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Posted Mon Nov 20, 2017 at 12:45 PM PST by
Michael S. Palmer
December 19th is going to be an exciting day for 4K enthusiasts who also happen to be Christopher Nolan fans. Not only will you be able to pick up Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Trilogy on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, but there'll be a Christopher Nolan Collection seven-film 4K box set option that also includes Interstellar, The Prestige, and Inception.
Last Friday, HDD joined Warner Bros. Home Entertainment at the historic Chateau Marmont Hotel to celebrate Mr. Nolan's work. Sunset Boulevard sure has evolved since I moved to Los Angeles, but walking through the dimly lit Marmont is like stepping into a time machine that rockets you back across a century of Hollywood glamour and tragedy. Adding to the atmosphere, Christopher Nolan attended the event in person along with friends and colleagues and I couldn't help but geek out over seeing Kenneth Branagh, whose Henry V adaptation is one of the key reasons I adore both Shakespeare and cinema.
Celebrities included, the best part of the evening was the twin 65" Sony OLED displays playing clips from Dunkirk and the rest of the 4K Collection. Unfortunately, we didn't get to take home any sample discs to do a more thorough analysis (nor did we get to compare the 4K transfers to the previous Blu-rays), but I wanted to share my first impressions because I'm very impressed.
SONY A1E OLED
Before we jump into the clips, let's talk about the new 65" Sony A1E OLED 4K TV, which you can buy HERE on Amazon for $3,500 and fuses an LG OLED panel with Sony processing and design. In short, this TV is a revelation. Wow! The display itself stands on flat surfaces like an easel, giving the whole thing a high-end gallery appearance. Yet, while perfect for a party where everyone's standing, this setup might make viewing angles odd for any sitting position that's lower than the TV's midpoint. Wall mounting (the rear half of the stand folds flat) is probably a better option.
In terms of performance, the A1E impressed everyone. I can't comment on settings, mode, or calibration specifics, but I overheard Emma Thomas (Christopher Nolan's producing partner/wife) telling colleagues that "Chris made sure they were calibrated" and both displays met his high standards. I was most surprised by their overall brightness; in terms of specs, they max out around 700 nits, but these two 65" ($3500) panels literally lit up the room while producing stunning black levels with no sense of banding in the shadows, tons of specular highlight details, and very accurate colors. To be fair, Nolan's movies, and Dunkirk especially, are far less colorful than something like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so I didn't get to see these Sony OLEDs push their full capabilities. Still, even in a room with a lot of ambient lighting, the results were striking, especially for IMAX footage.
Nolan's latest blockbuster was shot mostly on IMAX 15/70 film -- with the remaining, mostly-dialog scenes photographed in widescreen 70mm (65mm negative) -- and boy does this quality make difference. It was easily the best-looking demo of the evening. Sampling extended sequences from all three of the land, sea, and air timelines, I can confirm this 4K Blu-ray features alternating aspect ratios, with full frame IMAX 70/15 cutting to letterboxed 70mm footage.
Simply put, the Dunkirk IMAX clips are magnificent. Demo material all day and night. As close to IMAX 15/70 or IMAX Laser as you can get in the home. Probably the sharpest, clearest 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray ever released (or very close to Planet Earth II, which has the added benefit of being far more colorful). Like I said above, everyone was impressed. You can smush your face right up to the screen and see the smallest details in the sky and waves and uniforms and metal vessels. I'm sorry if this sounds like hyperbole, but, honestly, it's shockingly clear.
The widescreen 70mm footage is also quite clean and looks noticeably sharper than Nolan's 35mm productions (more on this in a minute), but lacks the finer details and overall screen brightness of the IMAX footage. It's not bad, by any means -- in fact, it gives me hope of how terrific Lawrence of Arabia or The Hateful Eight could look in 4K -- but this footage is just not as jaw-dropping when intercut with a higher resolution source material. The good news is that the difference is far less noticeable than IMAX v 35mm, and there are no signs of any weird digital enhancements or over-sharpening.
In other words, if you have a 4K display, you have a new demo disc. If you haven't upgraded, here's a very fun reason to do so.
About twenty feet away from the Dunkirk OLED, a second Sony A1E played a revolving series of clips from Nolan's other Collection movies, though I missed seeing anything from The Prestige or The Dark Knight. (Please don't read anything into this; it was a very crowded room and I bumped into a few friends along the way, so there's no political or technical reason behind this.)
However, I did see the Tumbler Chase from Batman Begins, as well as Bane and Selina Kyle's (individual) introductions from The Dark Knight Rises. The Tumbler Chase is drenched in deeper shadows than I recall seeing on both my Blu-ray and various theatrical formats circa 2005, but you can still see things like the metallic black paint and the church roof tiles as the Tumbler crunches across them. Bane's plane-heist is one of the most thrilling action sequences ever put to film and, much like Dunkirk, the full frame IMAX-filmed footage drips with detail and texture. It looks terrific. The Selena Kyle scene takes place in Bruce Wayne's shadowy mansion and was probably the least eye-popping footage of the evening. Skin tones and black levels are good, but there is a visible drop in sharpness compared to the IMAX footage (noticeably more so than Dunkirk's widescreen 70mm footage). This is understandable, expected even, and will likely be less visible to those who aren't an arm's length away from a screen. Still, the good news here is that there doesn't appear to be any over-sharpening; it's just hard to compete with IMAX 15/70.
I also pixel-peeped the Matthew McConaughey vs Matt Damon ice planet fight sequence from Interstellar. Another IMAX-heavy scene, this one oozed detail, not only in terms of actor's faces and costume textures, but also in all the fine, specular highlight details. It's basically an all-white screen that (when watching on a Blu-ray) tends to bleed white on less capable displays, resulting in an image that's more light grey than pure white. Here, we see more lifelike white levels along with every icicle and glacial snowdrift. In terms of colors, these clips also include earth-set moments where the dying cornfields are a vivid, lifelike green. I can't wait to see more of this one.
Lastly, we demoed Cobb/Ariadne's Paris training sequences from Inception -- the café slow-motion explosions, the mirror sequence, and folding Paris over itself -- which might be my personal favorite Nolan movie. Lacking IMAX footage, this one didn't have the look-at-me pop of Dunkirk, Interstellar, or The Dark Knight Rises, but overall it looks quite good. Without the Blu-ray handy, I don't know if I can fairly judge this one as a few of the effects elements lacked a bit of weight and the image wasn't always super-sharp. Much of this seems inherent to the source and, again, implies there's no unwanted digital sharpening. While I wasn't blown away, I'm looking forward to seeing more of this one in person and comparing it to the original Blu-ray.
While I used my best critical eye to drink in what was, presumably, a well-calibrated Sony OLED TV, these are just quick preview thoughts I hope will interest fans. I wasn't in a controlled environment. I didn't get to compare these transfers to the Blu-rays. And I didn't hear any audio (which, for anyone who hasn't been following, is going to remain 5.1 DTS-HD MA for all of Nolan's movies -- no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X).
Important caveats aside, I'm very impressed and look forward to seeing the whole movies in 4K and/or reading what my team here at HDD has to say. I think Dunkirk is about to become a go-to demo disc while the other movies are going to look good to excellent depending on the original source materials. On a 65" or larger HDR10 capable display or projector, we're all in for a treat come December 19th.
Pre-order listings for the Christopher Nolan Collection and The Prestige are not live yet, but we'll update this page when they are available. You can find the latest specs for all of the movies listed above linked from our 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Release Schedule, where they are indexed under December 19.
Stay tuned for more. Thanks for reading and have an awesome week!
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