Blu-ray Disc REVIEW THE DESCENT UNRATED Studio: Lionsgate Distributor: Maple Pictures Film Year: 2005 Film Length: Rated: 1h38m35s Unrated: 1h39m50s Genre: Horror 2.35:1 Theatrical Ratio Resolution: 1080p Video Codec: AVC MPEG-4 Disc Size: 50GB Colour/B&W: Colour Audio: UNCOMPRESSED 7.1 PCM SURROUND English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround Subtitles: English, Spanish Film Rating: R Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW Film Rating: / Scare Factor: / Starring: Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), Nora-Jane Noone (Holly) Written by: Neil Marshall Directed by: Neil Marshall Scream your last breath. It’s a bit relieving to know the horror film genre isn’t dying. There have been too many films hitting theaters and going direct-to-DVD trying to convince us they are scary when they are a far scream from it. We know that horrors get the shaft by studios because they appeal to smaller audiences, but for gut’s sake, give us a decent story to talk about!! It appears my nightmares have come true. The scares I’ve been dreaming for have arrived. The Descent rips through the head with some frightening moments I’ll be talking about – and be recommending to my friends just to watch them have heart attacks. That’s half the fun of knowing when the scary part is coming! If you don’t like claustrophobia then The Descent probably isn’t for you…but…since this is a horror film, anything goes. In this story, a group of six adventurous girls go repelling into a cave for exploration. They are astonished with what they see deep in the ground and venture in further until they find themselves with no way out. Not only did they believe they were the first to discover this cave, they also find they are not alone. It seems life has adapted underground and they are hunted by something never seen by anyone before – and who lived to tell it! The Descent is gripping from beginning to end and is bound to make many viewers tense. The writing is good; we get to know and understand some of the characters and feel pity too. The pace of the film is perfect and it never slows to a crawl – unless you are a creepy crawler looking for some guts. In all there are great scares, good gore, and scenes that will stay with you for some time. That’s impressionable. This disc includes both rated and unrated versions of the film; the unrated has the U.K. ending preferred by the director. Note: Ensure your Blu-ray player is updated with the latest firmware or this title may not play properly. VIDEO QUALITY: 4.5/5 I found The Descent to be exceptionally sharp. This 2.35:1 image delivers the grainy look of film in the outdoor scenes. There are two environments in this film: forest and underground caves. The outdoor scenes are dimmer than I’d expect even though they are grey skies above in the daylight. It did sort of remind me of summer in northern British Columbia; at Muncho Lake, just south of Liard River, those 10.30pm skies grey were with dim sunlight…it’s bright out but it’s not…messes up the eyes too for a southern city dweller like myself. Anyway, that’s the kind of look this film gives. My eyes were asking for a bit more light in those day scenes. …and then there is the darkness. The rest of the film plays with our fears in tight, inescapable cave holes in the underground. There is no light but the light from flares and neon and helmet torches. Black level is exceptional in these scenes. It’s deep and I never felt like I was missing out even in the darkest moments when I could see almost nothing – I knew it was intentional. Colour in the dark scenes is not as prominent (an absence of light makes no colour), but when colour needs to be bold it is well saturated. Trees, trunks, and flora look are nicely rendered. Compression artefacts are absent and edge enhancement is nowhere to be found. The compression is AVC MPEG-4 and average bitrate is close to 30Mbps. AUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5 The Descent has an awesome soundtrack to ensure everyone gets the biggest creepiest feeling from the film. From subtle sounds of water dripping in the cave to the loud piercing sounds of unexpected situations, nothing seems to be spared. Sound effects spread out all over this 6.1 soundtrack. The music is incredibly dynamic as well. The score is well recorded and the instruments can come alive with a full-on assault. Bass is also a killer: it appears all six full range channels get a heavy dose of bass. Bass was coming out of every corner in my room from each of the channel-related subs. The LFE channel was even more powerful as it tried to knock me out of my chair…but that’s what a bass shaker is for and using one is highly recommended for this film. It makes the scares that more effective! This soundtrack falls short a full five star rating because of two weak parts in this recording. The first is dialogue integration – and it’s rather unsatisfactory, as it does not sound like it’s in the environment surrounding the actors. Dialogue in large caves would sound rather reflective – and there is very little of this. In fact, it sounds dampened. This Blu-ray disc has two soundtrack options. A 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack is what I listed to, and it sounded great. But having experienced uncompressed 5.1 PCM for many of my reviews in the third quarter last year, I know that is the preferred option for superior sound. I will be re-equipped for it sometime this year, but for the moment I’m not able to report on it. What’s interesting though is what I can’t confirm. By pressing the “info” button on my PS3 while playing the movie in PCM, it lists the soundtrack as being having 7.1 channels with a fixed bitrate of 6.1Mbps. If this is the case I think it’s a first for any film on disc thus far. Is that extra channel a second discrete center rear channel or a height channel? That I’m not sure of, but if any of you are able to send the audio via HDMI to a 7.1 preamp, let us know what you see and hear. TACTILE FUN!! / TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON Hell ya! Five stars! It was great!! SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5 For a Blu-ray disc, The Descent appears to come loaded with goodies. Not only do we get both cuts of the film (the unrated UK cut has a “darker” ending), but also load of extras to chew on. A feature most of you will be dying to check out is The Descent: An Underground Experience. When watching the film, the bottom right of the screen features a “Picture-in-Picture” window of full-motion commentary and behind the scenes footage. You view this as you watch the movie and the window is usually scene specific. The audio defaults to the PIP so you can’t view the PIP and listen to the film (but why would you want to anyway?) It’s a great feature and delivers excellent information not possible with DVD. The disc also comes loaded with two audio commentaries. Forgive me at this time; I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to them yet to hear whom the participants are. One commentary features the Director and Crew and the second has the Director and Cast. The next batch of features is interesting in content but also with how they displayed on my screen. The content is a mixture of HD and SD, but for some reason I couldn’t get any of it to fit properly on the screen. It’s all MPEG-2 decoded (FYI) but the image was pushed up to the top half of the screen leaving the bottom half completely blank…strange…not sure why this is happening but will recheck my settings soon enough. As far as content goes, the first featurette is DescENDING – Interview with Writer/Director Neil Marshall (7.13). The director talks in-depth about the two endings of the film and why they were chosen, including his influences from writing to screening the film. The Descent: Beneath The Scenes (41.19) is even more in-depth about the making of the movie featuring several cast and crewmembers. If the in-movie experience wasn’t enough for you, this feature is your dessert. Nine deleted and extended scenes (9.56) are available in HD as well as DD 5.1 Surround. Just so you know where the scene goes in the sequence of things, each scene begins with a part in the film. On this disc you’ll also find Caving: An HD Experience (8.38). High def cameras are taken in tight caves so you can experience the outdoor sport yourself. There are also storyboard to scene comparisons (10.26), outtakes (5.13) (the music in background is too loud and I couldn’t hear all of the funny moments), as well as cast and crew biographies, a still gallery, a Lionsgate BD promo ad and BD credits. IN THE END... I recommend this film for fright seekers. It has excellent A/V quality, awesome special features, and it’s a very enjoyable horror. For these reasons I must recommend The Descent. Michael Osadciw January 16, 2007.