Unbreakable (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 24, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Unbreakable (4K UHD Review)

Director

M. Night Shyamalan

Release Date(s)

2000 (September 21, 2021)

Studio(s)

Touchstone Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures/Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (Walt Disney Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: C-

Unbreakable (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a man whose best days are well behind him. A former star quarterback, he now works as a security guard at the local football stadium. And though his young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) adores him, his marriage to his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) is slowly unravelling. But After David survives a commuter train crash that kills everyone else on board—as in survives it without so much as a scratch—he receives a mysterious note from a comic book art expert named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). The note asks a simple question: “How many days of your life have you been sick?” When the two men finally meet, Elijah, who’s wheelchair bound, reveals that while his own body is extraordinarily fragile, he suspects that David might be indestructible. Joseph is naturally eager to believe this of his father, but David refuses to entertain the idea, until he discovers soon after that he can bench press 350 pounds. Somehow, it seems, these two men are linked… and David begins to wonder if he might indeed be a real-life superhero.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs), Unbreakable is an extraordinarily frustrating movie. The first time I saw it, I absolutely loved it… right up until the end. Keep in mind, at the time this film was released, superhero cinema was stuck in a rut. Preceded by Batman & Robin (1997) and followed closely by Daredevil (2003), Ang Lee’s The Hulk (2003), and Fantastic Four (2005), the genre wasn’t exactly blazing a trail of greatness at the time (outside of the X-Men franchise, which hit a few bumps of its own). But Unbreakable delivered an absolutely engrossing and grounded origin story for a working-class, Philly-strong, American superhero. With Willis’s David Dunn as the muscle and Jackson’s Elijah Price as the brains of the operation, what a franchise this could have become! Unfortunately, Shyamalan has far too often been poorly served by his need for clever twists, a gimmick he seems to consider his directorial signature. To be fair, his twist worked brilliantly in The Sixth Sense. But once you know that a director’s thing is a twist, or a puzzle box, or some other plot gimmick, you start to look for it. And audiences are far too clever these days, so the twist is almost always obvious, telegraphed too early, or simply disappointing. And that’s a shame, because Unbreakable is otherwise a gem, a film that builds its tension slowly, features terrific neo-noir cinematography, earns its best moments, and boasts a terrific cast, each of them operating at the top of their game. James Newton Howard even delivers a nifty and understated score. But damn that ending is weak sauce.

Unbreakable was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Eduardo Serra (What Dreams May Come, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) using Panavision Panaflex Gold II, Millennium, and Millennium XL cameras with Panavision Primo and C-Series anamorphic lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. For its debut on Ultra HD, Disney has scanned the original camera negative (and master interpositive elements for VFX) in 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with grading for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available on this disc). The result is truly impressive, and a massive improvement over the original 2008 Blu-ray. Whereas that disc was rife with edge-enhancement, lacking in fine detail, and very unrefined overall, the new 4K presentation features abundant fine detail, exquisite texturing, and beautifully-nuanced coloring within the film’s intentionally cool blue and earth-toned palette. VFX shots and optical titles are a little soft looking obviously, but’s simply the nature of the post-production process at the time. The darkest areas of the frame are ink-black, yet with much more detail than before (this is particularly evident in several shots in which David is talking with Audrey—while he’s in the hall and she’s in the doorway to her bedroom completely shadowed—and also the scene in which David discovers how much weight he can lift). The highlights (oppressive overcast skies, lamps, flames, the play of light on Elijah’s glass cane) are bold and natural. Grain is ever-present, yet well controlled and organic. I think fans of this film—especially those who know it thoroughly—will be very impressed by this 4K presentation. The longer you watch it, the more the newly-remastered image reveals its pleasures.

Primary audio on the 4K disc is available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. This seems to be essentially the same 5.1 mix that was found on the original Blu-ray, just re-encoded in the new codec (the previous edition featured its 5.1 in lossy Dolby Digital and uncompressed LPCM). This isn’t a mix that offers a great deal of sonic bluster, but the soundstage is medium wide and highly atmospheric, with terrific clarity and ample bass. Dialogue is clean and well-centered across the front, while the surround channels are mostly employed for ambience and music. In fact, this mix is most impressive in its quiet moments, which offer a lovely sense of spaciousness. Additional audio options are available in English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, along with French, Castilian Spanish, German, and Italian in 5.1 DTS, Quebec French and Latin Spanish in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Quebec French, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Disney’s UHD package includes the film in 4K and also 1080p HD on a newly-authored Blu-ray (mastered from the same new 4K scan—it’s also much improved over the 2008 BD). There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the Blu-ray adds the following:

  • Behind the Scenes (SD – 14:16)
  • Comic Books and Superheroes (SD – 19:21)
  • Train Station Sequence: Multi-Angle Feature (SD – 4:08)
  • Deleted Scenes (SD – 7 scenes – 28:28 in all)
  • Night’s First Fight Sequence (SD – 2:27)

All of these video segments were on the previous Blu-ray and all were carried over from the original Vista Series DVD release in 2001. The content isn’t bad, but it’s far from comprehensive and certainly feels a little dated at this point. Still, it’s good to have it all included here. Naturally, Disney’s 4K package also includes a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.

Unbreakable might be a frustrating experience in the end, but it remains one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films. It’s also never looked or sounded better than it does here in 4K Ultra HD and remastered Blu-ray. Now you can finally watch Shyamalan’s complete Eastrail 177 Trilogy in 4K by chasing this film with Split (2016) and Glass (2019), the latter films already available on UHD from Universal. A big tip of the hat to Disney for delivering a terrific 4K remaster here. By the way, if you folks at Disney are in the mood to remaster more great old Vista Series DVD titles for 4K Ultra HD release, I can think of none more deserving than the Tombstone: Director’s Cut (1993). (Trust me, you guys would sell a ton of those.) In the meantime, Unbreakable in 4K is highly recommended for fans of the film.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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