Ben Affleck was directing his way back to success when he made ‘The Town’. Although only eight years old, it shows how UHD Blu-rays can reveal quality flaws as well as highlights.
In 1997 Ben Affleck won the Oscar for the Best Screenplay with his friend, Matt Damon. Affleck’s role in Good Will Hunting was as supporting actor. Following that he appeared in a range of movies, including the astonishingly silly Armageddon, the underwhelming actioner Pearl Harbor, and the weak Marvel comic Daredevil. But it was Gigli — a romantic comedy/crime movie from 2003 that made Affleck, it seems, almost a laughing stock. Gigli scores 2.4/10 on IMDB.
Affleck is a smart man. (Reference: Oscar for Good Will Hunting). In 2008 he started creating a redemptive trio of movies. He didn’t even appear in the first, Gone Baby Gone (2008). He directed it and the next couple, but left his brother Casey to star. The third was Argo (2012). That, of course, won best picture Oscar and was the first movie since 1989’s ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ to have “apparently directed itself”, since Affleck was not nominated as best director.
The middle entry is The Town. Like Gone Baby Gone this draws on Affleck’s native affinity for his home town of Boston, but it’s chiefly a heist movie. The closest in style would be Michael Mann’s Heat (1995).
Affleck and Jeremy Renner lead a crew of hard-core, hyper-competent robbers. They kind of work for ‘The Florist’, Pete Postlethwaite in his second-last role before succumbing to pancreatic cancer. Of course, things don’t always work out they way they should. And of course there’s a romantic development.
The movie is highly enjoyable, so long as you don’t mind rooting for violent bank robbers. Affleck’s character is distinguished by not being as brutal as the others.
Although 2010 isn’t all that long ago, the film has in parts an old-fashioned look. Especially things like the swooping, panning views of the city. They’re a little sharper, a little more detailed. They’re a little brighter and a little less grainy. But they still look like they could have come from one of 20 movies made in the 1990s or 1980s.
This movie was shot on film — Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 to be precise — but it being 2010, the ‘cinematographic process’ was digital. That’s things like editing, colour grading and correction and so on. And that meant telecining the film into a digital format. So even though there aren’t any robot fights or space-ships, the movie passed through a digital pipe. A 2K digital pipe. This UltraHD rendition is, therefore, upsampled from a 2K source.
I know about the ‘four times the resolution’ claim for UltraHD, but in the real world, even with the latest, newest-shot content, the resolution differences between Full-HD and UltraHD aren’t particularly obvious. With stuff that’s passed through a 2K bottleneck, that’s even less so. To be clear, though, the 2K of the ‘cinemato-
graphic process’ is probably not the 1920-pixel width of Full-HD. If it’s, say, 2048 pixels in width, translation to 3840 pixels is going to produce a sharper result than 1920.
But what you’re really getting is slightly better colour, and markedly better contrast provided by HDR.
You’re also getting greater exposure of weaknesses in cinematography and processing. And so at various points through this movie we see occasional soft images where the focus just wasn’t quite spot on. And more peculiarly, we see some processing artifacts. For example, at 32:22 there is a scene where Affleck and Rebecca Hall are having a conversation in a community garden. Hall is in magnificently sharp focus, finely detailed and a delight to the eye. Behind her is greenery and flowers, appropriately out of focus. Except that the purple flowers with yellow centres have been artificially sharpened. Accidentally, I’d guess. A touch of sharpening on Hall provides part of the clarity that’s great about this scene. But it has also hit the out-of-focus flowers, and some of these have clear ghost lines around them from the sharpening process. Had this been done at 4K, it probably wouldn’t have been visible. But done at 2K, with the result presented in UltraHD, it’s as clear as day.
That clarity also lets you see other things. Like a speedo showing 82 miles per hour in a car going the wrong way down a street, dodging traffic (57:32). Now that strains credibility.
The sound is delivered in 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s effective and involving, although much of the dialogue is delivered in a kind of mumbling Bostonian which can be hard to make out (at least to non-Bostonians).
There’s lots of shooting, but one lesson not drawn from Heat was to present gunfire at a level hinting at its true brutal impact. Sadly.
The Blu-ray disc included in the package provides both the theatrical version of the movie and a 153-minute extended addition. Rather than using seamless branching, the disc packs two full versions of the movie (along with half an hour of ‘focus points’). The result is that the Blu-ray version has a bit-rate of less than 14Mbps for both movie cuts.
It will be interesting to see Affleck’s new movies. He’s largely returned to starring (particularly as Batman). His most recent directorial effort, Live by Night, was apparently mediocre, but he’s attached to Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. If he’s half as good Billy Wilder was in 1957, that’ll be something to look forward to.
Video bit-rate (Mbps) of ‘The Town’ main feature on the Blu-ray disc.