Release Date(s)2023 (October 17, 2023)
Studio(s)Mattel/Warner Bros. Pictures (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: D
We all laughed. All of us.
The minute that a studio announces a partnership with a toy company to produce live action films based on their properties... well, let’s just say examples of that from the past have been less than successful, financially or otherwise.
It’s fair to say that the idea of a Barbie movie being made for mainstream audiences wasn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to get much farther than a streaming service or (in the now somewhat outdated parlance) straight-to-video. The fact that 2023’s Barbie not only exceeded expectations but wound up being one of the most popular and successful films of the year is staggering. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though because, as we’ve seen time and time again, when filmmakers make something aimed at a particular audience that meets them on their level (without insulting their intelligence or personal tastes), the results tend to be positive. And that’s what happened with Barbie. But not only did women come out in droves to see the film, men went as well, and often more than once, along with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon that hit in the summer of 2023 could not have been predicted by even Nostradamus himself.
What’s even more interesting about Barbie is that it’s what you think it is, but it’s also not what you think it is. It’s a colorful, candy-coated romp, but also takes you to places emotionally, with things to say about society, that you’re definitely not expecting. To sum it up, Barbie is a lot of things: a comedy, a musical, an art film, a nostalgia trip, a commentary on corporate America and its effect on children, a feministic attack on Barbie, a feministic embrace of Barbie, a commentary on the patriarchy, an examination of the various aspects of masculinity, an existential crisis piece, and in summary, a subversive slice of storytelling. That’s a lot to pack into a two-hour toy commercial (at least that’s what you think it is when you’re going into it). Sure, it’s partly that—let’s not kid ourselves—but the fact that director and co-writer Greta Gerwig put so many more layers onto it is uncommon for a mainstream Hollywood film. I can’t say for sure, but I’m relatively certain that if a live action He-Man and the Masters of the Universe film is ever made again, I doubt very seriously that people will be walking out of the theater with tears streaming down their cheeks while an absolutely gutting Billie Eilish song plays over the closing credits.
Besides the thematics at play in Barbie, it’s also a well-made film with aggressive art direction and set design, as well as many wonderful performances. Let’s face it: Margot Robbie was born for the role of Barbie, or as she’s known in the film, “Stereotypical Barbie.” She’s proven time and time again what a tour de force she is as an actress. She’s gorgeous and magnetic here, and you find it hard to take yours eyes off of her. The same can be said of Ryan Gosling, who portrays her Ken. He too is struggling, but with being a Ken in a Barbie’s world. That sounds ridiculous, but as the film goes on, you begin to understand how somebody like that can be so sweet, then misinformed, and consequently transformed into something less than savory. Thankfully, he learns to come back, but not before the Barbies of the world take matters into their own hands. There are musical numbers and set pieces taken straight out of a stage play, including scenes of characters traveling from the real world to “Barbieland” and vice versa. It’s never explained how exactly you get to and from these worlds, but it doesn’t matter. It just happens. In a way, the film has a very storybook-ish, Wes Anderson feel. It’s playful and takes details like this not all that seriously, being far more interested in the characters and what they’re experiencing.
But its true intentions and its many messages about playing with dolls, motherhood, and what it means to be a woman come in two forms. The first is America Ferrera, a woman from the real world who gives a very impassioned speech that definitely connects with the audience in an open and honest way. The second is another vital character, but revealing who that is would spoil a potent aspect of the film. Trust me when I say that it’s powerful stuff, and all of this in a film based on a toy line. I’m sure that Mattel really didn’t know what they were getting into with Barbie once Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach got involved. Not only does the film occasionally attack its own subject matter, it also pokes fun at Mattel themselves. In other words, you get all of the angles here, meta or otherwise.
At the end of the day, Barbie is quite special. Its success can easily be measured by how it spoke to a group of people who’ve felt marginalized for their entire existence, and this film reflects that. The shame of it is how some men immediately came out to attack it (and still do), as if they have some sort of personal stake in it. Of course, there are mountains of films made by men for men to choose from in this world, but when a film about women for women comes along—especially one that’s as successful and hard-hitting as Barbie—for some men, that just won’t do. And that’s partially what Barbie is all about, so it’s a sort of prophecy fulfilled. Regardless, Barbie is a wonderful film, and one that I hope inspires studios to allow more filmmakers to take big chances like this. That’s highly unlikely, but one can always hope.
Barbie was captured digitally by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto in the ARRIRAW (6.5K) codec using Arri Alexa 65 cameras with Panavision System 65 lenses, finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.00:1. Warner Home Video debuts the film on 4K Ultra HD with a native 4K presentation, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10), and presented on a BD-100 disc. Not to get ahead of myself, but this is a reference-quality disc that delivers a gorgeously-detailed presentation with amazing color and perfect contrast. The wide variety of pastels and primaries in Barbieland, as well as the (by contrast) more muted palette of the real world are beautifully rendered, aided dutifully by the HDR grade. Deep blacks and perfect flesh tones are also on display. Everything appears sharp with amazing depth and a high bitrate. No leftover artifacts or pixelizations can be spotted either. It’s brilliant.
The main audio option is an English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) track with optional subtitles in English SDH. Again, this is reference-quality stuff that takes full advantage of its multiple channels with frequent surround activity, giving plenty attention to the height channels, but also vast ambient and dialogue-related dynamics in the surrounding speakers. It’s a powerful track with careful staging and plenty of low end power that helps boost the score and music selection, but never drowns out or downplays dialogue exchanges.
Additional audio options include English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Descriptive Audio (US and UK), French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Additional subtitle options include French, Italian SDH, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Barbie on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case with a Digital Code on a paper insert, with a slipcover housing everything. The following extras are included in UHD with HDR:
- It’s a Weird World (5:03)
- All-Star Barbie Party (4:57)
- Music Make-Believe (9:11)
- Becoming Barbie (6:29)
- Welcome to Barbie Land (12:01)
- Playing Dress-Up: An Extended Look at the Costumes of Barbie (7:27)
Like a lot of modern, mainstream home video releases... surprise, surprise, everyone had a good time making the film and everything went smooth as silk. I’m kidding, of course, but this is mostly fluffy EPK-style material, with occasional glimpses of genuine behind-the-scenes moments. It’s a Weird World talks about the casting of Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie, as well as the other non-Margot Robbie Barbies, and the decisions that went into picking those caricatures. All-Star Barbie Party discusses the dance sequence at the beginning of the film, exploring the choreography and the music chosen for it. Music Make-Believe talks about the music and songs chosen and recorded for the film, but also takes a look at how the Ken battle was created. Becoming Barbie looks at Margot Robbie’s various hairstyles and wardrobes, noting the progression of Stereotypical Barbie to a changed Barbie to a real human woman. Welcome to Barbie Land, which is by far the most interesting featurette, spends time talking about the production design, going into a bit more specific detail about the variety of sets and props, as well as Greta Gerwig’s direction. And finally, Playing Dress-Up details the costume design for all of the Barbies and Kens.
For a film that’s as popular and profitable as Barbie, a more robust extras package is certainly in order at some point in the future. First of all, a commentary with Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach would be great, specifically discussing the writing process, as well as the creation of the film in a bit more detail. I would also welcome a full blown documentary on the history of the project, the making of it, and its runaway success. There’s also likely to be deleted scenes, not to mention a massive marketing archive. For now though, this release of Barbie on 4K Ultra HD, with a jaw-dropping video and audio presentation, will just have to suffice. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons