Posted Wed Dec 13, 2023 at 12:34 PM PST by Matthew Hartman
James Cameron's Aliens, The Abyss, and True Lies are now streaming on 4K on Vudu, iTunes, & Prime
Well, yesterday was a pretty big day - if you’re up for purchasing your movies on 4K UHD streaming that is. James Cameron’s long-in-waiting 4K UHD releases of Aliens, The Abyss, and True Lies arrived on streaming services giving us an early look at what to expect when these films hit discs in March. How good do they look with Dolby Vision HDR? Is there film grain? What’s the Atmos like? Well, let's get into it. To be sure, we’ll be doing full film and disc reviews when they come, so these comments will serve more as initial impressions of what I saw looking at the various streaming editions.
Starting by release order:
Now - one frustration to note is that Vudu and iTunes Movies only offer the longer 1990 Special Edition of Aliens in HD with Dolby Digital 5.1 as a “bonus feature.” Right now, it’s not its own standalone and not in 4K Dolby Vision with Atmos audio. That honor rests strictly with the leaner and somewhat meaner Theatrical Cut.
First Reaction to the Aliens Streaming 4K Dolby Vision HDR Transfer:
Overall, pretty damn good, but not perfect. Apparently, Aliens, along with the other films, have undergone a similar restoration process where using the best recent transfer elements as a base, the films have also undergone some kind of algorithmic enhancement to draw out more fine details and textures while mitigating noisy film grain without completely scrubbing it away either. This isn’t like the waxy mess that we saw with the 4K UHD Blu-rays of Terminator 2: Judgement Day that wrongly used the 3D master. It’s certainly a different and new way of seeing the film, I’ll admit seeing some facial features and textures that clear was pretty jarring but it still looked pretty great. The HDR grade isn't overly aggressive but really lends itself to the dark shadowy locations while keeping skin tones healthy and human-looking.
That said, those expecting to see a more “filmic” look of something like the 70mm archival print I saw on Alien Day a few years back won’t be seeing that here. This has a more modernized sheen to it but not an altogether unappealing one. Color timing is similar to the past Blu-rays but also seems to have toned down the overly aggressive teal appearance of the Blu-ray. After a few moments, these differences started to look less jarring and more natural and in general, looked pretty damn terrific by the time we see the big bitch Queen take on Ripley in her loader. Not perfect, I don’t necessarily see the need for the “enhancement” process in general but judging it as it is, I’m giving this one a 4/5 - maybe a 4.25/5 if I’m being a little extra generous.
Now a caveat I have is that I felt like I was getting pretty different results between Vudu and iTunes Movies in terms of stability. Vudu felt like the quality and clarity fluctuated a lot like the stream kept having to adjust between 1080p to 2160p clarity almost shot-to-shot. That was my initial viewing experience and it was damned frustrating. However, moving over to iTunes Movies (which my account was very slow to port), I didn’t have that problem there. Everything was consistent and even and looked great (this was true also for The Abyss and True Lies).
First Reaction to Aliens Dolby Atmos Audio Mix:
Holy hell I can’t wait to hear this without the streaming compression on disc! If it sounds this good on streaming I can only imagine we have a full-fledged demo-worthy Atmos track coming to 4K disc in March. Those low rumbly tones of James Horner’s score are great early indicators of what’s to come. From the salvage ship capturing the shuttle to the incredible sonic envelopment of the drop ship to Vasquez launching those grenades during the final assault - this track uses every channel virtually at all times. Dialog is crystal clear without issue. A great mix that I can’t wait to hear truly unleashed on disc. 4.5/5
Another note to pass along - Vudu seems to be the only online retailer right at the moment that has the Special Edition cut of The Abyss, but like Aliens, it’s in the bonus features and only in HD with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. As of this writing, iTunes Movies doesn’t have the Special Edition in their offerings in any resolution. If/when that changes we'll try and circle back here with an update.
First Reaction to The Abyss Streaming 4K Dolby Vision HDR Transfer:
Of the three remaining James Cameron films coming to 4K this year (that we know of), this is the one that I’m most impressed with. For those familiar with the HD Stream that circulated various services like Amazon Prime in recent years, you’ll see this Dolby Vision HDR transfer is closer to that presentation. So to put it lightly, it’s very blue. If you don’t like the color blue, you might have a tough time for some scenes. However, the blue isn’t so obnoxiously teal that it can’t function. It’s just going to look very different than what people saw on that old DVD and Laserdisc transfer. Yellows and reds maintain a natural primary appearance and skin tones are healthy and even.
For detail and clarity, my understanding is The Abyss went through the same sort of algorithmic processing to heighten details while mitigating noisy film grain without completely scrubbing it away. To that effect, the "enhanced" appearance, to me, looked less obvious than it was in Aliens and looked more natural here. With Dolby Vision, black levels with all of the underwater photography actually held up pretty well. There were still some struggles with shadows, but at this point, I kind of expect that with streaming. I’d anticipate that to look much better once it hits disc. As of right now, I’m comfortable getting closer to giving this one a 4.25/5 to 4.5/5
Dropping by the HD version of the Special Edition on Vudu (again that isn’t on iTunes Movies at least yet) I was pleased to see the same sort of care and attention carried over there as well, albeit only in HD. That said, it is a pretty obvious step down in clarity to the point I thought the whole HD stream looked rather waxy and unappealing compared to the 4K one, but then Vudu has been pretty damn spotty for me lately so it could be the service rather than transfer itself.
First Reaction to The Abyss Dolby Atmos Audio Mix:
Like Aliens, I can’t wait to hear this Atmos mix fully unleashed on disc. (That’s going to be a running theme if you haven’t guessed already). Between my old DVD and two Laserdisc copies, The Abyss has been a rather sonically restrained audio experience compared to newer formats - until now. It’s a weird highlight to note but it’s also a sign of how careful they were with the mix, but listen for the bubbles from the divers' regulators. It’s a subtle effect but it slips from the center channels into the heights. Likewise, that big hurricane is a wall-to-wall, channel-to-channel immersive moment. The submarine crash, the submersible dog fight are terrific moments and that excellent score by Alan Silvestri fills the soundscape nicely. 4.5/5
Last for our quick looks:
First Reaction to the True Lies Streaming 4K Dolby Vision HDR Transfer:
Now for a nice change of pace, there isn’t any alternate Special Edition to worry about between services, so what you get on Vudu and iTunes Movies is the same Theatrical Cut we’ve all loved and enjoyed for 30 years. However, of the three Cameron films coming to 4K in March, this one had the most over-processed appearance to me. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where this film looks jaw-droppingly excellent, but because the film is so bright and colorful when something looks kinda “off” it’s more obvious than it was for Aliens or The Abyss. However, clarity for some scenes is better than I’ve ever experienced letting fine lines, facial, features, and clothing textures come through nicely. I never really noticed the scarring makeup around Charlton Heston’s eyepatch before, but now we see a little more of the damage to his face.
With HDR, colors look pretty great and normal with the only real “James Cameron Blue” coming in during the big chase scene when Schwarzenegger is on horseback. Speaking of that scene, it is now all the more obvious when Schwarzenegger’s stunt double was employed! But going back to that enhanced appearance a bit, this started to feel normal and less obvious or distracting as the film went on. By the time Harry Tasker hops in that jet and flies off to rescue his daughter, I was less nitpicky. Not the greatest of the three, but not a T2 scenario by far. My hope is the disc evens out a lot of the bitrate issues we see with streaming services. But right now this registers with me as something like a 3.5/5 to 3.75/5
Speaking to the streaming services, Vudu again had the toughest time with this one. The image quality shift felt near-constant to me so it initially made focusing on that enhanced appearance much easier and distracting. Again, flipping over to iTunes Movies, that didn’t feel like as harsh an issue and actually let me enjoy the damn film.
First Reaction to the True Lies Dolby Atmos Audio Mix:
With all of the gunfire, explosions, jet engines, missiles, horse gallops, and Brad Fidel’s excellent exciting score, True Lies scores the best Atmos track, I feel, of the whole pack. You get the opening party sequence followed by the first chase scene then you get the Horse vs Motor Cycle chase, capped off with the big firefight and jet rescue sequences. The whole film is wall-to-wall sonic immersion and even distilled for streaming services sounded excellent. This is definitely one I can’t wait for the full disc experience so I can crank my volume and really let the subs rattle my walls. Dialog is clean throughout without issue. 5/5
We knew going in that James Cameron's Aliens, The Abyss, and True Lies were going to illicit some passionate responses within the collector community. Understandably, everyone has an ideal viewing experience for these films. Whether or not that ideal squares with how Cameron thinks these flicks should look on home video is going to be a bit of a controversy. Already there have been some passionate responses on both sides of the coin floating around the interwebs. Depending on your setup calibration or even how and with what service you’re streaming the films, experiences are going to vary. For myself, I’m pleased, not blown away, but left hopeful the extra bitrate room of a 100 gig disc will help even out the overall visual experience. Without a doubt though, those Atmos tracks are dynamite! Even if True Lies ends up not looking any better, I’ll be happy just to have that uncompressed Atmos blasting the walls of my house.
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