Gump director makes a romantic WWII spy thriller
By Jim Bray
Robert Zemeckis has made a lot of interesting and innovative movies during his decades-long career and he has also pushed the state-of-the-moviemaking-art during that time.
I don't think he's had a huge hit like he did with Forrest Gump, the Back the Future trilogy or Who Framed Roger Rabbit (among others) in a while, perhaps since Cast Away at the turn of the century, but you can always rely on him to push the cinematic envelope in one way or the other, and his films are always entertaining as well.
He's also the guy who pushed the 3D IMAX envelope, starting with the exquisite The Polar Express, which means that such famed movie tech visionaries as James Cameron are really standing on his shoulders.
Zemeckis' Allied, his telling of a couple of World War II spies who fall in love and start a family back in England, sees him recreate the world of the day beautifully via his typical use of digital effects. The film is a bit of a change of pace for him as well: a romantic drama that's laced with more "F-bombs" than I can remember from any other Zemeckis film I've seen.
This isn't his first kick at a romantic tale, of course: he's the guy who directed Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in the romantic adventure "Romancing the Stone." But Allied is not a comedy in any way; in fact, you could look upon it as a tragedy, a kind of "star-crossed lover" tale in which two people from very different backgrounds (and, it would appear, ideologies), come together in love only to have it challenged as the facts of the warring world around them rear their ugly heads.
And that's all I'm going to say about the story lest I spoil it for those of you who haven't yet seen it - which judging by its box office performance and the speed at which it's available on video, seems to be most people. Yet it's a very compelling story, told by a master filmmaker, and it's well worth seeing.
It doesn't hurt that the cast is up for the task. Brad Pitt, as the Canadian spy, is very good in the lead role. I've never understood the angst for him as an actor; granted I haven't seen most of his films but he's been just fine in the ones I have had a chance to catch. French actress Marion Cotillard is also very good as his love interest - or is she his love interest? I didn't recognize most of the other cast members but, as usual, Zemeckis has assembled a good ensemble who put in believable performances.
Since Robert Zemeckis can always be counted on to make a movie that, if nothing else, looks and sounds terrific (and also because I'm a fan of his work), I jumped at the chance to review Paramount Home Entertainment's Ultra HD (HDR) Blu-ray version and it definitely doesn't disappoint.
The "film" looks great in 1080p, but the 4K version is - as it should be - even better. It was shot digitally, which often is a good start, and the image quality is noticeably better than the 1080p version, though as I've noted with other 4K discs the differences can be quite subtle at times.
The 2.40:1 picture is balanced beautifully, with really nothing for me to complain about (talk about making a reviewer's life difficult!) Fine details look wonderful, including fabrics and textures and even clouds during sunny scenes. Want to see every little mark on Brad Pitt's face? This is your chance!
Allied has a lot of dark scenes, which can pose real challenges in the home theatre, especially if you have issues with ambient lighting. But the UHD treatment gives extra depth and detail even to these sections.
Good black levels are critical in video (the better the blacks, the better everything else looks), and can help give you that 3D-like "pop off the screen" look even with non-3D 1080p Blu-rays. Move that up a level of video wonderfulness and you have the UHD version, which is a joy to watch.
Oddly enough, given the state of the video, Allied's audio isn't offered in Dolby Atmos, the latest and supposedly greatest in home theatre sound (which, I must admit, I have yet to experience so can't comment on other than to say it ain't here). But the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is just fine, though it's a tad front channel-biased.
Oh, there's good use of surround, but you aren't as immersed here as with some other films that seem to throw sounds at you from all over the place. Still channel separation is top notch and the audio is balanced nicely. And you don't miss out on ambience at all, whether it's background voices or gunfire, so while I love a soundtrack that's all over and around me, I can't really complain about the director's choices here. It's all about creating a mood, and Zemeckis is a master.
There's a pretty good selection of extras, too. "From Stage to the Sahara" looks at the production design and how they enhanced their real locations with Zemeckis' typically great CGI (this is the guy, remember, who had the World Trade Centre resurrected for his last film, The Walk). "Lights, Pixels, ACTION! Looks at the digital visual effects more closely, and it's a short but very interesting look.
"Through the Lens" sees cast and crew members singing Zemeckis' praises, while ""A Stitch in Time" looks at the period costumes. "That Swingin' Sound focuses on the score by long-time Zemeckis collaborator Alan Sylvestri, "Til Death Do Us Part" looks at Pitt and Cotillard and their characters, and there are featurettes that focus on other characters and performances, as well as the vintage vehicles (check out the classic old Lysander aircraft in the film!) and the weapons used.
Allied's 4K package also comes with a conventional 1080p Blu-ray and a code for an "Ultraviolet" digital download, so even if you haven't moved to 4K yet but are planning to, the package will make the move with you, painlessly. That's how it should be - and, fortunately, how it really is with the 4K discs I've reviewed so far.
While I kind of miss the more fun Zemeckis films of old, I enjoyed Allied and was pleased to see it given its due in its 4K release. It will never be my favourite Zemeckis film (so far, that's Contact, followed by Roger Rabbit) but it's still a compelling story of love and war and (oops, nearly put in a spoiler!), crafted by a master director.
And if you want to see it at its best, check out this 4K version.
Note: for these reviews, I used Panasonic's 4K TC-55CX850U 55 inch 4K TV coupled with Oppo Digital's UDP-203 player.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.