Empire Of Light (Blu-ray Review)

The year 2022 saw a lot of big films trying to remind you of why you go to the theater as well as plenty of “this is why we love the movies” type films from many of our favorite creators. Sam Mendes put his hat into the ring with the awards hopeful Empire Of Light which stars Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Micheal Ward. Its been nominated for Best Cinematography for the (GOAT) Roger Deakins. The film currently is only set to receive a standard Blu-ray release. Equipped with a 5.1 surround track and a single featurette, Empire Of Light releases on February 21st. You can pre-order yourself a copy of this disc by using the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review at the bottom of this page.



From director and writer Sam Mendes (“1917” and “Skyfall”), “Empire of Light” is a moving drama about the power of human connection during turbulent times. Set in and around a faded old cinema in an English coastal town in the early 1980s, it follows Hilary (Olivia Colman), a cinema manager struggling with her mental health, and Stephen (Micheal Ward), a new employee who longs to escape this provincial town in which he faces daily adversity. Both Hilary and Stephen find a sense of belonging through their unlikely and tender relationship and come to experience the healing power of music, cinema, and community.

There’s a featurette on this disc where Sam Mendes talks his inspiration for the Empire of Light and says its about his joy of the movies and set during his favorite period of movies or movie going that meant so much to him. And I’m not sure if he knows what the word “joy” means as this film is anything but. He’s crafted a rather depressing tale that seems more interested in some mental illness with a side of racial hate crime attacks in the early 1980s than he is celebrating, as Vin Diesel would say, the movies.

Empire of Light has a very discomforting feel to it most of the way through. Its in the air or something. Even many of the happiest scenes feel either down in the dumps or dirty or like something isn’t right. Mendes is far more interested in affairs aside from movies than he is the particulars and what would have went into a working theater of the time or the preparation to hold a premiere. There are things that come up that peak interest, but he’s much more interested in Olivia Colman’s personal affairs, doomed relationships and disinterest in the movie thing altogether.

There is one shining light that showcases the joy many have for movies and its Roger Deakins. The guy proves even lesser films can still look absolutely marvelous and have clever ways of telling themselves. Deakins relishes in wandering around and displaying this vintage theater in the most passionate and lovely of fashions. There are some fantastic shot compositions on display here as well as some excellently staged angles and close ups to help convey character and mood. Empire of Light is not a film I’d soon recommend to anyone, but if you’re a Deakins fan or a cinematography nut, the film won’t be as tough to swallow as it features one (giant) plus to it.

Now, its not like this is a poorly made or produced movie. Majority of this films problems come from the script. The entire cast is terrific and much of it works well for what it is. Unfortunately what it is, is joyless, dumpy and just not incredibly engaging (or fun…fun as in, really hooked into it) to watch. With so many “movies about the movies” this year, Empire of Light easily stands out as quite possibly the weakest effort of them all.


Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are provided courtesy of Getty Images and are  not from the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail Empire of Light doesn’t get a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release, but its standard Blu-ray takes you about as far as this kind of disc can go. It has a striking image that is full, bold and features loads of detailed information everywhere in the frame. Its a sharp, vibrant image that really lifts off and has Deakins’ cinematography looking incredible.

Depth: Depth of field is rock solid with wonderful pushback with a three dimensional feeling quite easily. Scale is accurate and felt. Movements, camera and performer, are smooth and natural with no issues deriving from blur or jitter doing more rapid sequences.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and close to natural. Details maintain strong and present in even the darkest areas of the screen. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are bold and striking in a more vivid looking picture. They are well saturated and there’s a rather golden look to a lot of the theater setting in the film and a bit of colder vibe anywhere outside of it.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones lean on the warm side with a consistency from start to finish. Facial features and textures are easily discernible any given distance in the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: Empire of Light comes with a pretty kicking and rock solid 5.1 track. Its a well balanced mix between the vocals, score and effects that never get in one another’s way but also have moments to take the spotlight on their own. Its got terrific depth and layering on display as well.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer gives a more than anticipated boom and rumble when it comes to effects like smashing glass, punching, door slamming and more while keeping good tabs on the bass in the score.

Surround Sound Presentation: This does capture quite a bit for being a 5.1 track. A lot is up front, but there are some impressive additions from the rear channels as well as nice ambiance built in every environment.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.


Empire of Light comes with a redeemable digital code.

Creating Empire Of Light (HD, 18:12) – Mendes opens up that the film is set during a period of his life that meant most to him. The cast and crew talk about loving the script which was “visually sumptuous”. Its one of those Making Of featurette that kinda step by step goes through the characters/actors in the film and hits upon some lighter production bits along the way.


Empire of Light is a pretty dour and depressing tale for one that is supposed to highlight why cinema of this specific era and place are so special. The home video release of the film forgoes the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format in favor of the standard one. Regardless, presentation yields excellent results. Bonus features are super light and lacking a tad. One may want to rent this one first (Or check it out on a streamer) before committing to a purchase.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link


Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com). He is also the Moderator/MC of the Live Podcast Stage and on the Podcast Awards Committee for PopCon (popcon.us). In the past 10 years at Why So Blu, Brandon has amassed over 1,500 reviews of 4K, Blu-ray and DVD titles.

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