Director Peter Berg knocked out two films in 2016, both based on true, tragic American events. It could have been tricky to do, but he seems to be more in his element than ever and that brings us to his take on a disaster film. As you may remember, given all the media coverage, Deepwater Horizon recounts the events that led up to the explosion and subsequent fire on an offshore drilling unit, resulting in the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Rather than heavily dwelling on the aftermath and politics involved though, this is a film about the workers involved and what they went through on the night of April 20, 2010. The result is a well-acted thriller that makes the most out of having a matter-of-fact handling on disaster movie tropes. Now the film has arrived on a packed Blu-ray.
Following some basic setup that serves as the first of many warning signs, we get a sense of who the main players are. Mark Wahlberg is Mike Williams, a devoted husband and father, with a good eye for what could be better on his rig. Kurt Russell is Jimmy Harrell, the respected leader of all the workers. Gina Rodriguez is Andrea Fleytas, one of the operators of the rig. As the film shifts the action to the Deepwater Horizon, a good chunk of the film is spent on inside baseball-type discussions regarding all the ins and outs of this vessel. The main takeaway becomes an understanding of how John Malkovich’s Donald Vidrine is sacrificing proper tests and time in an effort to save money.
While there is obviously a bit of moustache twirling in Malkovich’s performance, he is nonetheless convincing as his character. This whole first half (or however long) devotes itself to getting a read on these characters and Malkovich, Wahlberg, Russell and Rodriguez all deliver. There’s also Ethan Suplee, young Dylan O’Brien and a handful of character actors who all provide grounded performances as regular workers. While Berg and writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand may put a little too much focus on rat-a-tat dialogue in the midst of a very plausible reality, the basic drama on display registers enough to prepare one for the resulting disaster.
Once Deepwater Horizon kicks into high gear, the film does a pretty fantastic job of showing the resulting chaos. With all the talk about pressure levels, the film does plenty to show just how damaging these effects were and why this explosion became what it was. Seeing various characters suddenly get pummeled with water, mud, fire and debris leads to some intense moments to watch. Regardless of the amount of CG and stunt people involved, Berg’s direction really places the audience in this disaster with these characters and it’s very effective.
Now there can be a rationale that underlines how unfortunate that a tragedy such as this has been made into a film for an audience to find entertainment value in. This also wouldn’t be the first time to argue as such, but with this particular film, the nature of the event comes into play. Without spoiling too much history (because some are nervous about these kinds of things), for those reading about this event from the outside, the resulting oil spill managed to overshadow the fact that a number of people died in the explosion. As Berg is a director who like to put focus on immortalizing people he deeply respects, his on-the-ground approach to filmmaking does pay off here, without feeling like exploitation.
Again, it helps that the cast is primed and ready to do what is required of them. Wahlberg, in particular, really does shine here. As the movie is (like Sully) about regular workers just doing their jobs in heightened scenarios, we watch Wahlberg’s Mike do what is needed of him without turning into a superhero. Even when considering a moment that allows for a major trailer shot, the film has Wahlberg breaking down soon after. When a reconnection is made between he and his wife (Kate Hudson, making the best out of the “worried wife” role), it is not an easy moment for the characters. For all the bravado and laid back earnestness in other Wahlberg roles, this film chooses to show him as incredibly vulnerable.
If one wants to break it down further, Deepwater Horizon does fall into a pattern generally seen in disaster movies. Once the action gets going, it means little for further character shading (minus what I’ve said about Wahlberg and some great visual exchanges between the “good guys” and the “bad”). Regardless, it does not take away from watching a film that gets to the heart of the matter as far as why things could go bad, seeing a solid cast discuss these issues and delivering the explosive results. It makes for a fine film that stays away from outside politics, but is not out of its depths when it comes to what a number of workers unfortunately had to go through.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Clarity/Detail: Deepwater Horizon is the kind of film that was made for Blu-ray. The different types of environments and blending of practical and visual effects means getting a ton of different visual elements that really emphasize the level of detail that can be found in the film. The image presented here is sharp and clear in a way that really helps bring to life the tension of the situation, while holding onto the clear focus seen throughout.
Depth: Great depth work here. With seamless visual effects, you really get a feel for being on a giant rig that is going through a disaster. The transfer allows for lots of smooth work as far as the dimensionality is concerned.
Black Levels: Black levels are quite strong here. Very good, deep and inky backdrops for a film with a lot of nighttime and darkened sequences. It helps make the flames stand out a whole lot as well.
Color Reproduction: It is the color of fire that really impresses. We get a great look at all sorts of chaos and the color of it all really pops. The same can be said for other elements such as clothing and water, which really stands out in a way that bodes well for a film that sticks to the basics, when it comes to characters.
Flesh Tones: Facial textures are quite strong here, even with the frantic nature of the cameras. We get a lot of great detail in the injuries sustained by the characters in the film, which says good things about the use of makeup and how the Blu-ray reflects that.
Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio Optimized for Late-Night Listening, English Descriptive Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
Subyitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Dynamics: Another reason why this is a great Blu-ray, the audio track is reference quality, thanks to the terrific Dolby Atmos track. It does the job in giving us all the great detail you would want in hearing how the chaos ensues, while keeping the characters and other audio elements involved. There are even the early scenes involving the drilling sound effects, helicopters and more. This is a fantastic audio track.
Low Frequency Extension: The LFE Channel gets a ton to work with here, given the nature of a disaster-based film. So many explosions and the sounds of fire really make the room rumble.
Surround Sound Presentation: A perfect balance of noise that greatly benefits what you are seeing on screen. All the channels are used effectively here, making for a great mix.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is clean and clea.
First up, be sure to check out my coverage of the VR experience that Lionsgate has put together for this release. As far as the features on the disc, we get a lot of good features that delve into the making of this film, the actors involved and the actual men involved. The only thing missing is a full-length audio track.
- Beyond the Horizon (HD, 51:21) – Divided into five parts focused on the key actors involved, this series of segments allows for a look at the different sides of production.
- Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg (HD, 18:15) – A profile of Peter Berg and his involvement.
- The Fury of the Rig (HD, 27:20) – A lengthy look at the production as far as designing a rig suitable for the film.
- Deepwater Surveillance (HD, 17:40) – A series of fly-on-the-wall looks at several segments from the film.
- Participant Media Work Like an American
- American Worker Tribues (HD, 16:03) – Profiles of some of the real men involved in the tragedy.
- I Am a Steel Beam with Narration from Director Peter Berg (HD, 1:03) – An all-American poem.
- I Am a Steel Beam with Narration from Gina Rodriguez (HD, 1:03)
- Trailers (HD)
- DVD Copy of the Film
- Digital HD Copy of the Film
Deepwater Horizon offers up a tremendous Blu-ray package to go with such a strong disaster-based film. Even if one is not as on board with what Berg attempts to capture here, the Blu-ray presentation is worth seeking out for those who want to be impressed to some degree by the video and audio presentation. The bevy of special features is also a big plus, as you get a look at a lot of went into the making of this film. This is a great release and should stand high for early 2017.