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Argo (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

ArgoBen Affleck’s directorial catalog has been nothing short of a perfect batting average.  Despite your thoughts on his films, none of them are terrible and at worst you can’t say any of them aren’t pretty damn entertaining.  There were no clumsy steps or learning curves, he started right out with some prestige.  His second film The Town, which Brian just recently expertly covered the 4K of garnered him some big attention and people wanting to give the man a second Oscar.  That would come with this film, Argo, the one that famously snubbed him a Best Director nod only to land him that second Oscar with a Best Picture Oscar in the producer role (As well as George Clooney).  Its a well directed, exciting, educational and crowd pleasing film that had a quadruple threat of box office money, audience, critical approval and statues to go with.

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Film 

On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. In the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, the Canadian and American governments ask the CIA to intervene. The CIA turns to their top “exfiltration” specialist, Tony Mendez, to come up with a plan to get the six Americans safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

When Argo was released in October of 2012, critics were hailing it as the best of the year, a contender for best picture and earned Ben Affleck continued praise on his ascension to one of the best commercial film directors out there.  Then all of a sudden, after February 24th, when it achieved such success, it apparently wasn’t that good anymore.  Right up to the moment it won the award, people were mad Affleck was snubbed for the Best Director award for not even being nominated.  But, that’s the curse that comes with winning the high honor of Best Picture in the modern era, you’re turned on.  X film was better than yours, you weren’t that good, its now a bad film in hindsight.  Such crazy opinions.  Luckily I’m not one to get caught up in that nonsense as I still to this day thoroughly enjoy Argo.

Affleck’s third turn at director might just be his best overall.  Though, if you’re arguing for The Town or Gone Baby Gone (Seriously, we do need to talk about that movie more), you’re not wrong.  Argo has Affleck dabbling in making a biopic and exploring some more technical challenges and styles of filmmaking.  What results is a movie that’s fully committed, very tight and is confident in itself and never backs down.  From start to finish, there isn’t a frame or scene wasted.

Right away with the vintage Warner Bros logo, the film announces its period piece presence, but Affleck goes many steps further.  Argo is shot on film to give more credence to its 1980 setting.  Not only that, but the angles and other stylistic camera choices borrow and are inspired by the films and filmmakers prevalent at the time.  There are some hand held and longer takes that would remind one of Brian De Palma at times.  Its also filled with realistic and actual style and clothing choices that don’t go overboard and keep it tame.  With a nice present bit of grain, it just feels genuine through and through.

One angle I feel that Ben Affleck is attempting to play around with and try to master is the arena of suspense.  There are quite a few nail biting scenes of different varieties throughout the film.  Even knowing the outcome of the film, the first couple times I’ve seen it have had me still weary and sitting up in my seat during a few of the sequences.  I think the Iran stuff is effective because Affleck really does create a horrifying hostile environment that isn’t necessarily black and white, its just disorienting, loud and chaotic to unpredictable and discomforting levels.  It all culminates in one final and dynamite sequence at the airport to finish the film off.

Argo has an incredibly underrated cast of some well known character actors to mix with under the radar ones.  The whole group stuck at the Canadian ambassador’s house is a who’s who of more indie fare with some more known commodities like Clea DuVall and Rory Cochrane.  This group is quite good and the one that has to sell us on a lot of this thing and they all do a fantastic job.  A lot of the meat of this movie is Affleck trading chops with the likes of political types in the forms of excellence like Bryan Cranston and Kyle Chandler.  Oh, and lets not forget how great John Goodman and Alan Arkin are together in this film.

Argo is one of the more fun Best Picture winners of the past many years.  I feel its one of the years where the “people’s film” won the award.  It had a good many storylines behind the scenes to go with a memorable shot of Goodman and Arkin celebrating, Affleck’ redemption and a line that everyone was spouting out (“Argo f*** yourself!”).  Was it my favorite film that year?  No. Was it the best of those nominated? In my opinion, no. But I enjoyed it thoroughly and have no qualms with it winning, it was deserving.

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Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Argo was shot on film, thus lending itself to a very beautiful rich reproduction on its 4K UHD debut.  The film is really well defined and bold in its appearance.  The HDR does a real service here in enhancing and delighting the image.  Aside from a flag burning that has really fake looking fire at the outset, everything else is golden.  There is a scene where Tony Mendez meets with a contact at a palace that will wow the hell out of a viewer.  There are lights in said palace that just pop right off the screen.  Other things that lift off are some vehicles that are on fire.  We’ll get into more color things down the line.  Details are insanely rampant, especially on tings like Affleck’s suit jacket and even the paper in the typewriters (theres a sort of grey tinge that you can spot on them).  The passports easily show a nice lift on one of the approval stamps on there that clearly rise above the flatness of the paper. Topping off with a gorgeous pool shot scene of Alan Arkin, one should know that Argo’s 4K UHD premiere is pretty damn impressive.

Depth:  The film features a really good range of 3 dimensional shots and camera movements throughout that give the film a nice immersive feel.  Character appear front, center and fully rounded and detached from environments.  Movements are very smooth and clear, especially in scenes with crowds of people all at once moving.  Said scene I mentioned earlier in the palace is particularly 3D feeling while only being a 2D presentation.  Background imagery is good and discernible even when intentionally blurry within a shot.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and rich here with an impressive amount of shades and dimensions.  You can see gloss, polish, scuffs and such on objects and surfaces.  Clothing features fabric patterns, textures and fold and wrinkle lines from many given distances.  Hair features frizzles and follicles cleanly read by the eyes. Late in the film there’s a scene where a solider makes a call on a solid black phone and you can make out red lines that are on the panel for it.  No crushing witnessed in this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Colors are very strong and set to perfection in this transfer.  From popping oranges (Fires, plane tickets, cars) to really strong blues throughout (There is a powder blue polo shirt a character wears that looks lovely), Argo really gets its colors right and feels incredibly bold and lifelike in its appearance.  Even the purples used on the art materials for the fake movie in the film look quite impressive.  Brown is also a color not to be underestimated as it features many different shades and tints in the film and they come off very complimentary, real and bold.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones keeps a consistent and natural appearance throughout the length of the film with a full, solid look.  Facial features like lip texture, make-up, stubble, freckles, dimples, blemishes, moles and more come through with great clarity no matter the given camera distance

Noise/Artifacts: Argo is a very clean and clear looking image.  It contains a nice lovely layer of grain that is focused and complimentary to every scene.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Czech 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Turkish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Dutch, Mandarin (Simple), Mandarin (Traditional), Korean, Arabic, Cantonese, Spanish (Latin), Portuguese (Brazil), Czech, Danish, Portuguese, Polish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish, Russian, Thai

Dynamics: Interestingly, Argo doesn’t go overboard and maintains a very good, accurate and solid 5.1 audio mix.  Its one that perfectly captures its environments with some great ambiance and also engages.  The mix knows when to get loud and bring on the intensity while also keeping mind with the dramatics to also impress and go beyond the dialogue.  Sound effects are both loud and can range to being minuscule, but sounding layered and realistic.  This mix features a really good balance of its score, the vocal track and the effects wound up together.  Sure, 7.1 would have been cool, but this 5.1 nice wraps you up in to the film that you may not even think about it while you’re watching the film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Deep rumbling sounds come from crowds, stomping, crashing through the embassy, the firing of tear gas canisters as well as loud truck engines and planes to go with the usual little nuances and musical beats.

Surround Sound Presentation: Right from the offset, this one shows you what its made off.  The riot scenes are quite haunting, engulfing you from all five channels with chanting, shouting and the like.  Big crowd and commerce scenes are what impress the most in the mix with it crafted to have something coming from every speaker, sporting some very unique and great ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and clear.  Vocal inflections and such are crisp with every sound from the mouth and breath of a word captured here.

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Extras 

Argo comes with the Blu-ray edition and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.  The Blu-ray disc contains all the supplemental material.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Ben Affleck and Writer Chris Terrio

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Feature Length Picture in Picture: Eyewitness Account – A video commentary/interview window that plays during the film that has everyone from Ben Affleck to Jimmy Carter discussing it throughout the film.  This is the ultimate bonus feature to have as it plays along with the film and is a rich vault of information.

Rescued from Tehran: We Were There (HD, 16:51) – Jimmy Carter, Tony Mendez and the escapees all recound the events from the film and their total experience.

Absolute Authenticity (HD, 11:19) – Affleck and company go over grabbing the aesthetic and set design and look of the film to keep it feeling “authentic”.

The CIA and Hollywood Connection (HD, 6:05) – Affleck talks about Hollywood and the CIA in relation to the story told in the film.

Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option (SD, 46:34) –  A 2005 television special on the events depicted in the film.

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Summary 

I’m still a big fan of Argo, not going to change my mind because it won a prestigious award.  Its still a good mix between some great filmmaking, biopic and popcorn crowd pleasing affair.  This 4K UHD Blu-ray offers a really impressive transfer that gives the film a very awesome look and is one of my favorite looking 4Ks so far.  The audio and extras remain the same, but if you’re a fan of the film the upgrade is worth it.  I’d say at the least, wait for the price to come down a little if you’re patient.  I guess I’ll get cute here and say “Argo 4K yourself!”

Argo-4K

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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