Thor on Blu-ray disc

"I'm Thor!"

"Well of courth you are, thilly, you forgot the thaddle!"

Okay, it's an old, bad joke and really has nothing to do with Paramount's latest superhero movie to appear on Blu-ray, but we couldn't resist.

So sue us.

Thor isn't your average Marvel superhero. He isn't a nerdy kid bitten by a spider, a billionaire arms merchant with a conscience, a guy who turns big and green when he's angry, a misfit mutant, or any of that stuff. No, Thor is an honest to goodness Norse God – in fact a good portion of the movie, maybe even half or more, takes place in the realm of Odin, Thor, Loki, and the rest of that happy band of deities whose tales we knew and loved when we were kids.

Those childhood memories come into play in the movie Thor, too, as the banished, earthbound Thor tries to explain who and what he is – and what the universe is all about – to his love (or at least lust)-smitten human babe played by Natalie Portman.

Anyway, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the hammer-wielding Norse God of thunder who at the film's opening is about to be proclaimed King by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor thinks he's already cock of the walk, however, and proves via an ill-advised invasion of the Ice Giants' realm that he really isn't ready to be king. Worse, he's proved that he's an uppity brat who really needs to be exiled to Midgard (which we know as Earth).

That leaves Thor's brother, Loki, the God of mischief (Tom Hiddleston), the new heir and, since you can't trust Loki, all Hell is unleashed on the realm of the Gods. Thor is obviously the only one who can set things right, but he's down on earth getting poked and prodded by the powers that be, who are trying to figure out what makes him – and his magic, Excalibur-like hammer – tick.

Meanwhile, back at the New Mexico ranch, three scientists (Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings) get caught up in the affairs of the banished Thor – who's still cocky as all get out despite not having his trusty  hammer Mjolnir at hand to wield.

The hammer, which landed on Earth separately, is in the possession of spooky government agents who operate under the name SHIELD. They can't make head nor tails of it, but they sure drive a bunch of mean Acuras!

So Thor, left homeless and powerless and to his own devices, must undergo his own coming of age, a voyage of self-discovery that eventually teaches him what's required to be a hero and the King of Asgard. Meanwhile, Loki and his little blue friends (well, actually, they're quite big) threaten all existence with annihilation.

It's actually a pretty interesting concept and Kenneth Branagh's film works quite well. His tale blends magic and science (in fact, they're one and the same here), with a wonderfully epic look and feel (especially in the non-earthly scenes) that takes the subject matter seriously, but doesn't beat us over the head with it.

Branagh blends the heavenly and earthly realms very well and the film never really feels as if these two sides of the coin are actually separate – they are two sides of the same coin, they're just very different, but they flow together well.

Asgard looks beautiful, with outstanding production design and execution – and even the costumes look appropriately Godly. Earth, in this case New Mexico, contrasts well, a gritty and sun-bleached land that, to someone like Thor when he first arrives, would look appropriately hellish compared to where he left.

The cast is good as well. One would expect a top notch performance from Anthony Hopkins, and he delivers as always. Hemsworth, as Thor, is very well cast. He's big and hunky enough, but he also does a nice job of being both a Godly character – and an arrogant one at that – yet one whose newly-discovered humanity comes through when push comes to shove. Loki is a character that must have been tough to imagine and Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like a young Brent Spiner, pulls it off quite well. The least interesting are the humans. Stellan Skarsgard is believable, but Portman's merely okay and Kat Dennings is basically wasted – and we had trouble believing Dennings' character in the first place; she seemed a tad too bimbo-ish to be a real scientist, more like Kaley Cuoco's "Penny" (not that Penny is a bimbo) hanging around the quartet of brainiacs in "Big Bang Theory."

Thor is an entertaining movie that tries to be epic and for the most part works. The special effects are spectacular and the mythology is treated with respect – more respect, in fact, than the humans. In all, it's a fun time in the home theater.

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080/24p at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The picture is very nice, indeed, with exquisite detail, excellent color and even pretty good depth. Not quite reference quality, but about as close as you can get. Even the New Mexico scenes, which aren't digital constructs and consist of many shades of brown, look very clean (except for the "real life" dust). 

Thor also receives a powerful soundtrack, in this case a 7.1 channel dts-HD Master Audio one. This one's so powerful we had to back off the volume on our home theater a bit from our default setting lest it push the walls into the next rooms. At the time, we were running a 5.1 system packing 400 watts per channel of delicious Crestron power, which didn't hurt – but Thor was still louder than most releases regardless of which system we played it on.

We don't consider that a flaw.

Dialogue comes through nice and cleanly, despite the audio havoc being wreaked around it, and the overall dynamics, sound effects, LFE effects and channel separation are awe-inspiring.  

Extras include a DVD/Digital Copy disc and a commentary track with director Kenneth Branagh that's one of the best we've heard lately. He talks about themes as well as the actual creation of the film, a real tour de force from a well-respected filmmaker and actor. If all you know about Branagh is his foppish performance in Harry Potter, you're in for a treat.

You also get seven HD featurettes, accessed individually. They cover the creation of heavens and earth (shots, sets, costumes, you get the drill), one on Branagh himself, the casting, the critters and even the "Marvel-ous" Stan Lee – who of course has a cameo in the film.

There are also some deleted scenes, a bit of promo for the upcoming Avengers film (and, alas, Diana Rigg won't be returning as Mrs. Peel), and trailers.

Thor isn't the best of the Marvel films, but it's definitely worth a view or two. Just remember to turn down your audio system a tad before you fire it up!

Thor, from Paramount Home Entertainment
114 min. 1080/24p widescreen (2.35:1), dts-HD Master Audio 7.1
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Anthony Hopkins
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne, directed by Kenneth Branagh

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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