Spe­cial ef­fects of ‘The Great Wall’ shim­mer on Blu-ray

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY JOE SZADKOWSKI

Amon­strous fan­tasy film di­rected by Zhang Yi­mou and co-star­ring China’s legendary Won­der of the World gets a wel­come ul­tra-high-def­i­ni­tion re­lease af­ter its un­der­whelm­ing the­atri­cal per­for­mance ear­lier this year.

Please check logic and story anal­y­sis at the door be­fore div­ing into “The Great Wall” (Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Home En­ter­tain­ment, rated R, 103 min­utes, 2.39:1 as­pect ra­tio, $44.98), a pop­corn-munch­ing thrill ride set in the 11th cen­tury Song dy­nasty.

The tale finds a pair of West­ern mer­ce­nar­ies (Matt Da­mon and Pe­dro Pas­cal) in search of gun­pow­der on the Asian con­ti­nent. They end up help­ing to de­fend China against an army of crea­tures called the Taotei, a species more po­tent than a gag­gle of swarm­ing orcs.

With vari­a­tions that look like the Nexus (a large cat­like crea­ture that tried to eat Padme Ami­dala) from the “Star Wars” galaxy and Wargs (wolflike crea­tures) from “The Lord of the Rings” uni­verse, the Taotei have at­tacked the wall for 20 cen­turies, re­turn­ing every 60 years to try to break through and con­sume the hu­man race.

Let’s ig­nore Mr. Da­mon’s bizarre ac­cent, which waf­fles be­tween Span­ish, Ir­ish, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can, and fo­cus on some of the out­ra­geous tech­niques used to hold off the Taotei that make the movie shine.

At one point, a group of fe­male sol­diers from the Crane Corps jumps off of the sides of the wall as if div­ing into a pool and help­lessly poke at the beasts with large spears. (Note to self: a beau­ti­ful-look­ing idea but a very quick way to die.)

I was im­pressed by the sol­diers us­ing har­poons to fire hooks into the crea­tures and then drag them up the wall, and by the use of spin­ning blades pop­ping out of the wall that cut the beasts in half, spew­ing flo­res­cent-green blood all over the screen.

Let’s also ig­nore why the com­man­ders do not just use the mas­sive sup­ply of gun­pow­der avail­able to them to build po­tent bombs. They do that later in the movie, as more of a last stand, but why sac­ri­fice so much life be­fore?

Alas, “The Great Wall” has nar­ra­tive is­sues but still of­fers some stun­ning bat­tles and cre­ative tac­ti­cal strate­gies.

4K UHD mo­ments: Dig­i­tally trans­ferred to the 2160p for­mat from an orig­i­nal 4K mas­ter and en­hanced via high-dy­namic-range tech­nol­ogy, “The Great Wall” looks fan­tas­tic on home theater sys­tems.

From the very be­gin­ning, the fine de­tail of the or­nate, mul­ti­col­ored ar­mor and hel­mets of the Chi­nese gen­er­als and sol­diers pops from the screen as the metal flak­ing of blues, reds, pur­ples and yel­lows from each pro­tec­tive piece nearly mes­mer­izes the eyes.

Be­sides the beau­ti­ful views of the com­put­er­gen­er­ated wall and the ex­pan­sive, orangish, moun­tain­ous land­scapes it rolls across, the res­o­lu­tion al­lows for such sharp­ness on screens 65 inches and larger that it may in­duce ver­tigo.

High­lights of the trans­fer in­clude a scene fea­tur­ing a col­lec­tion of il­lu­mi­nated pa­per bal­loons fly­ing over the dark­en­ing sky that is sim­ply “Fan­ta­sia” cool to ob­serve.

And a fi­nal confrontation with the beasts in an oddly sit­u­ated, mas­sive stained-glass pagoda in the Im­pe­rial City show­cases the vivid color po­ten­tial of high-dy­namic range in ac­tion.

Now, the fault of such an im­mac­u­late trans­fer is that the spe­cial ef­fects must be nearly flaw­less and per­fectly in­te­grated into the scenes. Only oc­ca­sion­ally is the magic ru­ined slightly, as with the Taotei adopt­ing a slightly car­toon­ish tone, es­pe­cially dur­ing close-up at­tacks.

Best ex­tras: View­ers will need to pop in the Blu-ray ver­sion to find a nine-minute look at three key bat­tle scenes fea­tur­ing mas­sive cross­bows, har­poon bal­lis­tae, large spin­ning blades and tre­buchets loft­ing flam­ing can­non­balls. Each is dis­sected by the di­rec­tor, stunt co­or­di­na­tor Buster Reeves and Weta Work­shop cre­ator Joe Dunk­ley and pro­duc­tion de­signer Gor­don Sim.

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