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Song To Song (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Terrence Malick has been on a tear in this current decade (Do we call it “the tens” or whatever?). It once took the man thirty eight years to put out five films, now he’s put out five works in the last six or seven years (One of said films is a documentary). I actually still haven’t seen Knight of Cups, which this reminded me of that gap. His latest is a look on the Austin, Texas music scene called Song To Song. The main players in the film are quite an elite bunch, featuring three (each multiple) Academy Award nominees and one Oscar winner. That would be Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling. So, ideally you’re getting some of the finest voice over inner monologues you can get, right? Song To Song is coming to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray (Malick’s first film to land on the format) on July 4th.

Film 

In this modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples – struggling songwriters Fay and BV, and music mogul Cook and the waitress whom he ensnares – chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal.

Terrence Malick is a director that you’re either on board with completely or you’re incredibly turned off by him. For those who are on board, they find a fruitful abstract pleasure in his works.  A journey into the human psyche and study of character to go along with improvisational scenes and an arthouse construct narrative. Those who don’t chew on Malick can easily find his work slow, lengthy, snooze inducing and on the side of incredible pretension. I was once on the latter side of things, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate and find myself a fan of the man, citing his 2011 film Tree of Life as one of our modern masterpieces.

In Song To Song, Terrence Malick once again takes to a modern setting and follows the lives of four musicians caught up in friendship and relationships with one another in Austin, Texas. There are some expected and stereotypical aspects of this story, but in minimal effect, this feels like a wholly unique and original take on this previously explored topic. And its done in only a way and sense that Malick could bring to the proceedings. Man of his signature touches are with the way he shoots dialogue sequences to go along with his cutting and sound designs are there.

What I probably enjoyed most about the film is the photography. While I’m not too big a fan of the fish-eye lens thing he kind pops around with her and there, that seems to be an early on experiment that he dumps in the first half hour. Malick finds some absolutely gorgeous scenery and captures it to some of the most masterful degrees. He also has an eye to catch things about town and in parties and the like. What may seems really minimal or too specific that got me is how amazing just water itself comes across in this movie.  It just flows hypnotically in lakes, oceans and puddles even.

The cast here is pretty terrific. But, you could have known that just by listing them out. And in typical Terrence Malick fashion, some bigger name performers have really nothing to do, but they probably were more significant during the shoot. Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter and Val Kilmer all make very minimal appearances in the film. Michael Fassbender kinda plays a character we’ve seen him do before. Gosling is fine as the failed musician that desires going back to normal. Its surprising how little Natalie Portman actually is in this movie, though she’s billed as one of the top players. She doesn’t really enter the movie until later into the first hour and even then she’s not too much of a force. This movie truly belongs to Rooney Mara, who does shine, but its hard to get super powerful performances due to the nature of the beast. When looking at the film it could have easily been told from Gosling’s perspective too. So, I’m guessing all four had their chance and in the editing room, Malick picked his favorite character to follow and leaned more heavily on Mara.

Song To Song is solid, though nothing extravagant. Its subject matter you’ve seen before, but now through the eyes of auteur Terrence Malick. With his last three films, one might worry that his brand is getting a bit diluted as the films are less effective. I don’t think that’s the case though, he’s doing what he always has, just more frequently and without the glamour of a period setting to add to the canvas when painting his picture. I’m not sure this one is going to provide a new meaning on a subsequent viewing, but it may bring a further appreciation for it, knowing what lies ahead.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail:  Song To Song showcases a very fine picture quality from scene to scene. Being Malick’s first 4K Ultra-HD title, I’m glad to see this one looks proper. Details come off amazingly here, with little wrinkles, patterns and fabric fuzzes and such seen clear as day. Details on roads as well as brick walls and the like show every piece of imperfection. Water, be it an ocean flowing, still standing or a puddle that was just stepped in hold to a firm and marvelous appeal looking quite real and everpresent before your eyes. This accompanies what is a very sharp and crisp picture.

Depth:  Some of the camera lenses for different scenes can provide a more three dimensional image than others, but everything is well separate from the background. Some of the on-stage concert stuff sees a little of the cool push-back feel. Character movements as well as the tracking of the camera comes across as confident and sees no jittering or blurring.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep, more natural and features a nice palette of looks. Hair, clothes and surfaces all retain their detail even in some of the darkest lit scenes.

Color Reproduction:  Colors can be both natural and plenty vivid. The visuals help to give an extra pop to some like the green in nature. There are some nice moments with yellows. Lighting filters also have a nice fluorescent touch, with purples looking lovely. There is an awesome scene where Ryan Gosling takes Rooney Mara to this place where there is a lot of crazy lighting going (Mainly purple) while she has these flashing lights on her fingers. Its probably the biggest highlight for this films in terms of going gonzo with the vibrant colors. There is also a scene with Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman in a red room, where she is wearing a blue shirt and there’s a bed with green sheets and a woman with red hair that just is candy for the eyes. Overall, it does have the colors looking bold and standout in a natural fashion.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural with a hint of cold in a few sequences and hold on tight from start to finish. Facial details like stubble, wrinkles, make-up, lip texture, blemishes, moles, freckles, acne scars, bags under eyes and pretty much anything you can take from a face as clear as day from really any given distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles:  English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  Yup, I know. No Atmos. No 7.1. However, let me argue with you that this is a very very fine 5.1 track they’ve put together here for the film. This mix is no slouch and is incredibly well thought out and executed. Every environment has backing sounds that travel around and make themselves known from the rear or going across the front speakers. Appearing at the start of the film is a disclaimer telling you to crank it up. Music is nicely crisp with a good touch and comes at you with many different aspect in terms of acoustic, live performances, outdoor/indoor and studio quality material. Oddly enough, as loud as the music can get and as present as it is, this is a really personal a quiet film, too.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Most of the the thumping from the subwoofer comes from the concert sequences or a song in the score. There are other little shifts, too, like feet clunking on a floor as they walk, doors closing and other more naturally pushing sounds.

Surround Sound Presentation:  As mentioned earlier, the weaving, winding, sound traveling and volume placement in this mix is absolutely perfect. Every room feels cracks in the floor from every corner or an exterior having a bug just flying around at the back of your ear.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals carry a good clean and crisp sound with every bit of diction notated. The shifts between conversational dialogue and voice over monologues are well done and effect when one cuts in on another in the film.

Extras 

Song To Song comes with the Blu-ray edition. There is one bonus feature and it is found on the Blu-ray disc.

The Music Behind The Movie (HD, 2:01) – A super brief brush over the basic idea of the film with the producers, music supervisor, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, Cole Alexander of the Black Lips, Lykke Li talking about filming at the music festival and pointing at the musicians in the film. Very generic with hollow sound bites.

Summary 

Once again, if you’re into Terrence Malick, then this is just another step in his look into the inner workings of a certain sect of people in our modern era. While the bonus features, like normal for his works, are lacking, anything Malick would want to tell you about the film he already has with the film itself. Which, said film looks absolutley wonderful and makes for a nice 4K video presentation. Its a bummer that this one doesn’t have Atmos or 7.1, but the sound design is top notch and well realized for 5.1. If you’re a Terrence Malick fan and you have 4K Ultra-HD capabilities, then you there is no reason not to pick this up.

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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).

2 Responses to “Song To Song (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Ray

    You should probably lower the video score because this movie actually does not have HDR and uses 709 color too. Same company as Bad Santa 2 (no hdr on that movie either). Being native 4k will definitely help but lack of hdr should affect the picture a tiny bit.

  2. Brandon Peters

    Thank you, Mr. Ray. I must have not been paying attention and didn’t question it as there are some impressive moments that would make one think it’s included.

    Thank you for reading and coming to the site!