"THE AVENGERS" ON BLU-RAY
My 46 inch television set has never looked smaller.
"The Avengers" is a big movie. When it's not spreading out a large fight scene across New York City on multiple levels, it's crashing through the confining corridors of the Helicarrier. Characters impose upon the viewer in one shot, and then crash across the scene in the next. The smaller scenes make up for their lack of breadth with their detail. Characters stand around talking while waving their hands at pop-up holographic displays filled with moving images. Wind, dust, rubble and more fills the background.
Pack that all onto a TV screen in your living room and you're going to want to have a bigger screen. Thanks to Blu-ray, the details of every scene are crisp and clear. All of the buttons and graphics and screens and textured backgrounds are clear on the screen. I noticed them a lot more in my 'home theater' than I did in the actual movie theater where I originally saw the movie just a few short months ago. It helps that the movie is shot with a very deep depth of field. You don't get blurry backgrounds; everything is shown with full detail in the background, no bokeh necessary. The one exception to this that jumps out is when Black Widow draws her gun on Hulk. It's an almost ludicrously thin depth of field for that shot. You don't need a 3D display for that one to pop out at you, though it's clearly a shot done with 3D in mind.
There's always the worry with Blu-ray that it'll be too sharp and too perfect. Special effects that looked great in our memories or on low quality VHS tapes back in the day (and even some DVDs in modern times) suddenly fall apart when the new higher-definition presentation shows all the details that the special effects people counted on being missing in the first place. Add to that, I had originally seen "The Avengers" in 3D, but watched it for the first time at home in 2D. It does feel like a new movie, one in which I paid more attention to those details because there was one less factor to distract my eye. The 1080p presentation on my television at home hid nothing. The computer graphics in some spots were more obvious than they were in the theaters. Sometimes, things looked a little too bright and shiney. Computer-animated figures that flung across the screen at unnaturally fast speeds stood out more.
None of that bothered me, though. "The Avengers" is still the ultimate comic book movie. Bright, shiny, cool imagery fits right in. Things that look modern or futuristic don't stand out in a comic book movie. They make sense. I got swept in once again to seeing all the bits from comics that I've enjoyed for years and never expected to see on a movie or television screen. I got giggly with the heroes having a disagreement and fighting in the woods, or the Hulk smashing through a Helicarrier, or the team forming up in a dramatic circle and striking a pose. It's just plain cool. There's plenty in this movie that might seem corny or cliche or stiff if you wanted to compare it to some serious Oscar-contending drama. It doesn't matter. This movie celebrates all of those things that make superhero comics what they are. Joss Whedon does a great job in striking the right cords and doing it with a smile.
The video holds up strong on the movie. Even with all the crazy quick cuts and camera movements in the heavily-detailed New York City battle, I never got distracted by pixellations or motion blurring or any of the usual DVD/Blu-ray trouble spots.
I also noticed more of the acting this time around. Tom Hiddleston, in particular, is a force of nature. Any scene he walks into, he steals. He has a devilish smile that perfectly encapsulates Loki's trickster character. When handed a page of expository dialogue, he chews it up and spits it out, giving us a very Shakespearean presentation without being over the top.
And then there's Mark Ruffalo, also known as Marvel Studios' Bruce Banner #3. His Banner feels smart, but interacts with the others in a believable and very physical way. There are times when you can picture the Hulk inside him. His restrained arm movements and slight hunch, along with the weary look on his face and the occasional spark of a scientist with something very cool to do, give his role a physicality even before he turns green. His acting is on the other end of the spectrum from Hiddleston's, but it's still powerful stuff.
The surround sound worked well, enveloping me without calling attention to itself. The soundtrack accommodates a 7.1 surround sound set-up, though I only have 5.1. I was comfortable keeping the volume at the same level throughout most of the movie without fear of waking up the rest of the family upstairs with a sudden loud moment. There are a couple of times when you may want to turn it up to catch all the dialogue, but then you'll be turning it back down a minute later when the loud action picks back up again. (I'm also very happy to have heard Loki wheezing after the Hulk beat-down for the first time. I didn't think that scene could get another laugh out of me, but it did.)
The big bonus feature for the disc is the Directory's Commentary with Joss Whedon. I've heard him do these before, and they're always entertaining. His commentary track for the series finale of "Firefly" was particularly insightful. It was a philosophical tract more than the usual commentaries full of gland-handing and "look at that!"s. While I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, I can say that what I've heard of it so far is interesting and not filled with pregnant pauses. For a one man commentary on a two and a half hour movie, that level of talkativeness would be impressive. I can't wait to dig into the rest to see if he maintains that pace.
The Blu-ray has a few more extras. First, there's a gag reel that doesn't overstay its welcome. It cuts through the silliness quickly with a musical bed to tie it all together. Second, there's the latest "Marvel One-Shot" short film, this time focusing on a couple who've picked up alien technology and are using it to rob banks. Third, there are deleted and extended scenes. You can see why they were all cut out for timing purposes, particularly the extended look at Captain America's loneliness. But I'm very happy the Maria Hill interrogation wraparound didn't make the final cut. I liked the character much better in the final movie, which still leaves room for interpretation without her seeming weaselly. It ends strongly, but it was too much to get through to get to good stuff.
There's also a "Second Screen" thing where you can watch the movie while playing with an iPad app that syncs up. My iPad is broken, so I didn't have the chance to play with that.
The Blu-ray is available today everywhere, and you can even choose to pick up the 3D version. Like I said after I saw the movie the first time, this is the kind of film that will sell 3D television sets. I'd love to see it that way again. Get it in whatever format you can, though, because the movie is a ton of fun and I have no complaints about the transfer to digital disc. Well, except one. And it's a bit of a doozy:
This disc is made by Disney, whose DRM is notorious for breaking Blu-ray players. Check out any support page of any Blu-ray manufacturer and notice how many people are complaining that they can't get a Blu-ray from Disney to work on their system. That's a bad thing, particularly for a family with children. Thankfully, the Blu-ray always comes with a DVD and those always work fine. But if you want the best quality -- which is what you paid Disney for, after all -- then you could be out of luck.
So test a friend's copy of the disc before buying it yourself. Be sure your player's firmware is up to date. Then cross your fingers. The Blu-ray format produces wonderful audio and video quality, but at a cost that's almost too high to bear. I don't mean financially. I just mean the long load times, the reliance on firmware updates, the buggy nature of "bleeding edge" extras, the menu systems that concentrate too much on being pretty instead of being easy to use, etc.
My less than two year old Samsung player couldn't play the disc. Some Disney Blu-rays grudgingly play with ridiculous pauses between menu elements; this one was just unplayable, even with both of this year's firmware fixes. Maybe there's another update on its way? I had to borrow a friend's Blu-ray player (Panasonic and about a year and a half old) just to watch "The Avengers."
I imagine if you can play other Disney movies that this one won't present a problem. Just keep it in mind.