The Town

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.

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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.

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