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