid.”
The Cinque Terre – five small towns along the coast in Northern Italy – provided his visual backdrop. “The towns come out of the sea like little prehistoric sea creatures hanging onto the rocks,” Casarosa says. Quaint buildings and homes are sandwiched between steep mountains and the sea, preserving timeless communities.
Using the latest computer technology, Casarosa and Pixar mastered the animation in TRUE 4K (1.85:1 aspect ratio). That’s been the Pixar standard since “Toy Story 4” and the results are STUNNING! The added resolution provides the finest detail and texture for the distant hillside homes, close-ups of town residences, and Luca’s 3,436 scales. The director was inspired by Japanese woodblock prints that recall the look and feel of Studio Ghibli. Most of the final animation was done by the artists at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision (digital) is graded with intense, varying postcard colors of blue, turquoise, yellow, orange, and green. Under the sea, the palette is much bolder and more saturated, while the daylight scenes on land are brighter and softer.
The 4K (disc & digital) features the eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, with height speakers delivering a sprinkle of effects and a perfect Italian-themed score from composer Dan Romer (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) showcasing accordion, mandolin, guitars and pizzicato strings. Romer provided many of the guitar and accordion sequences.
— BK III
In alphabetical order:
(1) “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959), (2) “Gattaca” (1997), (3) “The Green Knight” (2021), (4) “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), (5) “Misery” (1990), (6) “My Fair Lady” (1964), (7) “A Quiet Place: Part II” (2021), (8) “Soul” (2020), (9) “The Red Shoes” (1948), (10) “Taxi Driver” (1976), (11) “The Ten Commandments” (1956), (12) “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)