Release Date(s)2010 (February 11, 2020)
Studio(s)Phoenix Pictures/Sikelia/Appian Way (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review was written by Barrie Maxwell for the original 2010 Blu-ray release. The disc portion is by Bill Hunt for the new 4K edition.]
Shutter Island was to have been a high-profile theatrical release for Paramount in 2009, but that release was delayed into the doldrums of winter. That’s unfortunate because the film was easily one of the best of that year, yet it was overlooked for year-end honours due to poor timing. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same title and set in 1954, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who along with his partner (Mark Ruffalo) arrives at an asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. The investigation does not go well, mainly due to the lack of cooperation from the asylum’s administration, including director Ben Kingsley and advisor Max Von Sydow. Also a factor, however, are memories triggered by the investigation concerning Teddy’s World War II experiences in liberating the Nazi death camps and more recent memories of a family tragedy in his own life. When a major storm devastates the island, cutting it off from connection to the mainland, the nature of what is actually transpiring on Shutter Island is gradually revealed.
The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and he is in full command, brilliantly cutting between the present and the past, ramping up the suspense, and creating a sense of unease without resorting to cheap shock tactics. He draws out a very fine performance from DiCaprio, that of a man caught in a situation that is much more complex than he ever realizes. Ben Kingsley is also a boon to the film, tempering his past tendencies to take his character more over the top. Ruffalo and Von Sydow have less to do, but provide strong support and are memorable nonetheless. Shutter Island is a film of many threads and a single viewing isn’t nearly enough to assimilate them all. The film is littered with clues as to what is actually happening and the pleasure of multiple viewings lies partly in recognizing them and fitting them into the broader narrative.
Shutter Island was shot mostly on photochemical film in Super 35 format via Panavision Millennium cameras with Primo anamorphic lenses, though a bit of photography was also done on 65mm film using the Arriflex 765 and Panavision System 65 (as well as digitally using the Arriflex D-21) to achieve a kind of hyper-clarity for the flashback sequences. The film was finished as a 2K digital intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, upsampled and graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available on this UHD disc). The result is a pleasing and cinematic high contrast image. Fine detail is a little soft, but the texuring is still delicate, and the film’s light-moderate grain structure is retained. Colors are refined and accurate but stylized by design—a little desaturated in the present day footage but with a heightened Kodachrome look for the flashbacks. Shadows are inky black yet detailed, while the highlights are bold and natural, if with an intentionally gloomly apperance. This is very much a neo-noir style image, well suited to HDR and a nice step up from the Blu-ray.
The primary sound option on the 4K disc is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. This is the same mix found on the previous Blu-ray, but it was impressive then and remains so now. Dialogue is clear and well balanced with sound effects and score. Ambient effects are subtly deployed throughout the soundstage to create an oppressive sense of atmosphere. When the storm sequence begins, the panning, movement, and particularly the aggressive low-end deliver a thoroughly immersive sonic experience. This is a film for which the score is critcial in creating an ever-present sense of dread—thankfully, the fidelity here is exellent. For what is largely a dialogue-driven film, this mix is impressive indeed. Additional audio options include English Audio Description, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in Czech, Latin Spanish, French, Japanese, Hungarian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Thai, and Turkish. Subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Arabic, Malay, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Greek, Spanish, French, Hindi, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Romany, Slovak, Finnish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
There are no extras on Paramount’s 4K disc, but the package includes the film in 1080p on Blu-ray as well. It appears to be the same edition released on the format in 2010, and includes the following extras (both in HD):
- Behind the Shutters (17:10)
- Into the Lighthouse (21:11)
While the supplements call out for a commentary from Scorsese, all we get are two meaty featurettes on the production and on the film’s psychiatric underpinnings. That’s a shame, but they are at least interesting and worth your time. Sadly, there is no Digital code of any kind, but the Steelbook packaging is nice.
Shutter Island is a psychological thriller that’s intelligent and thought provoking—one that will stay with you for a long time. In Hollywood filmmaking these days, that’s rare. The film is highly recommended and—if you’re a fan—the UHD offers a modest but pleasing visual upgrade.
- Barrie Maxwell (with Bill Hunt)