THOR 2D BLU-RAY (BLU-RAY/DVD COMBO PACK; “EXCLUSIVE” BEST BUY PACKAGING W/DIGITAL COPY ONBOARD DISC) REVIEW BY OSAGE_WINTER
Releasing Studio: Paramount/Marvel Studios
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 2.35:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (played back in a 5.1 configuration)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo
OSAGE’S PLOT ANALYSIS:
Some say that Marvel Studios’ (and Paramount’s) Thor and Captain America were merely rushed vessels in order to assemble the team going into the upcoming and world-anticipated Avengers feature film. And to some degree, they were right. Much of the staging and pacing – and character development – in both Thor and Captain America felt hurried and simply too fast for its own good, but to be honest on the other side of that coin, the films were solid origin stories of these iconic Marvel characters as well. As one of the most anticipated Blu-rays (and DVD’s for that matter) of the year, Paramount has released Thor in a plethora of available packages, ranging from a rather plain standard DVD product to a 3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD combo pack as well as a 2D Blu-ray/DVD combo pack; the subject of this review is the version I picked up at Best Buy yesterday on release day, which is the 2D Blu-ray with DVD combo pack, and which also featured so-called “exclusive” Best Buy packaging, which amounted to nothing except for a mock Thor comic rendering on the back of the slipcase (the actual disc case artwork can be seen in the image on top of this review). The outer slipcase was not nearly as cool as the 3D variant, which includes a raised relief cover that’s more visually interesting as the 2D slipcase cover depicting Chris Hemsworth’s face in a crimson red overlay. The last “exclusive” Best Buy packaging that I thought was way cool was the DVD version of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, which I picked up when it came out and which included a nifty “pack of blood” on the slipcase that actually moved when the cover was moved – very cool.
I reviewed Thor when I saw it theatrically, and after watching some of the featurettes on the Blu-ray last night, it gave me some more insight in terms of the mythology of the character and what the filmmakers were going for – this indeed was a difficult Marvel icon to bring to the screen, in that even Stan Lee admits the subject matter delves and dips into varying Norse legends, Viking mythology and even modern day elements. The decision to place Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father in JJ Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek) in the lead as the thunder god himself was a good decision, I felt, as Hemsworth plays the role well and with an arrogant enjoyment that defines Thor as a character. There really weren’t any characterization issues or casting problems as I saw it – the last time hideous, disastrous casting issues for a comic film adaptation took place it was in the horrific Batman and Robin and Batman Forever…I mean, Val Kilmer and George Clooney as Bruce Wayne? Yeah, okay.
No – where the issues of Thor came into play were in the fashion that has him entering modern day Earth from a society galaxies away and yet he begins acting like he’s been here forever…for example, he’s suddenly eating Pop Tarts and drinking coffee, and then later having beers and Boilermakers with one of the characters? Come on. I realize there has to be some suspension of disbelief – something they teach us early on in every history of cinema class – but this was a bridge too far. Aside from that, the plot pretty much kept in line with the other SHIELD subplots throughout the other Marvel film projects thus far, and mixed the mythology of the backstory with the present day elements rather well. Thor opens with the outrageously cute-as-a-button Natalie Portman as an astronomy researcher driving through the New Mexican desert with her fellow researchers, one of which is the always-great Stellan Skarsgard, where they discover an occurrence from the skies that results in them literally running into the muscular Hemsworth who seems to have fallen right out of a mysterious cloud formation. The story then hearkens back to explain the origins of Thor and where he comes from, set to the backdrop of Anthony Hopkins’ narration (he plays Thor’s father) which is seemingly a growing tactic with many films today – a la Clash of the Titans and Priest. In this other world of theirs, Hopkins is king and his sons are aspiring to take the throne one day. Their enemies are humongous, red-eyed creatures known as “Frost Giants” and when Thor is of age to be sworn in as king, this world finds itself suddenly thrown into battle once more with these fiends before the ceremony can be finished. Enraged with the Frost Giants and being as arrogant as he is, Thor decides to engage the enemy himself by leading a band of warriors – along with his untrustworthy brother Loki – across a world-connecting bridge and into the realm of the Frost Giants to fight them to the death, against his father’s wishes. Along with Thor comes his mighty hammer, capable of injecting him with ridiculous powers including incredible strength, the ability to manipulate the weather elements and much more. The resulting fight between the Frost Giants, Thor and his men – and woman – is one of the most exciting setpieces of the entire film, as we witness Hemsworth swinging the magical hammer wildly, smashing and killing nearly every Frost Giant creature in his path. Eventually, Hopkins appears in the Frost Giant realm to attempt to appease the creatures in hopes of peace, but when they refuse, Hopkins takes a few Frost Giants out and escapes with Thor, his other son and the rest of the warriors.
Back in their home world, Hopkins casts Thor out of their realm for his arrogance and defiance, refusing to make him king and stripping from him his powers and hammer. He is sent to Earth, where he is now a mere mortal, and is found by Portman, Skarsgard and the other researcher in their team in the New Mexico desert. This also ties in to the SHIELD subplot which was hinted at in the conclusion of the credits in Iron Man 2, in which SHIELD operatives find Thor’s hammer in the desert sands of New Mexico. Of course, once Thor arrives on Earth, his hammer follows moments later, sent there by his father but no longer useful to the thunder god due to a spell Hopkins has put on the hammer preventing his son from using it until he – or apparently anyone else – is deemed “worthy.” By now, SHIELD agents have quarantined the area, setting up a perimeter around the hammer to run tests.
Meanwhile, Thor has been taken to a hospital by Portman and her team, but eventually reunites with them and lets them in on what’s going on – at least as much as he wants them to know. The film switches back and forth between what’s going on down on Earth and what’s transpiring on Thor’s home world with his father and brother. It seems his brother Loki isn’t what he appears to be – or what Thor thought he was all these years – and intends on making sure Thor doesn’t return to their world, banished forever on Earth with no mystical powers. At some point, Hemsworth explains to Portman exactly where he comes from and how Earth is merely part of different “realms” within the entire galaxy, sharing this space with other worlds; this is supposed to explain the “Norse” mythology the comic was based on, in addition to various Viking myths and legends intertwined in there, but it was a bit confusing and seemed too jumbled to be believable. Is there a parallel universe coinciding with our own at the exact same time? Or is this more like the situation in Clash of the Titans, where before mankind there were beings that ruled as gods and eventually created man, thereby making man worship them? The whole thing was a bit convoluted, and is even confusing in the semi-opening sequence in which Hopkins narrates and attempts to explain the relationships between humans, their world and the Frost Giants, amongst other things.
Eventually, Thor’s brother Loki – whom I understand may play a role as one of the first villains in The Avengers based on raw rumors – becomes so high on power and rage towards his brother, he enlists the assistance of gigantic, robotic avenger to seek Thor out on Earth and make sure he never returns to their world again. At this point, Thor’s other warriors have found their way to Earth to help him find a way home and to fight the giant creature sent to destroy them and mankind. I am uncertain as to how much of this is taken from the mythology of the comic, but the sequence in which Hopkins, through a coma-like sleep he is in due to ailing health problems, manages to get Thor his hammer back into his hand thus returning his great power to him was truly exciting, setting up one of the final fight scenes between Thor and the metallic menace that is rampaging through the New Mexico town. When Thor returns to his home world to settle things with his turncoat brother, they too enter into combat and Thor ends up destroying the cosmic bridge that connects their world with other realms with his mighty hammer – thus eliminating any chance of Loki getting to Earth to do any further harm. The problem is by doing this, Thor also goes back on the promise he made to Portman about returning to her after his job was over on his home world.
Thor was definitely a lot of fun, and it’s going to be interesting to see how, if at all, a sequel will be introduced either before or after The Avengers (most likely after). Was it a classic like Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2 or as engaging as Iron Man? I don’t think quite as, but it was far from the worst comic adaptation ever made. The CGI goes nuts in certain places, and the otherworldly elements when the sequences involve Thor’s home world get a bit hokey and border on science fiction rather than comic lore, but the scenes depicting fights between Hemsworth as the lead character wielding the mighty hammer and the Frost Giants are nail-biting in terms of excitement, as is the sequence with him and his brother’s robotic avenger towards the end.
And, like everyone else, I can’t wait for The Avengers, which, if done correctly, should be a kick-butt ride.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
While sharp and clean for the most part, Paramount’s 2D Blu-ray release of Thor didn’t wow me as reference material – that’s not to say it was not good looking or engaging. Some of the sequences dipped into softness, which I didn’t care for with a BD transfer, and the opening scene with Portman and her team as they drive into the New Mexico desert and run into Thor was particularly poor-looking on my display, exhibiting that softness again that obscured details and gave the image a very DVD-like look. Some digital noise entered that opening sequence as well on my display, making the whole part look twitchy and dithered a bit, and it was almost as if tons of DNR was applied, rendering that scene waxy and lifeless.
Closeups of Hemsworth’s face were exceptional in 1080p, if not absolutely bursting with detail I’ve seen on some other transfers, but you could make out his individual beard hairs; the shots of Thor’s home world were explosive with bright contrast, making some of the buildings and structures of the CGI work almost shimmer in response. The sequences involving the New Mexico town as Thor gets “acquainted” with Earth and its ways was ripe with detail, color and brightness – in particular, when Hemsworth is walking around the town after saying goodbye to Portman and Skarsgard, the 1080p encode really shines and struts its stuff like an appealing 20—something on the Vegas Strip decked out in a little black dress and high stilettos. The image during this sequence is deep, full of detail and punch and simply looks crisp and bright.
Many people that have viewed Thor already on Blu have talked about the sequence involving the fight between Thor and his brother’s metallic assassin he has sent to Earth to kill him, and how this was a “mind blowing experience” in terms of the video quality – it may just be my rear projection display’s “limited capabilities,” but I didn’t find this scene as dramatic. It was great, yes – but it didn’t warrant “the defacto Blu-ray standard” moniker many are placing on it if you read the countless online articles, editorials, rants, reviews and tweets.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Again, also depending on who you talk to or who’s blog you read, Paramount’s Thor Blu-ray is either equipped with a house-destroying 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, or the track comes off a bit shy on bass and impact – for my case, running the track in an English 5.1 arrangement, I found it to be a mixed bag. The dialogue was definitely mixed a bit lower than the other channel stems, forcing me to raise my master volume level up very early on in the film to catch what Portman and others were saying in that New Mexico desert scene. When the action heats up, the track gets ridiculously aggressive – but there was something “off” about the LFE track on my system. While not lacking per se, there was a bit of a “hollowness” to it that left me wanting a bit more during thudding sequences that should have had wall rattling bass. In comparison – and oddly enough what I have been finding in a lot of Blu-ray releases – the trailers for the film in the extra features section of the disc, rendered in Dolby Digital, were much more aggressive in tactile punch and audio delivery than the film’s Master Audio soundtrack itself. I don’t understand that.
Action setpieces like the Frost Giants fight towards the beginning and the New Mexico sequence involving Thor and his brother’s avenger exhibited staggering amounts of aggressive surround activity, throwing items, wooshes, screams and more into the back channels and all around the room; the sequence in New Mexico in particular when the “fire bolts” are thrown at cars, buildings and Thor himself were wildly effective, forcing me to ultimately lower my system’s main volume for comfort. However, I found the overall track to be not as engaging or tactile in aggressiveness as, say, the DTS mix on The War of the Worlds DVD – and that’s comparing a lossless codec to a lossy variant on the DVD format. That track almost brought my walls crumbling down when I played it – I didn’t have the same experience with Thor’s Master Audio mix.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
No doubt, this is a purchase. Please tell me what you thought of Thor on Blu from your own experiences; I’d like to hear your input!