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Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (Blu-ray Review)

mandela whysoblu cover-001It is always very difficult to put together a biopic based on the story of individuals who were able to accomplish so much and live such large lives.  Steven Spielberg figured out a way to do it with his take on Abraham Lincoln, in Lincoln, as he focused on a very specific time frame.  Clint Eastwood attempted to handle the story of Nelson Mandela by also focusing on a specific time in his life, basing Invictus around the 1995 world cup, which followed the dismantling of Apartheid.  Unfortunately that film felt like it was holding back, regardless of how spot on Morgan Freeman may have been.  There have been other portrayals of Mandela as well, but now we have one that focuses on pretty much his entire life, up to becoming President of South Africa.  Read on to hear my thoughts on the results as well as what to take away from this Blu-ray package.

Film:

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Despite very strong performances from Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela, this all-encompassing take was not as strong as I would have hoped.  Coming off as more of a greatest hits collection, the type of problem one would expect from trying to collect all of a man’s life into a film (even one that lasts 2 and a half hours), is exactly what holds this film back from being something greater.  All of the respect is there.  Everything that went into bringing key moments from his life to the screen certainly has the effort to show for it (some nice visuals and a decent sense of filmmaking is constantly on display).  The film even runs circles around J. Edgar, when it comes to depicting an actor at an older age with makeup (seriously, Idris Elba looks great as older Mandela).  Unfortunately, there is not enough weight to back up what this film is trying to do in telling Mandela’s story.

Sure, the film manages to find a way to describe a lot of the significant events throughout Mandela’s life, along with what Winnie went through, but I wanted to know more about a lot of these different situations.  Instead, while the film is structured around significant portions of Mandela’s life, it seemed like we were being held at arm’s length of what else came with the revolution Mandela was a part of.  The film goes through the motions of a fairly by-the-numbers biopic, so we get the idea that “stuff was bad” because of injustice, but the film amounts mostly to Elba saying inspiring words as Mandela, dramatic music coming in, and moving on to what is next, based on how a history book would best sum up the next significant date.

With all of that said, I would not completely write off this movie.  I do think the work from Elba and Harris provides enough reason for the film to be viewed at some point.  The film is certainly respectable to the man, who (at the time of this film’s release) only recently passed.  It makes some attempts to shade Mandela, the man, and not just portray him as a perfect, shining figure.  This is what comes with Elba, Harris, some of the other supporting actors, and some solid moments that come from the crafting of the screenplay, which is of course based on Mandela’s own novel.  Still, I can only imagine how much more I would have liked a week-long miniseries, with all of the same people involved, and more time to really digest the importance of this man’s story.

Video:

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Encoding:  AVC MPEG-4

Resolution:  1080p

Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1

Clarity/Detail:  The Blu-ray presentation for ‘Mandela’ is great.  The level of detail is pretty fantastic.  Between the tighter shots of the characters to the wider shots of beautiful African landscapes, this is a real feast for the eyes, which is a great way to take in a film of this nature.

Depth:  There are sequences that rely on focus in this film.  The way you see prison bars in the frame or the settings surrounding the characters, for example, are all aspects that provide a level of depth the film, which is very good.

Black Levels:  Black levels are deep.  The film is very balanced in its mix of lighter and darker scenes, from a setting and time perspective, and the darker areas of the film are handled nicely.

Color Reproduction:  Having recently been to South Africa, I can say that the bountiful display of colors in that country, seen in this film, has been properly represented on this Blu-ray.

Flesh Tones:  With the heavy use of makeup to convey the varying ages of a few characters, it helps that this Blu-ray has done a good job with flesh tones and textures, without betraying the “movie magic” on display.

Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing that really stood out.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s):  English 5.1 DTSHD-MA, Spanish Language Track

Subtitles:  English, Spanish, English SDH

DynamicsMandela: Long Walk to Freedom has a lot going on in terms of the sound design.  It is not simply a dialogue-driven drama, so the Blu-ray’s audio presentation manages to do a fine job of delivering the full experience that includes a strong score, heavy sound effects involving explosions, riots, and more, plus other aspects to this film.

Low Frequency Extension:  I just mentioned explosions, which is a good example of how the bass is a strong factor in some instances, which works well with what a sub can offer.

Surround Sound Presentation:  ‘Mandela’ is a long film and his has a lot going on, but it is all fairly well balanced and the surround effect that comes with proper balancing is handled mostly well for this disc.  Sometimes the score and sound effects don’t mesh quite as well as they could, but it is fairly inconsequential.

Dialogue Reproduction:  The accents are strong, but the dialogue is clear.

Extras:

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I am actually surprised there is no music video for U2’s Oscar nominated song, but aside from that, there is a decent collection of special features available on this Blu-ray.

Features Include:

  • Feature Commentary with Director Justin Chadwick – A decent listen, but quite informative.
  • Mandela: The Leader You Know, The Man You Didn’t – At just over 20 minutes, I cannot say there was all that much to actually learn about ‘the man’.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes – Standar segments that includes:  Production Design, Costumes and Make-up, Special Effects, and Music and Sound.
  • Tribute Video Gallery
  • Trailers
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Ultraviolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a decent effort overall, as its heart is in the right place and the acting is strong, I just wish we got either more focus or a format that could support a longer version of this story.  With that said, the Blu-ray is a solid package.  The video and audio presentation is great.  The extras do enough to provide a solid look at the making of this film, while also continuing to hold respect for a man with a story worth telling.  I can only imagine that this will not be the last time we see Mandela represented on film, but for now, this is a decent effort.

Order Your Copy Here:


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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic 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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