Once more into the fray…
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live and die on this day…
Live and die on this day…
I've been excited to see 'The Grey' since its production announcement ran in the Hollywood trades. I'm a fan of man versus nature action dramas like 'The Edge' and 'Cast Away'. To me, there are few setups as thrilling as imagining oneself stranded in the remote, beautiful wilds of places like Alaska. Time and the elements are against you, and every decision could be the one for which you live or die. It's a situation that immediately strips a man down to his base instincts. They say you judge a man not by his best day, but by his worst. Well, these movies are all about slamming men into his worst possible days and seeing what shakes out. No wonder it's a breeding ground for drama.
'The Grey', co-written and directed by Joe Carnahan ('The A-Team'), is a fine addition to the genre. It stars Liam Neeson as Ottway, a hunter who protects the workers of a remote oil field in the extreme Alaskan winter. Ottway's wife has left him and he's has so many regrets he's not sure if he wants to live anymore. But when the oil company's jetliner crashes into a treacherous, isolated mountain range, Ottway must rise to lead a handful of survivors away from the region's deadly wolf pack before they starve or freeze to death.
'The Grey' again proves why Liam Neeson is one of the best action stars we have today. His screen presence is weighty and grounded; this guy can do anything and make it seem real and logical. There is a sad beauty to him, from the way he quietly remembers past regrets to the respect he gives while waiting for a wild beast's last breath to leave its lungs. Carnahan, along with co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, take an archetypal approach to Ottway and the other crash survivors. Yet, with every terrifying twist and turn, the filmmakers escalate the drama, tension, and conflict, while feeding us more character depth, allowing the audience to know and care about these men.
The action directing and the thrills are exhilarating and generally scary; the only limitations I could see were really about budget. Sometimes the CGI animals didn't look photo real. But that's okay. Another thing that bothered me on my first viewing has nothing to do with the film, and I can't really talk about it here. Let's just say, if you've seen the trailer, there comes a point when you're watching 'The Grey' where one realizes you haven't seen a particular moment, and when it arrives, the trailer version of the moment isn't what this movie is about at all. So, shame on you, marketing department for doing that.
What fascinates me most about the film was my reaction to it. I expected to like 'The Grey'. It's a very intense, dark experience, but when it ended, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. My initial internal-review was that it was a pretty good flick. Well made, but not great. Then a funny thing happened...
I kept thinking about the film -- I kept talking about it -- because its themes and ideas wouldn't stop rolling around in my head. What, at first, seems like a B-movie actioner is actually an emotional roller coaster about a man confronting his past and mortality. It's a haunting piece overall, which captures well the spirit of mankind pushed to extremes.
A quick note: for those who haven't seen the film, if you ever do watch it on Blu-ray, make sure to check out the post-credits image (not really a full scene).
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Grey' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment as part of a two-disc combo pack. The first disc is a BD50 that does not appear to be Region-locked (though this remains untested). Disc two is a DVD copy of the film. And there are instructions on how to download a standard definition Digital Copy of the film via iTunes or Windows Media, as well as access to stream the film via UltraViolet. This feature isn't working at the time of publication, but hopefully this will include the ability to stream the film via Vudu's HDX setting.
'The Grey' prowls onto Blu-ray with an above average, accurate AVC MPEG-4 encode, framed in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Having seen 'The Grey' theatrically, this Blu-ray exactly replicates the strengths and weaknesses of that experience, all of which stem from the film's source materials and the filmmakers' intentions. Film grain lovers will absolutely adore the look and feel of the film, which resembles other Blu-rays like 'Black Swan' and 'Warrior'. Grain is everywhere, giving the film a documentary aesthetic which grounds the whole experience. However, depending on the lighting conditions, the film's sharpness, depth, and overall resolution suffer.
Black levels are surprisingly deep despite the grain, with plenty of shadow detail. Highlights such as windows and snow-covered landscapes and open flame tend to blow out but, again, is inline with the film's intentions and original presentation. Likewise, skin tones aren't exactly what one would call lifelike, but given that the entire film takes place at sub-zero temperatures after the characters survive a plane crash, the rose-colored flesh tones are believable and realistic. In terms of transfer issues, I saw no no dirt or blemishes, or compression issues like macro blocking or banding.
Overall, watching 'The Grey' on Blu-ray is like watching a film running through a projector, it's a top-notch representation of the film's theatrical presentation. That being said, the original source materials don't always provide a perfect high definition experience.
'The Grey' growls at Blu-ray with a wonderfully aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound track.
This track is an excellent, truly immersive experience that achieves moments of excellence throughout thanks to a smart sound design that juxtaposes big boisterous moments next to quiet, poetic ones. This is done both to play up the bigger moments, as well as to give the audience a feeling of what it's like to see the world through Ottway's eyes. Thanks to the suffocating, blowing snow, the Alaska weather conditions almost become a character in the film.
While there are many terrifying wolf moments (shrieking creatures darting in and out in the darkness), my favorite auditory moment is the plane crash sequence. Though it doesn't have the dynamic range of the 'Fight Club' plane accident, this crash is absolutely explosive. As captured from Ottway's point of view, it's terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Swirling carnage envelopes your home theatre, made even more powerful by a intercut calm and quiet moments.
In terms of what could be better, this is a very powerful track for sure, but dialogue is sometimes lost in more chaotic moments (such as the chase down the mountain), a feeling I don't recall from the theatrical presentation. Also, LFE levels are strong, but never guttural.
Overall, 'The Grey' sounds fantastic on Blu-ray, with a few demo moments. However, when compared to some recent, more soundtracks like 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol', this presentation doesn't have as much directional precision, dynamic range, or detail.
Unfortunately, 'The Grey' is lackluster in terms of special features. I suppose this is understandable, given the film's box office performance. However, I've seen a few interviews with Liam Neeson talking about the extreme filming conditions, and I'm sure fans would have loved to get a fly-on-the-wall view of what it was like to make this movie. That being said, the filmmaker's commentary is terrific.
Some might dismiss 'The Grey' as a simple, man versus nature B-movie actioner, but this is one of those excellent films that stick with you long after the credits roll and it will only get better with additional viewings. As a Blu-ray, the video exactly replicates the theatrical viewing experience (though it doesn't always make for pretty high definition) and the audio is exemplary at times. And while there are only two special features, fans should be excited to purchase this combo pack, which also includes a DVD of the film along with a Digital Copy and UltraViolet streaming access. If you've never seen 'The Grey' before, but love man versus nature thrillers or strongly-scripted action dramas, you should definitely check it out on Blu-ray.