Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray “Eco-Box” keepcase
Running Time: 1:46:19
|THE FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||AVC: 1080p high definition; aspect ratio shifts between 2.40:1 and windowboxed 1.78:1||Standard definition|
|Audio||DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: Spanish 1.0||Stereo|
|Subtitles||English SDH, French, Spanish||None|
The Feature: 2.5/5Douglas Trumbull, known for his visual effects work on films like “2001: A Space Oddysey” and the recent “Tree of Life,” explores the nature of the mind and beyond in his science-fiction thriller “Brainstorm.”
The film stars Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher as Michael Brace and Lillian Reynolds, a pair of scientists responsible for creating “The Hat,” a device used to record and replay a person’s brain activity, from the senses to the emotions. When the military gets wind of the project, they move in and take over the research facility, run by a morally ambiguous administrator played by Cliff Robertson. The government’s intentions are, as usual, nefarious and the Hat is ultimately turned into an interrogation / brainwashing device. With his wife Karen, played by Natalie Wood, Michael attempts to shut down the military’s plans, while also trying to get his hands on a final recording that may hold the secrets to the afterlife.
Though it contains some interesting ideas and makes a compelling statement about what’s in the great beyond, much of what’s worthwhile about Trumbull’s “Brainstorm” is upended by goofy dialogue, stilted performances, and an understanding of technology that hasn’t aged very well. Wood in particular seems a little dumbfounded most of the time, and it’s unfortunate the film stands as her last onscreen performance. Walken seems like he’s having a good time of it though, and Fletcher is in rare form chewing the scenery. Still, the hokey aspects of the production aren’t of the kind to push it into the “so bad it’s good” territory, its technical back story (see below) proving more interesting in the final estimation.
Video Quality: ”Brainstorm” was intended to be the first film shot in Trumbull’s Showscan format, which uses 65mm film projected at 60 frames per second to enhance the viewer’s sense of immersion in the picture. But the studio backed out on the idea, and Trumbull wound up sticking to the standard 24 frames per second with Super Panavision 70 and 35mm film, framed at 2.20:1 and 1.70:1 aspect ratios, respectively. The larger format, finer grained film was used to shoot the Hat’s brain imagery sequences, and the other was used for the events taking place in the physical world. Based on available information, I’m guessing the experience was like watching “The Dark Knight” (more so at home than at a legitimate IMAX theater) with its aspect ratio and resolution shifts.
Unfortunately, the transfer for “Brainstorm” doesn’t seem to replicate what Trumbull was trying to achieve. Not only do the aspect ratios seem a bit off, being presented instead at ratios of 2.40:1 and 1.78:1, the latter is windowboxed with black area around all four sides of the image. Aspect ratio shifts are already somewhat jarring, but the transition in “Brainstorm” is made all the more abrupt by what amounts to a 30% reduction in size for the bulk of the content. In this case, complaining about the black bars is legitimate given the director’s original intent and I can’t think of any good reason for Warner to have formatted the picture this way. As a stretch, one could argue the physical reduction of the 35mm content is consistent with the film’s theme around the significance of the physical world, but I have a feeling Trumbull wasn’t trying to take it that far.
That said, the other aspects of the image look solid, the material shot on 70mm more so than the rest due to its finer grain, higher resolution and greater color depth. The psychedelic imagery, harkening back to Trumbull’s work on “2001,” looks particularly clean and sharp. The 35mm material winds up looking kind of shabby by comparison (and more than it needs to be given the windowboxing), though considering the story, it’s conceivable those scenes were intentionally made to look a little hazy and muted and the brain imagery more rich and detailed. Black levels and contrast between the two formats show similar differences.
UPDATE: Based on information from a couple knowledgeable HTF members, the aspect ratio changes do sound consistent with how the film was shown theatrically. Be sure to read the comments after the review. I've also upgraded the score accordingly.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track seems a bit low, and well as a bit edgy and hollow at times. Surround activity is reserved for moments showing the immersive brain imagery and tends to be mixed a bit louder, I’m assuming to emphasize the intensity of the experience (and it does have the effect of startling or jarring the viewer sometimes). LFE is non-existent, but the track has a satisfying depth throughout.
Special Features: 0.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (3:17, SD)
RecapThe Film: 2.5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 0.5/5
Overall Score (not an average):
Warner Home Video turns in a