Top 10: 4K UHD’s of 2021


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 Bonds 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



Original Review







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




Original review





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




Original review