With the widely available market of 4K TV sets pricing down to a broader consumer market, the concept of 4K seems to be the industry standard. That being said not everything is being released in 4K Blu-Ray, with smaller releases opting out for the production of DVDs and standard Blu-Rays. However some of the bigger budget films that come out of Hollywood are available across all formats, asking for retail consumers to pick out the quality of the release based on their accessibility to the required devices. I've been privy to Blu-Ray for almost a decade before starting to switch my catalog over to 4K discs. 4K movies almost double the cost of a DVD's retail price and can be hard to justify their physical purchase over the opportunity of rental. But if you want to see the film quality as a director intended and can't make it to the big screen, it's a reasonable alternative. With the right TV size and quality, a decent player and solid HDMI set up, home viewing can be pretty damn satisfying.
In this new article template I intend to recommend the best format to seeing some of my favorite movies on 4K, including remasters and upgrades of older films along with current releases fresh to home viewing. Some of these films I've returned to based on their transfer to higher definition, and some of them I'm visiting for the first time, to the pleasure of the currently highest quality offered on disc.
Let's explore some movies we may have missed in theatres, or haven't seen in years, and why to opt in for the 4K treatment.
Turns out space can be deafening. In Damien Chazelle's First Man the third release of the consistently positively reviewed director, Chazelle pumps the volume up to the max on the relentlessly loud film. There's moments of pure silence in the film, but those are merely moments of breathing between some of the film's biggest set pieces. The quietest moments happen in wordless disagreements with tension at home. The loudest moments happen when our protagonist is completely alone, with the small shell of machinery blocking him from instant death on his journey to accomplish the unaccomplishable. Here we are beheld to the creaks, whines and groans of machinery built by man that is constantly being put the test as it is pushed harder and harder, like our astronauts in the film. Chazelle has experimented with sound through the musical approach as his forte with his most famously nixed Best Picture La La Land. Prior to that he had blasted into the spotlight with Whiplash, a powerhouse from both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (the latter of who would win an Oscar). Whiplash was an extremely stressful and rhythmic story of a young inspired drummer on his attempt to break big in an extremely competitive field. This film operates on a pace of constant tenseness with the two leads chewing up the scene and attempting to out-perform the other. It also exists largely on the sound of the drumming, the heartbeat of the player and the fucking tempo that Simmon just can't quite be satisfied with. Whiplash is a movie about music, as is La La Land, but all three of his films work on the same rhythmic level as the other, with focus on foley and sound editing to keep the viewer focused and engaged. La La Land is probably the outlier here, giving the audience a more whimsical approach to music, with moments of sadness consistent with charm and laughs, unlike his other two releases.
So on his third (major) release, after two films made mostly about music and for musical audiences, Chazelle took a left field chance on a true life biopic of Neil Armstrong and his bold attempts at mankind's infinite progress on the space frontier. Ryan Gosling stars as Armstrong in a quiet performance as a man who has been through the ringer at home and uses space as either an escape from the struggle or a chance to prove himself as a fatherly icon and admirable husband after tragedy befell their family. You be the judge. The movie is supported by a wide cast of "hey I recognize that guy from somewhere!" actors, but the real performance lies with Gosling who seems to struggle internally with his guilt over fallen crew more so than the physical pressures put on him during his missions. The film starts with a tragedy so bleak that I won't go into, but it shakes our protagonist and his family early on with the reality that death is something that could come for us at any time, of any risk factor. One of the film's finest scenes comes after a press conference he has concerning his Apollo 11 mission, where he flippantly responds to some serious questions and lets his panel do most of the talking, The following scene shows Armstrong on the receiving end of the tough questions but this time from his two sons, who grill their Dad about the harsh reality of the mission more so than their excitement for him. This is a scene where Gosling really shines, he seems to be more affected and hurt by the same questions, but faces them in a more human approach when coming from his own children.Gosling also commands each scene with the completely visceral and visible fear he has during one of his many tests on Earth along with some of his less than successful launches. He seems to be in a constant state of fear which asks the audience why he is doing this at all, if not to punish himself. These scenes are elated with the cacophonous symphony of malfunctioning beeps coming from all around him in his claustrophobic vessel.
It's sound that propels this film to some of its best highs, but the visuals don't hurt either. The 4K release of this film does it justice along with the darkest blacks of space swallowing some of the backgrounds up deserving to be scene on a well lit TV. There's a real eye for accuracy amid the effects of the movie, perpetuated well by Chazelle.
"First Man was shot without the use of green screen. Instead, LED displays of up to 10 meters were used. These projected images that would simulate the exterior of the spacecraft, both the Earth and space...Chazelle chose this technique because it allowed the actors to get more into the role; instead of seeing a green screen, they saw the outside environment recreated with visual effects.."
The film format of the movie offers a natural look to the scenes at home as well, Chazelle flipped between 35mm film for each scene on Earth, with 16mm used for the largest space set pieces. Again this is an argument for the 4K format, further capitalizing on major film releases new and old to give the real feeling of being in the theater
Two years later, the lasting impact of the film successfully was it's Golden Globe and Oscar winning best original score (which I hadn't mentioned was by Justin Hurwitz and consisted of a 94-piece orchestra) and it's 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It would also win Best Visual Effects at the Oscars as well. The movie seemed to be overshadowed by some of the other monster releases of 2018 however, without any major wins in the acting, directing or picture categories, which were both ruled by Chazelle in his last two features. It would exist on many top 10 lists but when held up to the impact of Whiplash and La La Land, would miss the lasting best of the decade lists. I am a fan of all his releases thus far (although I have yet to see his quiet indie student debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) and would argue Whiplash is my favorite. I'm not saying First Man will go without being seen, but as a thematic outlier of his, it deserves to be seen and watched as an interesting evolution of his career and overall risk-taking turn into another genre.