The Broadway musical that launched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s career, In the Heights, was adapted for the big screen by director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), and now makes its way to 4K UHD Blu-ray, perhaps the second best way to view the film.
The Production: 4.5/5
I find it sad when audiences shun a movie that deserves to be seen on the largest screen with the best sound system possible, and is a cultural treasure. In the Heights is the most recent example. Bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) dreams of purchasing his father’s rundown beachside restaurant in the Dominican Republic, scraping to get by and renting a room from neighborhood Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz). As he opens up his shop one morning, he finds that his refrigerator has gone out in the middle of a heat wave there in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. Usnavi explains all this in song (In the Heights) while introducing us to the other major characters of the story, including salon worker and wannabe fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) whom he’s had a longtime crush on, taxi service owner Kevin (Jimmy Smits), and his cousin and co-worker Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV). We also meet Benny (Corey Hawkins), one of Kevin’s dispatchers who is surprised to see Kevin’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace) home from Stanford for the summer, someone he had a previous relationship with and still pines for. In the Heights is a big movie musical about first and second generation immigrants, their dreams, and how they live together in a close-knit community while struggling with racism and oppression yet celebrating their diversity.
It was interesting to find out (in the included making-of featurette) that songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda first began writing this musical when he was 19 years old, yet one of the things writers are taught when starting out is to “write what you know.” Miranda would premiere an early draft of the play a year later while a student at Wesleyan University, and would develop the story line with Quiara Alegria Hudes for a one-week trial run at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Complex in Waterford, Connecticut in 2005, moving to off-Broadway in 2007, and later Broadway in 2008, eventually winning five Tony Awards. After the success of Miranda’s follow-up smash Hamilton, a movie version of In the Heights was inevitable. After a rocky start with development deals at both Universal and The Weinstein Company, a production deal was made at Warner Bros, with Jon M. Chu directing and a screenplay by original book writer Hudes.
Director Chu was a terrific choice, having directed the musicals Step Up 2: In the Streets and Step Up 3D and his prior film Crazy Rich Asians (which could have easily been a musical) which dealt with diversity. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs are an interesting mix of styles, including rap, hip-hop, salsa, and merengue, but often the lyrics fly by at breakneck speed (thank goodness for subtitles), yet the songs never feel out of place or forced – there is something organic in the transition from dialogue to song that many more modern musicals lack – and the choreography by Christopher Scott helps immensely. Nearly everyone has been perfectly cast, although many are veterans of various stage productions of the musical. And cinematographer Alice Brooks captures the neighborhood of Washington Heights as a character itself.
3D Rating: NA
Per IMDB, In the Heights was captured digitally at 7K resolution on Panavision Millennium DXL2 cameras in the Redcode RAW format and completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR for its premium theatrical engagements. Warner’s HEVC-encoded 2160p transfer offers all three flavors of HDR – Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and plain old HRD10. Viewing on an HDR10 capable display, the picture was absolutely stunning. This is a film that is bathed in colors, which are bold and vivid without appearing overly saturated. Contrast is excellent, providing deep blacks and well-defined shadow details especially during the nighttime black out sequence, but also the bright whites of daytime. Detail is superb, as well, from Usnavi’s freckled face to fabric and background textures.
The default Dolby Atmos track is fully immersive, surrounding the viewer with music and low-end enhancements throughout. The front soundstage is immensely wide, allowing for more discrete placement of characters’ vocals as they move across the screen. Heights (no pun intended) are used more for music extension, although there are some instances where sound effects are utilized, particularly in the night club sequence. This is a great use of spatial audio.
Special Features: 4/5
With the exception of Musical Numbers, which also appears on the UHD disc, the majority of the Special Features can be found on the included Blu-ray edition of the film.
Paciencia y Fe: Making “In the Heights” (1080p; 43.59): This is a fascinating look at the making of the film, from early development of the stage musical to movie casting to pre-recording the music to production of the film itself.
“In the Heights” Sing-Along (1080p; 7:44): The opening production number with karaoke-style lyrics. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.
“96,000” Sing-Along (1080p; 6:06): The other major production number with karaoke-style lyrics. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.
Musical Number (2160p/1080p; 69:30): Watch the movie with only the music numbers, or select each song individually. Available on both UHD and Blu-ray discs in Dolby Atmos audio.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a 4K digital copy (where available) on Movies Anywhere. The reverse side has an offer for various other musical titles on digital from the studio for $7.99 and up.
In the Heights was one of many movies that audiences missed seeing in theaters (and in this case, even on HBO Max), which is a shame. Great music, great story, and great presentation. Highly Recommended!!
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