Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Sep 08, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (4K UHD Review)

Director

Cathy Yan

Release Date(s)

2020 (May 12, 2020)

Studio(s)

DC Films/Warner Bros (Warner Home Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: C-

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (4K-UHD Disc)

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Review

After years of standing in his shadow, coming up with most of the great ideas and not getting any credit for them, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has finally broken up with Joker. Never one to do anything in a small way, she crashes a tanker truck into Ace Chemicals, destroying it and announcing to the world that her and Joker are officially through. However, in doing so, she has also painted a target on her back as everyone who her and Joker ever wronged is now out to get her, including the downtrodden but steadfast Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez), crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), and Sionis’ henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). Also caught up in the action are the killer-voiced Dinah aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and the crossbow-wielding Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), both with scores of their own to settle with Sionis. Attempting to get back on Sionis’ good side, Harley captures a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has something that Sionis wants. But when things go awry, all paths converge as the five women must join forces to survive against Black Mask's forces.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (aka Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey) unfortunately did not light the box office on fire upon its theatrical release (though it did make a decent profit), nor did it totally wow any of the critics. DCEU films, at least up until this point, have been a mixed bag, to say the least. What works about this one is that it’s not just a corporate product. It’s been created and produced by people who actually wanted to make the film from the ground up, including Margot Robbie who had been trying to get a solo Harley Quinn film made for quite some time. The cast and their performances are top notch. Without question, Robbie owns her portrayal of the character, embodying her with the gleeful, maniacal spirit that made her popular in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum is Ewan McGregor, whose childish and homicidal tendencies make him a charming but dangerous individual. The rest of the cast, including Perez, Messina, Winstead, and Smolett-Bell, are also given their moments to shine.

As for the film itself, it’s a colorful madcap adventure, and not one that many currently find all that beloved. It’s told from Harley's point of view from beginning to end, meaning that she could be in the middle of telling you about one thing, then forget that she left out a detail about something else, go back and tell it, and then return to the main story. It's a hang-up for many, though expecting anything but chaos from Harley Quinn would be a mistake. Despite this, it’s surprisingly well-paced, never feeling tiresome or drawn out. It's also beautiful with lush, colorful environments and unorthodox set design. At the very least, it's food for the eyeballs. What drags it down slightly is its more generic story beats, including a large brawl at the end between our leads and a group of mask-wearing henchmen. The sequence itself is entertaining in its own right, but feels more like every other superhero film in which a fistfight must be had at the end. It’s forgivable, but it still sticks out. Otherwise, it’s a foul-mouthed, candy-coated romp. It’s just fun, and despite any notions, preconceived or otherwise, about feministic tendencies, it doesn’t require anything more of its audience than to be entertained by a group of ass-kicking comic book characters. You either enjoy that kind of thing or you don’t. I do.

Birds of Prey was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4K) using Arri Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa SXT cameras with Cooke Anamorphic/i SF lenses. It was finished as a native 4K digital intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio and graded for high dynamic range (Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+ are all available here). It’s a gorgeous presentation. The film’s color palette is incredibly rich and enhanced greatly by high dynamic range (even more so in 12-bit Dolby Vision), getting the most out of the greens, purples, pinks, and blues—all of them used aesthetically, and not just on clothing, objects, and people. Textures and contrast are also enhanced, allowing for inky deep blacks and high levels of detail in both shadowy environments and daytime street scenes (the grease popping off the grill in the egg sandwich scene at Sal’s is particularly intoxicating). Everything appears sharp and precise, never faltering to artificial augmentation or encoding issues of any kind.

The main audio track is presented in English Dolby Atmos. After a minor volume adjustment, the track excels at delivering pulsating music and score, lively directional sound effects, and atmospheric activity, both indoors at Sionis’ club and outside in the busy streets of Gotham. Gunfire and car crashes have an ample amount of impact, with added support from the low end. Bits of dialogue can sometimes get lost in the barrage of aural activity, mostly in the latter half of the film, but it’s all discernible otherwise. Other audio options include English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 5.1 DVS, and French, Spanish, Czech, Hindi, and Polish (Lektor) 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Polish, and Hindi.

There are no extras on the UHD disc itself, but the film is also included in 1080p on a Blu-ray within the package and the extras can be found there, all in HD:

  • Bird’s Eye View Mode
  • Birds of Prey: Birds of a Feather (8:26)
  • Romanesque (4:57)
  • A Love, Skate Relationship (4:29)
  • Grim and Crime (10:38)
  • Sanity is Sooo Last Season (7:39)
  • Wild Nerds (6:03)
  • Gag Reel (2:02)

Bird’s Eye View Mode offers a non-interactive set of bonus materials that play during the film. It includes an introduction from director Cathy Yang, interviews with all of the main cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and bits of trivia about the characters, the story, and the key players. It’s a nice way to the view the film and learn more about it, but an audio commentary would have been more ideal. Other than the Gag Reel, the rest of the material consists of featurettes containing more interviews with the cast and crew. It’s mostly fluff, but we do get interviews with the film’s production designer, stunt coordinator, and costume designer, which are unfortunately too brief. The Blu-ray opens with trailers for Tenet, Mortal Kombat: Legends – Scorpion’s Revenge, and a 4K-UHD advert. The package also contains a Digital code on a paper insert.

Birds of Prey carried over a lot of baggage from the poorly-received, though successful, Suicide Squad. It’s also a highly unorthodox film as it’s basically villains versus villains with none of DC’s roster of superheroes anywhere in sight. However, it gets by on charm, strong visuals, a great leading performance, and a fun atmosphere. The Ultra HD release could have used a few more bells and whistles, but as is, it’s a stellar high definition presentation.

- Tim Salmons

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