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The Lost City of Z (Blu-ray Review)

Based on the look of this film, it would be no surprise to learn how difficult it was to make The Lost City of Z. I’m not speaking of just the shots of a wooden raft traveling down the Amazon River. No, it’s the look on the faces of these actors, which displays more than what makeup can accomplish. With echoes of David Lean and John Huston, writer/director James Gray (The Immigrant) certainly took on an ambitious project this time around, outshining his previous films in terms of scope. The result is a solid adventure story, divided into parts that explore just what it is that can drive someone to head into danger for the sake of possible discovery. Now the film is available on Blu-ray for all to see.

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Film:

Charlie Hunnam stars as famed British explorer Percy Fawcett, the man who made several attempts to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon, only to (spoilers for history) eventually disappear himself, during what would be his final expedition. The film recounts some of his exploits on the river and what came from his interactions with the indigenous people. There is also an exploration of the difficulties Fawcett had in finding support from the scientific community regarding these supposed “savages” and their actual capabilities, let alone the stress it put on his family.

The Lost City of Z unfolds in a linear manner, with some updates on the year every so often. We are essentially given a lot of highlights from Fawcett’s life, but the film’s effectiveness in utilizing this format comes from developing our awareness of Fawcett’s love for the jungle. Hunnam does a terrific job in conveying the fondness he has for this life on the river, being an explorer and generally trying to embrace all of the exotic worlds around him. This helps to make scenes outside of the jungle compelling, as you are watching a man struggle to communicate what drives him.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how relevant this story would be in its own way. One of the film’s highlights is an assembly scene, where Fawcett explains the possibility of an advanced civilization of indigenous people that could predate what has previously been established. This is met with scoffs and ridicule from the large group of older, white men who flatly deny that any group of “savages” such as these could have existed, let alone been capable of building tools and organizing. It’s the sort of moment that clearly sets up how noble Fawcett is, while also reflecting the time and what types of thinking never seems to go away.

Thematic work aside, the film works as a character study, with some nice supporting roles to help fill out the surroundings, which are quite wonderful to behold. When not being impressed by the stunning cinematography by Darius Khondji, enjoy the other performances in the film, such as Robert Pattinson’s Henry Costin, a no-nonsense fellow explorer. Sienna Miller does the best she can with the role of concerned wife, made better by how the script addresses her concerns with her husband’s actions. Angus Macfadyen portrays another explorer, whose actions have serious effects on one pivotal mission. There’s also Ian McDiarmid lending some prestige to a film outside the Star Wars universe. And young Tom Holland makes enough of an impression as Fawcett’s oldest son.

I will say the film seems to grapple with its opening moments, as far as drawing the viewer in. Perhaps it’s knowing what’s to come that made me anxious to get on the river, but once we do, the film becomes quite involving, even as it slows down between expeditions. One lengthy sequence comes in the form of a WWI interlude, reminding us once again what an ugly war that is to see depicted. It’s not quite the struggle that makes up the opening section of the film, but I don’t think Gray is beyond showing just how different the setting of dangerous trenches are, compared to the intriguing jungle missions.

Being on the river is really where the film finds itself at its most comfortable points. While the struggles back in London can be engaging, there are the thrilling moments of being adrift on a river and suddenly facing down random tribes thrusting spears towards the camera that really let the film become unleashed. While not a pulpy adventure story, Gray does a service to the film by making the journey feel dangerous. It makes it all the more compelling when you see this film’s handling of piranhas, which is probably more realistic than any other that came before it. Essentially, heading into the Amazon the way these men do is perilous and while the film is not trying to paint a bad picture of those inhabiting the jungles, it is more than willing to highlight the outsiders’ ignorance.

The Lost City of Z feels like an accomplished piece of work doing its best to highlight an explorer who influenced many. It’s a tribute film of sorts, but one that tells a character-driven story, effective on many levels. While a bit cold in terms of how much it was able to resonate with me on an emotional level, seeing an ultimate journey unfold in various parts the way this film does was interesting. Matching that with some solid performances and wonderful production values only further emphasized how well-handled this journey to a lost city could be. It may not have led to the actual discovery of El Dorado, but it at least painted a respectful portrayal.

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: Having championed the film since its theatrical release, I was more than ready to take in the visuals on Blu-ray and they do not disappoint. Given how stunning the photography is in this film, there’s a lot to admire, but a lot of joy comes from seeing the clarity of the Amazon environments. Lots of detail to be found on the river and within these forests, to go with scenes from back in England and other locals as well.

Depth: Good spacing seen throughout this film. The depth and distance are well-handled for this video transfer. Given how the river plays a heavy role, it’s easy to see where this really comes into play, as you take in the distances between characters and the shore, etc.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky throughout. No signs of crush and the numerous indoor scenes and nighttime moments come across without a loss of detail.

Color Reproduction: There’s a classical look to this film, so while there are plenty of lush greens, you can also get a bit of a muted vibe of the colors. That’s not a knock, as the colors are properly represented, especially considering both the jungles and the costumes, but other scenes outside the Amazon do a fine job showing the contrasts taking place.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register strongly here. You get a lot of close-ups that do their job to reflect the actors properly. A good amount of detail fairs very well with the design of the film in general.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Hearing the water splashes, wind rushing through the trees, rain and more make this a track easily worthwhile as far as getting the full experience. There’s a lot to take in thanks to the emphasis on environment, but it comes through clear enough. Quieter scenes register well too, given the introspective nature of some of these characters.

Low-Frequency Extension: There are some adventurous elements in the film that get a boost from the work with the LFE channel.

Surround Sound Presentation: A good balance is had on this track. Dialogue plays on the center channel, with the majority of sound playing center as well as on the front channels. The rear channels do plenty of work as well, thanks to all that’s going on with the environment that surrounds the characters.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is loud and clear.

 

Extras:

There’s a commentary track here, which is worth praising, but the film, unfortunately, has little else to offer. That’s a shame, given how interesting and difficult this production must have been.

Features Include:

  • Feature Film Commentary by Director James Gray
  • Adventure in the Jungle (HD, 2:21) – A very brief EPK with interviews from the cast and crew.
  • From Novel to Screen (HD, 3:10) – A brief discussion with the author of the original novel and the crew.
  • Expedition Journal (HD) – Functions as an interactive photo gallery.
  • Trailers (HD)

 

Summary:

The Lost City of Z is currently one of my favorite films of the year. It provides an adventure-drama that’s well worth thinking about after seeing it, thanks to strong performances and some neat ideas as far as what the story attempts to accomplish. The Blu-ray does a  fine job of bringing this production to life at home, with a fine video and audio transfer to play well on a big screen television. There could have been more as far as the extras were concerned, but I’m still happy to recommend this film to anyone interested.

 

Order Your Copy Here:

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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