The Lego Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Offering up the time-worn trope of the decidedly un-special person discovering unknown powers with the help of a decrepit wizard, The Lego Movie revolves around construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), an anonymous worker drone who only wants to fit in. But when he accidentally discovers the mysterious ‘Piece of Resistance’ he learns he may be the greatest of all the ‘Master Builders’ who’s destined to lead the people to victory against the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Having battled Business once before, wise old sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) is tasked with unlocking Emmet’s hidden potential, along with feisty Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the remaining Master Builders who’ve escaped Business’ clutches. The tyrant has kidnapped as many Masters as he can because he’s fearful of adaption and change, decreeing that people should only ever follow the instructions and he’s in possession of a device intended to literally freeze the world into place: the terrifying 'Kragle'. With Business' minions in pursuit led by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), our heroes face a race against time to deploy the Piece of Resistance and stop Lord Business from unleashing the power of the Kragle.
The film is very much Campbellian Monomyths 101, and yet it’s carried off with such humour and affection (for both Lego and the story material) that it’s an absolute delight. The usual comparisons with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings are certainly apt but it plays more like a kiddie version of The Matrix at heart, and although the kids love it (my nephews watch it on repeat) it’s not just for them, as there’s enough satirical depth and sly asides to keep people of all ages entertained. Thanks to the Lego licence it’s got an amusingly scattergun approach to appropriating various pop culture icons – I never thought I’d see Batman go off and party with Han Solo and Lando Calrissian – and is supported by plenty of slick action scenes plus a surprisingly sweet (but not overly syrupy) denouement. Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) bring their gifts to bear with an excellent sense of comedic timing and their trademark irreverence, and they make sure to keep up a steady pace in the 100-minute running time. Lego Movie is ostensibly a CG animated tale (there are some live action inserts later on) but it looks incredibly real and tactile, as if it were shot in stop motion with real Lego, lenses and cameras, right down to tiny dust motes floating through sunlight. It all lends a layer of verisimilitude that really helps to sell the effect and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show. I can’t wait for Lego Movie 2!
The Ultra HD Blu-ray
A new 4K Blu-ray format was recently launched, bringing with it not only a jump in resolution from 1080p to 2160p (which is in fact a 4x increase in pixel density) but also an increased bit depth for finer gradation of colour, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) for a more wide-ranging and accurate palette, and High Dynamic Range (HDR) which extends the visible range to include "brilliant brights and deeper darks" versus standard Blu-ray content. Please note: this review has been carried out on a high-contrast Sony KD-55X9005B 4K TV which can display the WCG but not the specific HDR encoding of these 4K UHD discs. It is being viewed via the Panasonic DMP-UB900 player’s adjustable SDR downconversion which still preserves a significant spread of the dynamic range. The screenshots seen here are from the 1080p Blu-ray and are not intended to be indicative of the UHD product.
The Lego Movie has been released by Warner Bros on 4K UHD in a 2-disc set which includes the regular 2D 1080p Blu-ray and a UV digital copy, housed in a glossy slipcase. Given the (almost) all-CG origination of the film it must be assumed that this 2160p 4K presentation is upscaled from the 2K original, and yet it’s got a clear uptick in sharpness compared to the standard 1080p Blu-ray, both of which are framed in the intended 2.40 widescreen aspect. The wonderful attention to detail on the characters has never looked better with the worn edges, frayed paint, dirty spots and fingerprints coming through even more clearly. The wider shots also resolve more detail, e.g. when we first see inside the blank canvas of Emmet’s mind the swathe of blocks on the ground look fairly indistinct in 1080p but are more finely delineated in 2160p. As I mentioned previously with Life of Pi’s CG creations, the increased UHD clarity comes at a price in the form of some slight shimmering and aliasing over those areas of ultra-fine detail where the resolution of the upscaled 2K source is maxed out (it could also be a consequence of the scaling that’s required to fit the 4096x2160 4K master into the 3840x2160 resolution of consumer UHD). But as with Life of Pi it’s only ever a momentary distraction, and is actually present in a milder form on the 1080p Blu-ray anyway if you care to look.
It is fair to say that 2K upscales have formed the bulk of the UHD Blu-ray rollout so far and I can’t blame people for following the party line and shunning such releases on that basis alone, but that does a disservice to the other benefits that UHD has to offer - providing that you can take advantage of them. Lego Movie is no exception, as the wider gamut and increased range take what was already a colourful experience on Blu-ray and turn it up to eleven. The UHD colour is simply amazing, and while I wouldn’t expect anyone to get too excited about the earlier scenes with Emmet going about his routine the movie kicks into gear once he finds the Piece of Resistance, exploding with gorgeously saturated bursts of orange and red as Wyldstyle rescues Emmet from Bad Cop’s clutches. And when they enter Vitruvius’ Old West abode there’s a vivid ray of colour that emanates from his room with breathtaking vibrancy, it already looks great on the Blu-ray but it’s utterly jaw-dropping here. Then there’s the random craziness of Cloud Cuckoo Land, looking more candy-coloured than ever before, and the fiery surrounds of Lord Business’ tower positively glow with malevolent intent. I’ve had a few ‘wow’ moments when watching UHD thus far but this is the first ‘wow’ moment I’ve had that lasted for almost an entire movie, and several scenes look so immersive it’s almost like watching a three-dimensional image without glasses.
Part of that effect is due to the expanded dynamic range, UHD doing that wonderful trick of being able to retain both extra highlight detail and higher peak brightness than standard Blu-ray. Sources of light like shots of the sun or the searchlights on the Copper Chopper hold far more definition without it being clipped away in a haze of white. The dazzling intensity of the highlights combines with the stunning colour to create a visual feast, but it’s not just the boldest, brightest sequences that benefit. If we go back to the scene set in Emmet’s mind, it’s got this up-lit blue floor set against a dark sky which looks very thin on the regular Blu-ray as it struggles to balance the extremes of light and dark. But on UHD it looks amazing as the up-lighting casts a more diffuse and realistic glow on the characters whilst still managing to look more luminous than before, with deeper blacks in the sky that seem to blend in with the letterbox bars without crushing any shadow details. In my other UHD reviews I’ve talked about how light itself seems to fall off in a more subtle way than normal Blu-ray, it looks more like a soupy fog in HD but is altogether more sheer and translucent in UHD and that’s likely due to the increased bit-depth of UHD allowing for much finer gradations of light and colour. Even something as simple as Vitruvius’ eyes benefit from the HDR, as what seem like flat, featureless circles of light in Blu-ray now reveal a bright white iris moving around against a slightly darker background. You can still see it in some scenes on the Blu-ray but the effect is very subdued whereas his eyes really do glow brightly in the UHD, it’s a lovely little touch.
The HEVC encoding proves its worth in the busier scenes, retaining more temporal detail than the AVC-encoded Blu-ray, and when combined with the uptick in resolution it makes the UHD seem so much cleaner and sharper than the Blu-ray equivalent, without any edge enhancement to spoil those clean lines. Some recurrent banding is obvious on the Blu-ray edition and so it proves in UHD, there’s a touch more banding here than I’ve seen on any other UHD disc so far, although it’s still better than the 2D Blu-ray which can look quite untidy at times. But CG animation has long had such issues with posterisation because it doesn’t have any natural grain or noise to act as a means of dithering gradients, so I’m inclined to think it’s also more of a source and/or encoding issue at this point in time. According to this ‘Virtual Cinematography’ article some of the shots were de-noised to speed up the compositing process which could have been a factor in the banding, although with UHD’s myriad of mastering standards and the different reactions of certain combinations of equipment I can’t rule anything out at this stage. Nevertheless, the picture quality is mesmerizingly good.
The audio is presented in the same lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as is on the regular Blu-ray. Tech-heads will be disappointed that there’s no object-based Atmos upgrade or even plain old 7.1 but it’s a delightful track nonetheless. Surround action is plentiful and bass is fulsome, and one thing I really liked is how the dialogue often pans across the front speakers to follow the characters. It’s something we don’t get enough of these days and it reminds me of the 70mm 6-track mixes of yesteryear. Good stuff.
There are no extras included on the UHD disc so it’s left to the 2D Blu-ray to do the duties and nothing has changed in that respect. The disc has what seems like a long list of extras but they’re all short little bits and pieces only a few minutes in length, including outtakes, promo skits for the film, a spoof trailer, deleted scenes (in storyboard form), an early test of the alleyway scene, Lego tutorials, fan films and a ‘Everything Is Awesome’ singalong. The longest segment is the ‘Bringing Lego To Life’ featurette which is a 12-minute look at the making of the movie, other than that it’s all quite forgettable. The set is slightly redeemed by the director/star commentary though, as Lord & Miller are joined by Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Will Arnett and Elizabeth Banks (on the phone) for the yak track. You won’t get a ton of insight into the making of the movie as everyone’s intent on goofing off, though it’s enjoyable enough in that regard and the directors try their best to relay some nuggets of actual production info.
The Lego Movie is a charming film and a sumptuous example of what the Ultra HD Blu-ray format can do when the leash is taken off, with colour that pops off the screen and dynamic range that excels at both ends of the spectrum. Audio is the same as the regular Blu-ray but a 5.1 track is no great hardship when it sounds this good, and although the Blu-ray extras are mostly forgettable fluff I shouldn’t expect much more these days.
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
6 out of 10