Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Atonement - Recommended

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Jan 26, 2010.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Studio: Universal
    Film Year: 2007
    Film Length:  2 hrs 3 mins
    Genre: Period Drama/Romance
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    BD Resolution: 1080p
    BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 35 mbps)
    Color/B&W: Color
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps)
    French DTS 5.1
    Spanish DTS 5.1
    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
    Film Rating: R (Disturbing War Images, Language and Some Sexuality)
    Release Date: January 26, 2010
    Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knighley, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan and Vanessa Redgrave
    Based on the novel by Ian McEwan
    Screenplay by: Christopher Hampton
    Directed by: Joe Wright
    Film Rating:    4 ½/5  
    Atonement is at once a classic romance and a modern meditation on the art of writing at its most basic. Released to acclaim and Academy Award nominations in 2007, the film carefully adapts Ian McEwan’s novel about the consequences of a young girl’s lie. The film opens at an upper class British estate in 1935, where young lovers Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy) are spied upon by Cecilia’s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan), who harbors her own crush on Robbie. Not understanding what she has seen, Briony, a fledgling author, accuses Robbie of a vicious crime she knows he did not commit. The consequences of that lie play out in the fates of the various characters, as we and they move forward in time through two aspects of World War II, and a brief epilogue. The film is somewhat slow-going at its start, but it picks up in interest and intensity as the plot develops. By the time the story reaches what some reviewers have mistakenly seen as a “big twist” (it’s actually an organic extension of plot and character we’ve already been seeing throughout), the film has achieved a devastating emotional resonance. Beyond the fact that the film is quite moving, I also find myself reflecting on the film’s examination of the act of writing. The film openly asks the question of whether a writer is by trade someone who deals in truth or selective truth. And is the creating of a selective truth also the act of telling a lie?  The film presents these matters amid a contrasting series of backdrops, from the lovely estate of the first act to the nightmarish depiction of the British evacuation of Dunkirk. The latter situation results in one of the most dramatic pieces of camera work seen in years, as a single five-minute Steadicam shot pulls McAvoy’s Robbie through a landscape of such awfulness that it ironically achieves a level of beauty. And as the film comes to an end, the irony becomes overwhelming. I recommend that readers who have not seen this film find the time to do so.
    Atonement has previously been released on both DVD and HD-DVD back in 2008. The new Blu-ray release upgrades the HD video and sound to a new AVC picture transfer and a new DTS-HD MA sound transfer, while retaining the extra features found on the prior releases. If I didn’t have enough reason to recommend the purchase without the new picture and sound, that would seal the deal. Fans of Joe Wright’s films, or of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy will be happy to see their work here. (Knightley’s role is actually a little smaller than her billing would suggest, but she is quite good here.)
    Atonement is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that showcases the various looks created by Director of Photography Seamus McGarvey for the different acts of the film. There’s a lot of darkness here, and the picture transfer provides some satisfyingly deep blacks, along with some striking bursts of color – for example, Knightley’s brilliant green dress in the first act, or the deep red curtain surrounding a scene with a French soldier later in the film. One scene did show a bit of heavy grain, though. During the Dunkirk situation, as Robbie and his fellows are struggling through some brush, I noted a distracting amount of grain that momentarily pulled me out of the situation. I believe this to be a part of the source print and not a fault of the transfer, but it still creates a distraction. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
    AUDIO QUALITY   4 ½/5
    Atonement is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish.   The mix is full of inventive uses of the surround channels, including various atmospheric effects, and an appropriate echo effect when it comes to the opening of Vanessa Redgrave’s scene. The score is expressed effectively through all the channels, particularly the insistent typewriter percussion.
    The Blu-Ray presentation of Atonement comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, along with the extras that have been available since 2008. 
    Feature Commentary with Director Joe Wright – Joe Wright’s scene-specific commentary from the 2008 DVD release has been preserved here, and, if anything, it shows that he’s well-versed in McEwan’s novel and well-vested in his own production. He discusses various production issues, but he goes farther in describing how and why he shot the film this way. I have to confess completely disagreeing with him on his comments at the close of the film, but I admit he may have been expressing a level of irony that I didn’t pick up.
    Deleted Scenes (480p, 7:33 Total) – Several deleted scenes are presented here in standard definition with optional commentary from Wright that I recommend you activate. Wright describes why each scene was cut, and what it is that made each scene special.
    Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement (480p, 26:53) – This featurette discusses the basics of making the movie, including the creation of the massive Steadicam shot on the beach. All the key principals are interviewed, including Joe Wright, who comes across even more affably than he does on his commentary.  SPOILER ALERT:  WATCHING THIS FEATURETTE WILL SPOIL WHOLE SECTIONS OF THE MOVIE FOR YOU.  DO NOT WATCH THIS BEFORE SEEING THE MOVIE!
     From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic (480p, 5:04) – This featurette specifically addresses how Joe Wright had Christopher Hampton convert the book into a screenplay.  Ian McEwan also joins the discussion, addressing his role both as the original novelist and as a producer of the film.  SPOILER ALERT:  SEE MY ALERT ON THE ABOVE ITEM!
    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
    When you first put the disc in the player, you’ll randomly be presented with various trailers for NBC’s 2010 Winter Olympics coverage, for the Universal Blu-ray slate, and for various current Blu-ray releases. Or you may just go straight to the main menu.  The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film and the special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French.
    IN THE END...
    Atonement is both a solid movie and a good Blu-ray release that incorporates the special features from prior releases. I recommend it to fans of the filmmakers, and to fans of simply good filmmaking in general. 
    Kevin Koster
    January 26, 2010.

  2. PatW

    PatW Screenwriter

    Dec 25, 2003
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    Good review. I'll be upgrading my dvd.
  3. Adam Gregorich


    Nov 20, 1999
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    I wasn't sure what to expect when I watched this. I fully agree that people who haven't seen it should.
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Thanks for the review, Kevin. I'm glad you enjoyed the film, and I'm happy that Universal did a good job with the Blu-ray.

    The film has haunted me since I first saw it in the theater. It's a beautiful film, but it's also a tough one. I remember that some viewers were bothered by the long Steadicam shot, but I think it's one of the most inventive pieces of storytelling in recent filmmaking. It occurs midway through the film, and it's the point where everything changes: the characters' lives, the very society they inhabit (which is literally coming apart before Robbie's eyes) and, maybe most importantly, the narrative point of view -- which gets to your point about the act of writing. Before that sequence, you're immersed in a romantic drama involving a small group of people. But after that scene, you're somewhere else (which, for reasons that will be obvious to those who have seen the film, I can't describe further).
  5. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

    Aug 18, 2001
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    Thanks for the fine review, Kevin.

    Think I'm convinced enough to do the blindbuy on this now, especially w/ the Buy-2-Get-1-Free deal from Barnes & Noble. :)


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