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Synecdoche, New York (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

In the 1990s, independent films were on the rise and studios like Miramax were at the forefront of distribution. Many studios created a separate wing to focus on and gather the independent, documentary, art house and international films under a single banner away from the blockbusters and bigger star studded fare. Sony Pictures developed Sony Pictures Classics for this very reason in 1992. And for the 30th Anniversary of the studio’s formation, they will be putting out a 4K Ultra-HD box set with 11 films from the course of their history, including 10 that are making their debut on the format. This review covers Charlie Kaufman and Philip Seymour Hoffman teaming up for the 2008 film Synecdoche, New York. You can order yourself a copy of this impressive box set, which would make a fantastic gift for that special cinephile in your life, using the paid Amazon Associates link below.

Film

Life is looking pretty bleak for theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman). His wife and daughter have left him, his therapist is more interested in plugging her new book than helping him with his problems, and a strange disease is causing his body to shut down. Caden leaves his home in Schenectady, New York, and heads to New York City, where he gathers a cast of actors and tells them to live their lives within the constructs of a mock-up of the city.

Synecdoche, New York is rather rather tough film, but one where you can see an author’s guts spilled out before you and in a sense are humbled by it and can even relate in many degrees.  There is grief, pain and struggle on display for everyone to see that is both dark, sad and even comedic in some areas. If you want a movie painting some sort of picture with mental health issues, an artist’s influence on their work and a whole lot more.

Said author is Charlie Kaufman, who made his directorial debut with this film. As had been the prior nature of the films he merely wrote, his narrative style is anything but traditional. His characters sort of inside and outside of the film. And Synecdoche, New York is a grand opus of the types of things we’d see in Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. Its a film you have to slowly allow to get into you and start to sync up with. Not really one for the “doing stuff on my phone while watching” crowd. You really need to find yourself in tune in order to feel the film as it plays. As downer as it can get, the film can cheer you up with some silly moments as well that you have to be akin to the tone to understand in the moment.

Kaufman’s work is elevated and made believable by a powerhouse cast here. Philip Seymour Hoffman is nothing short of amazing as he really lets loose and goes for it. This man showcases everything and finds the absolute pits and flies free here. In a role that would be insanely demanding to a majority of actors, he makes it look and feel so natural. There are also some incredible turns by Tom Noonan, Samantha Morton and Michelle Williams in the film to bring this complication vision and narrative to life. Without the right performers, Kaufman’s vision probably had a danger of falling short.

When I first saw Synecdoche, New York back in 2009, I thought it was okay and really didn’t think much of it. Revisiting it here for this set, I’ve grown and its absolutely become my cup of tea. There are spots I relate more with and a filmmaking touch I respond to so much more. I don’t know what it was when it first came out, but I’d like to slap myself for not appreciating this one more or seeing a lot of value in this little film. Sure, its not really feel good, but its ponderous nature and life reflection and questions is something that resonates and grows with continued watching and contemplation.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are not from the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc and do not represent its image quality. They are also not of my own capturing. If you feel they are yours and you do not condone their usage, please contact the site and we will have them removed. 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail Synecdoche, New York finds its way to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with a pretty rock solid transfer. Its a rather regular looking palette here, but the impressive nature of it comes in how the ability to have natural black improves the picture and gives it much more nuance. Detail is pretty strong and the image has itself a good rustic “look” to it.

Depth: Depth of field is solid and spacing and such is rather fluid. This is a very indie looking film and the scale is one of a more claustrophobic nature. Movements are filmic and smooth with no issues from jitter or blur from more rapid sequences of cuts, camera pans or action.

Black Levels: Blacks are the star here as the natural levels really give this some nice flavor. Details and textures on darker areas still come quite strong with the more groomed look. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors have a very autumn aesthetic to it. Its more rustic but that doesn’t stop some things like flowers, leaves or fabrics to come across with good bold and striking look throughout. There’s a moment with a red brick wall and a nude woman with tattoos that really hits well in the color burst.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures like freckles, moles, blemishes, acne and such are clear as day.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

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

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Dynamics: The film trades its 5.1 TrueHD track from the Blu-ray for a DTS-HD MA encoding for the 4K debut. Its a nice track and feels rather full and calculated. This isn’t a film with great effects and is based on dialogue. For what it needs to set out to do, it does it very well. The balance of the score and effects woven in is pretty terrific.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer sits with more natural usage here to varying degrees of bump, tho nothing pounding or loudly rumbling.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This is a front heavy mix that mainly fixated on accuracy of characters on screen, but does feel plenty lived in. Rear channels more focus on ambiance, which it does very well.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

Synecdoche, New York 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray comes only as a part of the Sony Pictures Classics: 30th Anniversary Collection. Many of these are SD sourced but HD encoded.

In and Around Synecdoche, New York (HD, 18:59)

The Story of Caden Cotard (HD, 12:08)

Infectious Diseases in Cattle: Bloggers’ Round Table (HD, 36:38)

Screen Animations (HD, 4:31)

NFTS/Script Factory Masterclass with Charlie Kaufman (HD, 27:40)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:46)

Summary

Synecdoche, New York is one of the more challenging films to take in from the Sony Pictures Classics set emotionally and mentally. Though, its also morbidly beautiful in that regard. The new transfer on it is pretty terrific and it comes with many carry over/archival extras. Its nice to see the work of the late, brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman included in this set, which is the only way to grab the film on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format at the time of this review.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a 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. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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