Pearl (Steelbook) (German Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Dec 22, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Pearl (Steelbook) (German Import) (4K UHD Review)


Ti West

Release Date(s)

2022 (November 30, 2023)


Little Lamb/Mad Solar Productions/A24 (Turbine Medien)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: D+


[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free German import.]

Writer/director Ti West opens Pearl in the exact same way that he opened his previous film X, though with a key difference. In both cases, it’s an inversion of the famous shot that John Ford used to close his 1956 classic The Searchers, opening up the outside world instead of closing it off. The camera is inside of a barn looking out through a doorway that narrows down the full width of the frame, but rather than having someone shut the door to cut off the outside world, the camera pushes through the opening instead, which causes the frame to expand back to its full width. With X, the shot helped to establish the shifting aspect ratios that West would use throughout the film, and it also gave a visual indication that the story was going to be structured as a movie within a movie. X was about a group of adult filmmakers during the Seventies who travel to a farm in rural Texas in order to shot a 16 mm porno flick called The Farmer’s Daughters. As a result, the film switches back and forth between the look of matted 35 mm and full fame 16 mm. The barn door was a framing device that West used to foreshadow the literal framing devices used throughout the rest of the film.

The opening shot of the barn in Pearl also foreshadows the visual strategy that follows, but it’s a strikingly different one. That’s because Pearl is actually a prequel to X, taking place more than five decades earlier during the waning days of World War I. The young filmmakers in X got more than they bargained for inside of this barn, because the elderly owners Howard and Pearl had no idea what kind of movie that they intended to make, and weren’t particularly thrilled to find out. Clearly, Howard and Pearl had their own storied history, and Pearl sets out to explore just what led them to that place in their lives. While the setting is the same, the time period is quite different, so when the camera pushes out the barn door this time, the dingy Seventies-era cinematography has been replaced by vivid Technicolor CinemaScope instead. Yet like many of the classic Hollywood melodramas of yore, this lush surface is little more than a gloss that hides the darkness that lies within. It’s yet another framing device.

Of course, Technicolor and ‘Scope are hardly period-accurate for 1918. The reality is that West originally wanted to shoot Pearl in full frame black-and-white, but A24 put the kibosh on that idea. West decided to go drastically in the opposite direction, and while the look that he chose may not match the period, it’s a perfect externalization of the interior mindset of the central character. Pearl (Mia Goth) has been living inside a Technicolor dream world in order to escape her oppressive existence. Howard (Alistair Sewell) is off fighting the war, and she’s living a life of drudgery with her domineering mother (Tandi Wright) and her disabled father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl dreams of escaping by becoming a dancer, and the brightness of her fantasies helps to mask the darkness of her reality. It also helps to mask the darkness in the core of her being, because to put it mildly, Pearl might be wound a wee bit too tight. She’s a little ahead of her time in the way that she works out her personal issues, so it’s entirely appropriate that her Technicolor dreams are ahead of their time as well. After all, Pearl is a renaissance woman, for good or for ill.

While Goth had played the role of aspiring adult actress Maxine in X, clearly Pearl is the character who was near and dear to her heart. Pearl was actually developed as something of a lark during the production of X, with Goth and West collaborating together on the screenplay. It was a way of providing a backstory for Pearl, but as sometimes happens, subtext became text when A24 greenlit the prequel before X was even completed. After a brief one-month break, everyone returned to the set in New Zealand to start filming Pearl. That included West’s longstanding cinematographer Eliot Rockett, who was quite comfortable radically shifting photographic styles on such short notice. That’s because the two of them have a long history of adjusting their style in order to match a given period. West and Rockett don’t just make period pieces; they recreate period filmmaking that’s accurate down to the smallest detail. In other words, they’re not just setting films in a given time period; they’re making films that look like they were actually shot during that period. There’s some chicanery in this case since the style isn’t really accurate for 1918, but it’s still thematically appropriate even if it’s technically incorrect.

Still, whatever that West and his other collaborators may have brought to the project, Pearl is really Mia Goth’s film from the first frame to the last. Quite literally so in the closing shot, where West refused to call “cut” while he held the camera on Pearl’s face, forcing Goth to maintain Pearl’s strained smile far past the comfort zone for both her and the audience as well. Goth had to improvise Pearl’s slow breakdown in one continuous shot, and she did that so fearlessly that it’s already become the stuff of legend. While Pearl wouldn’t have worked without Ti West’s unique voice behind the camera, it really wouldn’t have worked without Goth to bring the main character to life. It’s a tour-de-force performance in support of some virtuoso filmmaking. Thankfully, both West and Goth have reunited a third time for MaXXXine, which will carry the saga forward to the transitional period of the Eighties when the adult film industry made the shift from film to video. The new setting will allow West to explore a different period style than he did in either X or Pearl, and it also will grant Goth the opportunity to explore the consequences of a different kind of personal trauma in terms of how Maxine has dealt with her encounter with Pearl during the events of X. The characters, periods, settings, styles, and even aspect ratios may change throughout the trilogy, but Goth remains the essential core that holds all of it together.

Elliot Rockett captured Pearl digitally using the same basic setup that he did for the pseudo-35 mm footage in X: Sony CineAlta Venice cameras with Vantage MiniHawks lenses, in this case framed in widescreen at 2.39:1. Aside from the aspect ratio, the biggest difference between X and Pearl is due to the LUTs (lookup tables) that were applied to the image. X alternated mimicking the look of 16 mm and 35 mm prints from the Seventies, but Pearl was going for the vivid look of older Technicolor prints instead. Rockett actually started out with a LUT in the more limited Rec. 709 color space and pushed it a bit from there, with Park Road in New Zealand pushing things even further during post-production. It’s not clear whether or not that work was completed as a 2K or a 4K Digital Intermediate, but it probably wouldn’t have made a significant difference either way. That’s because West and Rockett were going for the look of Technicolor prints from the era that were struck from fine-grained negatives. The LUT applied a fine layer of artificial grain, but then softened it with a defocusing effect in order to imitate the look of the generational loss from the printing process. As a result, Pearl doesn’t really offer 4K worth of fine detail regardless of the capture and post-production resolutions that were involved. The image is still sharp and clear, with well-defined textures, but it doesn’t really demonstrate the kind of pinpoint fine detail that the best of 4K can provide.

Where this 4K does shine is via the High Dynamic Range grading (both Dolby Vision and base HDR10 are included on the disc). While Rockett didn’t necessarily explore the full color gamut of Rec.2020, the colors are still extremely bold and vivid in this HDR rendition. The faux-Technicolor look announces itself from the opening shot pushing out of the barn door toward the rest of the farm, with the verdant grass, deep reds, brilliant blues, and orange-tinted clouds all standing in sharp relief to each other. It’s a deliberately artificial Gone with the Wind style color scheme, and it’s simply gorgeous. Shortly after that, during Pearl’s first dream dance sequence, the advantages of HDR are demonstrated further since she’s lit by a single hard spotlight overhead. The blacks around her are deep and true, while the glowing highlights on her skin are intense but never blown out. The same thing is true of all the shots from within darkened barn looking out a the brightly lit exteriors. The interior shadow detail is dimmed but still perfectly resolved, while the exterior highlights are never blown out no matter how bright that they appear. With Pearl, it’s not necessarily the contrast from shot to shot that matters as much as it’s the contrast in tones that lie within different sections of the same shots. It’s amazing how this HDR grade is able to balance the lighter and darker elements in each individual frame without losing anything at either end of the spectrum. This is reference-quality video, at least in terms of how it accurately represents the intentions of the filmmakers.

Audio is offered in English and German Dolby Atmos, with optional English, English SDH, German, and German SDH subtitles. (If you’ve never seen Pearl before, be aware of the fact that the first line of dialogue is spoken in German, so it may make you think that you’ve selected the German track by mistake.) These Atmos tracks are a significant improvement over the otherwise fine 5.1 versions that are available on the previous Blu-rays—and to Turbine’s credit, their own Blu-ray also offers Atmos. There’s subtle envelopment from beginning to end, with key sound effects being energized all throughout the sound field—birds, insects, and other environmental sounds appear from any and all channels including the overheads. The same thing is true of the wildly immersive thunderstorm that takes place partway through the film, with the sounds of thunder assaulting the viewer from all directions. There’s a bit of deep bass in some of those thunderclaps, as well as in Pearl’s later fantasy during her audition where explosions and fireworks provide some rumble. Other than that, though, the deep bass is naturally somewhat limited for most of the film. What isn’t limited is the lush yet ominous score from Tyler Bates and Tim Williams, which sounds simply wonderful here. (Pro tip: buy the soundtrack album. You’ll thank me later.)

Turbine Medien’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD Steelbook release of Pearl is a two-disc set that includes a Region-Free Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. Note that unlike the Capelight Pictures UHD for X, the menus are available in both German and English, which makes navigation much easier for non-German speakers. (On the other hand, Capelight’s set was a Mediabook while this one is a Steelbook, so if you’re obsessive-compulsive about things matching on your shelf, you’re out of luck this time.) The extras are available on both the UHD and the BD, and they’re all in HD:

  • Coming Out of Her Shell (11:37)
  • Time After Time (4:00)
  • U.S. Teaser (1:02)
  • U.S. Trailer (2:13)
  • German Trailer (2:07)

Coming Out of Her Shell and Time After Time are both brief EPK-style featurettes that provide a bit of background about the film, featuring interviews with Ti West plus actors Mia Goth, David Corenswet, and Tandi Wright. They offer a bit of insight into how Pearl developed out of X, but there’s unavoidably not much depth here. West does say that replicating the classic Technicolor look was easier said than done, since everybody knows what it looks like, but no one really knows how to make things that way anymore. Aside from that, the rest of the extras consist of nothing more than the film’s trailers, but there is another trailer that’s hidden in plain sight. While this isn’t selectable from the menus, both the UHD and the BD open the film with Dolby’s Amaze Atmos trailer. It’s a nice touch that more home video releases should include, because it does help set the mood when sitting down to watch a movie at home.

The extras may be thin, but Turbine’s 4K version of Pearl is lovely from beginning to end (well, aside from the whole brutal murder thing, anyway). It’s a shame that Universal hasn’t offered a 4K version domestically, but the fact that Turbine made the smart choice to offer bilingual menus and Region Free capability makes importing their Steelbook a no-brainer. Plus, shipping costs from Germany are actually more reasonable than from English-speaking territories like the U.K. and Australia, If you’re a fan of Pearl, don’t hesitate to pick up this disc.

- Stephen Bjork

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