If I tried to explain to my parents what a 4K movie is, they wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it. They still have a DVD-VHS combo player.
Technology is evolving so fast that companies are making 8K and 16K televisions. (Although the human eye can’t really tell the difference unless you have a screen bigger than the side of a building.) At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before 4K discs are rendered useless. Blu-ray is already getting marked with an expiration date. Who knows what the future holds, and who knows if physical media is going to stick around. Like the paper you’re holding in your hands, I am a proud advocate of physical media. Long may it live!
Pan’s Labyrinth (5 stars)
Rated R, 119 minutes.
Available Tuesday on 4K Ultra HD.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth remains one of my most treasured filmgoing experiences. I was 17, and I skipped class for the first time to drive an hour to see it purely based off longtime Denton Record-Chronicle film critic Boo Allen’s review. I remember he gave it four stars — which, if you read his writing regularly, was a big deal. I only recall him giving the 2007 final cut release of Blade Runner, 2007’s La Vie en Rose and 2005’s Brokeback Mountain four-and-a-half stars or more.
When I watched Pan’s Labyrinth, I understood why Allen liked it so much. It’s a beautifully crafted adult fairy tale. Del Toro truly excels as a filmmaker when his stories feel personal. He is a cinematic wizard of the dark arts. The darker his material gets, the more compelling it becomes.
Pan’s Labyrinth is filled with all kinds of symbolic and metaphorical meanings. Just watch some of the bonus features — del Toro will walk you through his thought process when he made the film. The most fascinating element to me is how often there is a set of three. There will be an image in the background (or some sort of call to attention) that adds up to three items. Del Toro’s attention to detail makes the experience more interactive, nearly making Pan’s Labyrinth a maze itself.
The Criterion Collection released a spectacular Blu-ray release of Pan’s Labyrinth three years ago. And honestly, if you own a 4K player, I can’t really tell the difference between the 4K disc and Criterion’s Blu-ray. Both are great restorations. I noticed a few color boosts in certain areas on the 4K, and a few brightened moments that make the darker scenes stand out. There’s a blue and green tint to the sequences at night, and the 4K gives it a sharp glow.
If you are all about the bonus features and cover art, the 2016 Criterion release is the one to go with. But if you’re good with a slick-looking movie that has the same parts as before, the Warner Bros. 4K release is an exceptional upgrade. It all depends on what kind of collector you are.
Extras: The only special feature available on the 4K disc is a feature audio commentary by del Toro. Everything else is available on the standard Blu-ray that is also included with the release. The previously released special features include a video prologue by del Toro and several feaurettes that delve into the concept art and del Toro’s making of the film. There are also image galleries.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (HHH) I thoroughly enjoyed Spider-Man: Far From Home during its theatrical run this summer. It doesn’t lure you in quite like 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming (Michael Keaton was too good as a villain), but Tom Holland’s intoxicating energy and charm carried the torch through the sequel’s silliness. (Also, thank God Marvel and Sony Pictures worked out their deal to make a third film together. This one’s mid-credit stinger was too good to let that go.)
Having watched Far From Home again on Blu-ray, I’ve found it doesn’t hold up as well with repeat viewings. It’s not completely caught in a web. There is still so much about it that makes it entertaining, like the chemistry between the central lovers (Holland and Zendaya) and friends (Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio). (Watch the extras of all the actors working together. It brings about so much joy.)
At the same time, the film is never as interesting as its stinger. In many ways, it feels as obscure as Iron Man 3, and that one is weird. The tone is too wonky in this one to consider as sound as the previous film. Perhaps the filmmakers and talent got a little too confident with the story that it ran away from them a bit. Overall, it’s around the middle of the Marvel movie barrel.
Rated PG-14, 129 minutes.
Extras: The Blu-ray-and-DVD combo release includes hideous cover art. Sony can’t seem to nail down an artist who can design marketing materials that look better than a throwaway Walmart movie poster. It’s so poorly photoshopped that it sticks out like a sore thumb among the other Marvel movie titles.
Sony makes up for everything that falls short with this release’s amusing special features. Some of them (like a clip of Peter Parker collecting items he needs for his trip and Peter’s teachers making lists) are forgettable. But learning how many stunts Holland performs is incredible. Holland can do backflips and crawl up a building side (with ropes, of course) like he’s the titular character. It’s very impressive.
Oh, and you’ll laugh a lot watching the gag reel. Anytime Gyllenhaal breaks character, it is a hoot.
Gremlins (HHHH) Joe Dante’s 1984 Christmas classic has never looked good on disc. None of the transfers have dazzled before. But now, you can scream and party like a Gremlin because this 4K is razor-sharp. The film doesn’t look its age one bit. With the film’s style, charm and humor to spare, the 4K tractor-beams you into its terror- and wonder-filled narrative.
Gremlins is among the top echelon of films from the 1980s. (It was one of the best decades to be a teenager in.) Never is the film overtly slapstick. Dante firmly sticks this film’s tongue in its cheek. To watch the late, great Dick Miller is always a treat. But it’s the puppets and practical effects that give Gremlins staying power.
How Dante was able to achieve some of the effects, such as the birthing and killing sequences, is astonishing. And the scenes look that much more real on 4K. There may be the occasional grain (from the cameras that were used at the time), but for what it is, it’s damn fine.
Rated PG, 106 minutes.
Extras: Special features include over 10 minutes of footage not seen in theaters (it’s good fun, but nothing to ring a bell over), a making-of featurette, two commentaries, a photo and storyboard gallery, and theatrical trailers.
Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD: Ant-Man on 4K, Doctor Strange on 4K, Doom Patrol: Season 1, Driven, Frozen (2014) on 4K, Guardians of the Galaxy on 4K, The Shining (1980) on 4K and Zombieland on 4K.