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Red Sparrow (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Spy fantasy films seem to be on the comeback trail the last few year, with a year like 2015 deliver upwards of five of them alone. This year will see the sixth Mission: Impossible film in the Tom Cruise-led franchise. Red Sparrow finds us reteaming Jennifer Lawrence with the director of three out of four Hunger Games films, Francis Lawrence. The film focuses on the modern day Russian side of the espionage game. If anything its an old school star led vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence and finds her with a pretty talented supporting cast. While the film underwhelmed at the box office, the take still kind of impresses being the movie was sold as based on nothing but Jennifer Lawrence name and face on the poster and trailers. You can snag yourself a copy of the film now by order from the Amazon link below.

Film 

Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets a CIA agent who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.

I’m sort of an easy lay when it comes to spy fantasy films. And this one was catered right to me; Low-key espionage film about a Russian superspy starring one of my favorite young movie stars. Yes, many pointed to how this looked like it could have been the Black Widow film we’ve been wanting for years and there’s not denying that. Many would likely find false expectation into think this would be more action oriented in that of a film that preceded it by about a half year in Atomic Blonde. And its not even close to that. The film does have some merits of its own, but overall falls flat and is mainly just okay.

One of the bigger things that hampers this film is that its not the best version of this story you could have received that week. Red Sparrow shares a lot of similar characters, plot and storytelling motifs with that of the FX network television show The Americans (The one with Keri Russell that you’ve all been ignoring and is coming to its conclusions this Wednesday at 10pm on FX). When you do a movie of similar components, its supposed to carry more prestige and enhance everything. Except, Red Sparrow doesn’t. Its nice, but this is stuff we’ve seen before and quite frankly, done better in any random episode of The Americans.

I’m not sure if I had poor projection when I saw the film or it just became more apparent here on the 4K Ultra-HD version of the film, but when I saw it in the theater I didn’t realize what a rad production design and visual appeal the film has. Its got your typical zapped of color, cold Russian look, but also takes on different looks for different areas and cities as well. Francis Lawrence also plays around a lot with the color red and there are some cool symmetry with Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton in the scenes prior to their meetup. The film carries a lot of what I loved about the opera sequence in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (A MUCH better spy film) in a different kind of way.

Over all, I keep coming back to Red Sparrow being just “Okay”. I’ve sort of felt the same about it on two watches. This is the kind of film I’d like to see more of, and this one is on to something but doesn’t really engage as much as it should have. I’m all for having a “talkie”, quietly suspenseful spy film, but this one just could bring that to be as interesting as it could have been. There is some solid violence, and the film is very mean spirited by design and holds to that, but it just can’t take on some sort of next level. If you’re a more action oriented and big moments person, I’d pass on it, but if you’re into stuff like a Bridge of Spies or The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, you may find some decent entertainment in it.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Red Sparrow was a film that was both shot and finished in 4K, so it debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray in its natural form. And it looks gorgeous. As I mentioned in my review, this film has a real elegant style to it that comes across swimmingly on this disc. Details are very, very strong here, seeing just little nicks in walls or the texture of sheets on a bed. This image is a very strong one and seeing it this way really gave the film a different experience for me than in the theater.

Depth:  Terrific spacing in the image on this release, with characters moving very naturally with smooth and confident precision. And definitely no blurring or jittering occurs at all during the film.

Black Levels: Blacks are a superb highlight of this release. This captures them perfectly and naturally. Many of the scenes look glorious in the cover of night or in a darkly lit room. Red Sparrow may honestly carry some of the best darkness/blacks I’ve seen on a release.

Color Reproduction: Red is probably the most beloved color in this image by design. Its portrayed most elegant and lovely, be it on a garment or blood in a bathtub. HDR resonates pretty niftily with car lights, street lights, displays and more. This movie features a lot of dark scenes with little glows all around.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are slightly colder (Usually goes that way with Russian based movies) and consistent from open to close of the film. Facial features are outstanding here, showcases light colored hairs, stubble, mole, lip texture, scars, wrinkles, blemishes and more with great clarity from any reasonable distance. In the film when Jennifer Lawrence has a black/red eye on her face, you can make out all grisly detail on it.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS, Italian 5.1 DTS, Czech 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH (& Commentary Subtitles), Spanish, French, Spanish (Castilian), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Cantonese, Czech, Mandarin, Polish

Dynamics: Red Sparrow packs itself with a terrific and very calculated Atmos mix that feels lifelike and has environments natural. While at times there are a lot of quiet environments, that’s the nature of the beast for this cold movie, but there are little intricacies that really fill the room nicely if you’re listening. Effects sound like they are happening in the room with you at times.

Height: Ceiling speakers aren’t flaunted, but used in spaces where they feel natural, like a plane overhead or the echo of a gunshot in the park or filling out a theater.

Low Frequency Extension: Gunfire, racing subway cars, the score, punches and the pit orchestra during the beginning of the film really bring a thunderous pound for your subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: All speakers a utilized pretty well here. A lot happens up front, but side and back speaker provide for some good ambiance as well as helping to carry sound and add something unique in the mix from time to time.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, picking up good detail in each environment and bringing good clarity.

Extras 

Red Sparrow comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. The 4K Ultra-HD disc only contains the commentary track, the remainder of the bonus is found on the standard Blu-ray disc.

4K Ultra-HD Disc

Audio Commentary

  • Director Commentary By Francis Lawrence

Blu-ray Disc

A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation (HD, 12:42) – Francis Lawrence gives us the origins of him finding the book and pitching it to Jennifer Lawrence during a SDCC press push for Mockingjay Part II.  The interviews appear to be shot during filming or the promotional tour and offer up insight that is pretty much stuff we already know from having watched the film. I did find some of the behind-the-scenes footage interesting as the slate has the film named as “MARBLE”.

Agent Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast (HD, 15:21) – This is the featurette where the cast and director pat each other on the back in their interviews about how great everybody is and their respect for one another’s preparations and work on the film.

Tradecraft: VIsual Authenticity (HD, 13:28) – Here we talk about the different visual looks for the film and the relationship of Francis Lawrence and his cinematographer. We also spend some time going over costumes, which is actually quite interesting and provides some fun depth and concept art.

Heart of the Temptest: Locations (HD, 10:56) – Led by the production designer, we get a detailed introspective over finding buildings, interiors and such that really breathed life into the film. This is one featurette that pulls back on the fluff and gets more technical.

Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballets and Stunts (HD, 12:12) – Jennifer Lawrence work with both stunts and dancing showcases here as well as some other action oriented work.

A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production (HD, 14:08) – The editor discusses the importance of not making the film sexy or titillating but to be brutal, colder and uncomfortable. He fills us in on his desire for symmetry between Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton’s separate scenes to work toward their meetup. There is also a focus on the score of the film.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (HD, 12:20) 

Summary 

Red Sparrow features an interesting concept and spy story angle to tell, it just manages to be rather okay and has a tough time being engaging.  Its 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray debut features top notch sight and sound, thought with a lovely natural 4K picture and solid Atmos track. The extras have a decent runtime tacked to them altogether, but it waivers depending on who the person interviewed is as some provide EPK fluff while other provide terrific insight. This is a pretty good release if you enjoy the film.

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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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