Great Wall, The (Blu-ray) (2016)

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Released 31-May-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure Deleted Scenes-Deleted and Extended Scenes x 8 (6:49)
Featurette-Matt Damon in China (2:45)
Featurette-Working with Director Zhang Yimou (3:06)
Featurette-The Great Wall Visual Effects (3:06)
Featurette-Man vs. Monster (9:22)
Featurette-Man vs. Monster (9:22)
Featurette-Designing a Spectacular World (3:34)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 103:03
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Zhang Yimou
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Matt Damon
Pedro Pascal
Jing Tian
Willem Dafoe
Andy Lau
Hanyu Zhang


Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Ramin Djawadi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos 7.1
French Dolby Atmos 7.1
German Dolby Atmos 7.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Danish
Dutch
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Portuguese
Icelandic
Hindi
Arabic
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     A group of adventurers, including William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), have travelled for six months from Europe to northern China seeking the “black powder” (gunpowder). They escape from bandits but later, while camping in the dark, they are attacked by a mysterious scaly creature that kills their companions before William manages to kill the creature. Again pursued by bandits, the two men arrive at the Great Wall of China garrisoned by the northern army commanded by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang). The Chinese are suspicious of the two foreigners and they are questioned by Commander Lin (Jing Tian); she has learned her English from Ballard (Willem Dafoe), another adventurer who came to China 25 years previously seeking the black powder and was prevented from leaving.

     From Ballard William and Tovar learn that The Great Wall had been built centuries before to keep out the Tao Tei, ravenous and deadly mythical beasts who, led by a Queen, attack the Chinese kingdom every 60 years and that they are expecting an immanent attack. Indeed, shortly afterwards the wall is attacked by a horde of Tao Tei; William and Tovar assist the defence and the army repels the monsters, just. This earns the foreigners the trust of General Shao and of Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) but when the wall is attacked again Tovar and Ballard use the opportunity to steal some black powder and escape. But this had only been a diversionary attack by the Tao Tei; under the cover of the attack they had dug a tunnel through the wall and were now inside China heading for the capital, massacring everyone in their way. To save the capital the Queen must be killed so Lin, William and Wang, and as many of the northern army as possible, cram onto hot air lantern balloons for a flight to the capital and a deadly climactic battle with the Tao Tei.

     The Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese production ever made. Director Zhang Yimou is no stranger to spectacular epics with films such as Hero (2002) and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) on his resume but even in his earliest, more intimate films like Red Sorghum (1987) or Raise the Red Lantern (1991), his visual style and use of colour was apparent. So it is not surprise that The Great Wall is spectacular. Shot by Stuart Dryburgh (who was nominated for an Oscar for The Piano (1993)) and Zhao Xiaoding (who also filmed Zhang’s House of Flying Daggers (2004)), The Great Wall features stunning costumes/ armour in blue, red and yellow for the various troops on the wall, brilliant golds in the Emperor’s costume and throne room and enough flapping flags to make Ridley Scott want to reshoot Kingdom of Heaven.

     There are however problems. While some massive sets were built and do look fabulous, such as the interior of the wall, the Great Hall and the Imperial Palace, the rest of the film’s budget was probably taken up with the costumes and CGI leaving little left for a decent script. Indeed, motivation and plotting is perfunctory and having blue clad female warriors bungy jumping off the wall to attack the monsters makes no sense; its purpose in the film is only because someone thought it would look cool and add to the spectacle. The actors have very little to work with; Matt Damon looks to be on holiday, Willem Dafoe is underused and the great Andy Lau reduced to looking stern. However Jing Tian, who was also recently in Kong: Skull Island (2017), is good and almost makes us believe, while the most charismatic performance comes from Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones), who is dead pan and cheeky and steals the film from its lead.

     Which brings me to the CGI. The Wall, the Capital and the monsters are all CGI and nothing looks remotely realistic. The bricks of the Wall have no texture while the monsters, either in close-up or in hordes at a distance where they look like so many nothings, lack the menace and terror that monsters should have; no-one believed that the monsters in, for example Aliens, were real but boy did they give a sense of menace! The only exception is a sequence that occurs in the fog during which the Tao Tei were heard but only partially seen; this sequence does build a nice tension, which is then dissipated as the monsters leap around the screen.

     The Great Wall is not long by epic film standards, clocking in at under 100 minutes without the long end credits. It is, basically, an old fashioned action adventure with monsters; the first action with bandits and galloping horses occurs right at the start and the film seldom draws breath from there though battles with the Tao Tei and the climax in the capital. What you do get with The Great Wall is spectacle over substance by some margin; the set design, the colours and costumes are indeed stunning and you should just watch the film in awe.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Great Wall is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     The film looks stunning. Detail is superb except in the long shots of the wall and the creatures which are a bit hazy while the colours are rich and glossy; the blue, yellow and red costumes / armour, the golden throne room, the desert landscapes are all vibrant and glorious. Blacks and shadow detail are pristine, skin tones fine and brightness and contrast consistent.

     I did not notice any artefacts or marks.

     Subtitles provided are English, a wide range of European languages, plus Hindi and Arabic. White English subtitles automatically translate the substantial sections of Mandarin.

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

Audio

     Audio choices are English, French and German Dolby Atmos (the English defaults to Dolby True HD 7.1, the French and German to Dolby Digital Plus 7.1), Italian and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English descriptive audio with a male voice, Dolby Digital 2.0.

     I am not set up for Atmos, or indeed 7.1, but even so this is a doozy. Dialogue was easy to hear. Right from the start with the galloping horses this was an intense and enveloping audio with music, monster growls, water wheels opening gates, arrows whistling by, the thud of impacts, creatures and bodies and explosions. The sub-woofer added boom to the music, impacts and explosions.

     The music by Ramin Djawadi, taking time out from Game of Thrones, is dramatic and epic utilising orchestral, choral and percussion sections.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

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

Extras

Start-up Trailers

     Trailers for The Mummy (1:03) and Fast & Furious 8 (2:33) play on start-up. They cannot be selected from the menu.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:49)

     Eight extended and deleted scenes, some quite brief. All have music and sound effects, a couple still only have the green-screens, not the finished visual effects. There is a play all option. The scenes are:

Featurettes

     These featurettes are reasonable if a lightweight. They include film and on-set footage plus, in different featurettes, comments from director Zhang Yimou, cast members Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau, visual effects supervisor <>Phil Brennan, supervising stunt coordinator Buster Reeves, set decorator Gordon Sims, production designer John Myhre, WETA Workshop on set supervisor Joe Dunckley, costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo and four producers. The featurettes are:

Matt Damon in China (2:45)

    Matt Damon on set.

Working with Director Zhang Yimou (3:06)

     The director’s vision and working methods.

The Great Wall Visual Effects (3:06)

     Creating the Wall and the monsters. This includes some interesting progress shots, layering in the elements.

Man vs. Monster (9:22)

     This shows film footage, green-screen stunts and other elements that make up the three major battle sequences; the Tao Tei attack on the wall just after William and Tovar arrived, the battle in the fog and the climax at the Imperial Palace. This is in three separate sections, although there is a play all option.

Weapons of War (3:34)

    Shows the weapons that were built into various levels of the Great Wall.

Designing a Spectacular World (3:34)

     The set design and the costumes.

R4 vs R1

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

     The Region A/B US version of The Great Wall has some different language and subtitle options but the same extras. Buy local.

Summary

     The Great Wall is not a film where CGI is used to enhance the plot; here the CGI is the plot. Zhang Yimou’s films Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern, both starring the fabulous Gong Li, were part of the reason I became interested in mainland Chinese films; they were impressive character studies with a wonderful visual style. Zhang’s more recent films have become more flamboyant and spectacular and while Hero is a great film, spectacle combined with character, mystery and impressive martials arts, by Curse of the Golden Flower CGI and visuals are seemingly more important them character. The Great Wall continues on that path and proves that a big budget does not necessarily result in a good film. Put your mind in neutral and watch it for the colour and spectacle.

     The video is spectacular, the audio fabulous. The extras are reasonable although lightweight.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, August 28, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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