12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) (2013)

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Released 4-Jun-2014

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-12 Years a Slave: A Historical Portrait
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Team
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Score
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2013
Running Time 133:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Steve McQueen
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor
Benedict Cumberbatch
Paul Dano
Michael Fassbender
Lupita Nyongo
Paul Giamatti
Sarah Paulson
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Hans Zimmer


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     The 2014 Best Picture Oscars race had its early leaders - American Hustle - it's crowd favourites -Gravity - as well as some roughies. But on the night of nights it was 12 Years a Slave that took home the award for Best Picture as well as Best Adapted Screenplay, by John Ridley, and best supporting actress for Lupita Nyongo. Ultimately it was an uncontroversial choice. The film is a "message film" much loved by the Academy and also features strong central performances in the spare, unblinking directorial eye of British filmmaker Steve McQueen.

     The slave of the title is Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). When the story begins Solomon is a successful musician living in pre-Civil War Saratoga Springs, New York. He lives with his wife and family in a prosperous lifestyle. When he is offered a two-week job as a travelling musician by two businessmen it seems too good to be true. It is. At the end of the engagement Solomon is drugged and wakes up in chains. He is beaten and then put on a paddle steamer bound for a life of slavery in New Orleans.

     Solomon learns the very hard way that his powerful intellect and sense of justice may not just get him in trouble, it might get him killed. He is bought by a kindly plantation owner Mr Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man of gentle nature and refinement. However, he has in his employ an overseer with a serious chip on his shoulder (Paul Dano) who doesn't take kindly to uppity slaves. In a terribly sad moment Mr Ford hands Solomon, now known by the name Mr Platt, a violin in recognition of his talents only to drive a stake through his heart by suggesting that the violin will come in handy "over the coming years", bringing home to Solomon that being a slave is not bad holiday but a bad life.

     After an incident with the overseer Solomon is transferred to a hellish cotton picking plantation under the control of the demented Mr Epps (Michael Fassbender). He doesn't need an overseer to control the brutal punishment meted out to slaves who displease him - in this case those who do not meet their daily picking quote - he is quite happy to punish them himself. Just as bad is his desire for Patsy (Lupita Nyongo) which combines with self-loathing to make him an all-round terrible person. His cruelty is amplified by that of his wife, who is so frustrated at her husband's desire for black women that she takes out her own aggression on the female slaves.

     The promotional material for the film and the Blu-ray cover depicts Solomon in full flight which may suggest that this is a tense escape movie. That isn't correct. After being exposed to the swift "justice" meted out to runaway slaves Solomon accepts that he has to stay put and just survive until he can be rescued. There's a reason why the film is called 12 Years a Slave!

     The screenplay by John Ridley is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup published at around the time of the American Civil War. It is an awful story of injustice. Steve McQueen knows how to present distasteful material on screen. His film Hunger took viewers to the edge of death by starvation and Shame put all sniggering aside in looking at the desperate life of a sex addict. Both films had Michael Fassbender as their lead and his role in this film is similarly uncompromising. It is shot in a cold manner with some scenes, including the infamous hanging scene, deliberately played without music and drawn-out for an unbearable length.

     It is an unforgettable film. My only slight problem with the film is its purpose. It asks the viewer to sit through a catalogue of horrors without clearly explaining why we are doing so. It may just be me, but for a message movie to work there must be some doubt or some new spin on the issue at hand to instruct and possibly change the viewer’s mind. This film does show that slaves were kidnapped from "respectable society" rather than being stolen from Africa however I'm not sure that this makes a difference in the overall argument which simply seems to be that slavery was bad and that unbelievable cruelty was brought to bear on the poor unfortunates taken from their land and forced to work in the South. I began the movie believing that slavery was cruel and inhumane and was unchanged in that opinion by the end.

     Nevertheless, the film is certainly well made. The central performances are excellent including Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson who are given difficult, unsympathetic roles to perform. Not so for executive producer Brad Pitt who cast himself as one of the only decent white characters in the movie. On that score the film touches on but doesn't really explain that for the "good" slave-owners like Mr Ford there were very serious punishments even for teaching a slave to read!

     It’s a small quibble for a film that otherwise ticks every box. Steve McQueen makes films which are sometimes hard to watch but we are always better for the experience.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     12 Years A Slave was shot on 35mm film at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

     The choice of film over high-definition digital video was deliberate. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and director Steve McQueen wanted to present the film is a beautiful document rather than try to achieve a documentary like feel through high-definition digital video.

     The result is a film that looks beautiful even if the images presented do not. There is a fine filmic grain in place.

     The flesh tones are accurate. The colours are superbly detailed throughout.

    There are subtitles in English For the Hearing Impaired.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     12 Years A Slave contains a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track.

     In some ways the track is unnecessary. Director McQueen prefers to use silence at moments of great drama rather than filling the screen with music. This is often terribly effective.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout. Lots of work was done to give the characters authentic speech of the era yet it is still possible to catch the dialogue without having to revert to subtitles.

     The surround sounds are used to give an ambiance to the film. The sub-woofer is used only sparingly.

     Music is by well-known composer Hans Zimmer and consists of a now iconic theme together with some ragged frightening sounds which match some of the images on show.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The Blu-ray of 12 Years a Slave contains one sizable extra and some smaller pieces. It would have been interesting to get a commentary track featuring the production crew but nevertheless the materials assembled are worth viewing.

12 Years a Slave: A Historical Portrait

     This feature is divided into two parts (23.27) and (18.01). It includes interviews with the cast and crew and Ejiofor reading extracts from the original book. Interesting is the work that went into creating the frighteningly realistic scars on the poor slaves. Worth watching.

The Team (4.24)

     This is a brief set of interviews with the cast and crew.

The Score (3:49)

     An interview with Hans Zimmer regarding his music for the film.

Theatrical Trailer

     The trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The versions of this Blu-ray available in other Regions are identical. Buy local.

Summary

     It is impossible to have a blank reaction to 12 Years a Slave. It is a film of such power that some scenes will burn long in the memory. These scenes may not even be the most violent. Sometimes the banality of the evil on show is more distasteful than the obvious cruelty.

     The Blu-ray is of excellent quality in sound and vision terms and the extras are interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, June 23, 2014
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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