4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR SCREENSHOTS
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis play Harry Tasker, who leads a double life to his legal secretary wife Helen.
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4K Ultra HD; 1994; R for a lot of action/violence, some profanity and sexuality
Best extra: “Fear is Not an Option: A Look Back at ‘True Lies” featurette
TEN DAYS AGO, when director/producer James Cameron finally released three of his films – “Aliens,” “The Abyss” and “True Lies” on 4K Ultra HD digital – everyone had an opinion on the amount of digital manipulation applied to each film.
“True Lies,” released in 1994 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, received the most negative feedback. The action thriller had never been released on Blu-ray, and reports of waxy faces, and a major reduction of natural film grain became a firestorm from fans and critics. Cameron’s production company Lightstorm, along with Peter Jackson’s Park Road post-production house, created a new 4K master from the original Super 35 ‘common top’ negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Park Road used its proprietary deep-learning algorithms, which reduced the film grain while producing “enhanced” fine detail, says Bill Hunt, founder and producer of the Digital Bits website. Traditionally Super 35 films create a larger film grain, compared to films captured with anamorphic lens films.
The format had become Cameron’s favorite (“The Abyss,” 1989; “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” 1991; and “Titanic,” 1997, since it provided minimal horizontal cropping during the 4:3 square-shaped TV days, plus smaller cameras could be used compared to the larger anamorphic Panavision cameras. Cameron and other directors, including Ron Howard, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino, used the format throughout the late 1980s through the late 2000s.
Hunt also stated that “True Lies” was plagued with “occasional shots that appear to have had a bit of old-school noise reduction applied, but it’s hard to be sure if it’s actual DNR or simply that the Park Road process has been a little too heavy-handed.” But overall, Hunt felt it was a “very good looking UHD image,” and suspected most fans would appreciate it, even though some would take issue with the “extent of the remastering.”
So, we decided to join the debate and turn our critical eye to “True Lies.” We found the film grain varied depending on the digital platform. By far Movies Anywhere provided the best visual experience, with sweeping natural film grain. Still, the question of grain being the original or from an added filter from Park Road remains unsolved. Overall, the imagery has a digital look compared to the 4K mastering from the fine folks at Sony. The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading seems too bright, and the contrast level dialed too hot, causing highlights to be blown out at times. Cameron’s “Titanic” had a similar look but on a much lesser scale. I didn’t see “True Lies” during its 35mm theatrical run, or owned the film on laserdisc or DVD, so the high contrast may have been the original intent from Cameron and cinematographer Russell Carpenter (“Titanic,” “Avatar: The Way of Water”).
The colors are well-saturated throughout, and overall clarity is very good, especially in the many tight facial shots. Some shots have a digital retouching look, but our screenshots are the best way for you to examine Cameron’s restoration of “True Lies,” especially from a large monitor. Honestly, viewing any visuals on your iPhone is a waste of time from our perspective.
The 4K presentation also includes a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, expanding the soundstage through height speakers. There’s plenty of good bass response during explosions, gunfire, and Harrier jet blasts as the sound floods the room. Happily, the dialogue is never lost beneath the action. It remains front and center, with composer Brad Fiedel’s score, occasionally hitting height speakers.
A new 43-minute featurette, “Fear is Not an Option,” includes interviews from Cameron and Schwarzenegger, who recalls how “True Lies” “accidentally” became a Hollywood blockbuster. After the success of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Schwarzenegger had an agent looking into French films that could be made into a Hollywood action flick. They discovered the French “La Totale!” with a James Bond vibe, which seemed the perfect action comedy. Schwarzenegger recruited Cameron to direct. “I get it, I get what you see,” Cameron said. He fully understood why Schwarzenegger wanted to make this film, “this superhuman character…and do all this amazing stuff, but he must come back home and deal with his daughter and his wife. So, I took the bones of that story and just blew it up to a massive scale,” Cameron explains.
The production budget topped nearly $120 million with its huge action set pieces, helicopters, military jets, and flamethrowers. The final worldwide box office returns hit $379 million, with a running time of two hours and 21 minutes.
Additional extras include the original script, storyboards, blueprints for five scenes, photography from behind the scenes, on-location sites, and movie posters.
The physical 4K disc, which will be released in March, should provide a much higher video bitrate, uncovering a healthier dose of film grain from start to finish, making the 4K experience more cinematic.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer