The Prestige (Blu-ray)
In one sense this film is an unexpected gift. I would never have imagined such intense, mesmerizing human drama could be culled from the story of two rival magicians trying to destroy each other personally and professionally around the turn of the century. Of course, in another sense the success of a film made from such a talented pool of people on both sides of the camera shouldn't seem surprising at all.
The Prestige was directed by Christopher Nolan whose credits include the brilliantly labrynthine Memento and Batman Begins, which is easily among the very best of its genre. It stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two magicians consumed by an obsessive feud with one another that threatens to destroy their careers and their lives and the lives of those close to them.
It features brilliant peformances from both leads, as well as supporting turns from Scarlett Johansson and the predictably wonderful Michael Caine. Let's hope that Hugh Jackman continues what he stareted here and takes on more dramatically significant roles like this one- he's oustanding. And Nolan's direction and manipulation of time in serving up plot twists is nothing short of breathtaking, much as it was in Memento.
Buena Vista has cooked up a stunning, flawless 1080p transfer, encoded with AVC/MPEG-4. The image is smooth and film-like, and yet it's loaded with believeable colors and rich detail that look refreshingly unprocessed and pure. Detail resolution is outstanding, with skin and costume textures that are palpably present and naturally vivid with no traces of any form of enhancement. There are no artifacts of any kind to distract. There are plenty of dark scenes and yet at no time is there any visible noise in teh iamge, and the overall contrast and hadow detail are film-like in excellence. This is gorgeous, reference quality HD video that is as good as next-gen has to offer.
As is the norm with Buena Vista, The Prestige features an uncompressed PCM soundtrack, and this one's encoded at 24-bits/48kHz. This track is mostly quiet drama but the low level detail and dynamics, when called for, are simply terrific and miles beyond the compressed Dolby Digital track that's also included. The low level hum around Tesla's electric fence purrs and sounds ominuous, and when Tesla's machines fire up the entire soundfiield comes alive with explosive, discrete efects. The dialog is natural, and almost always intelligible. The surrounds are used subtly but effectively to recreate the expansive theatrical environments and the crowds that inhabit them. Not shbowy, but rock solid.
The extras are a mixed bag in that there are some excellent features including the The Director's Notebook: the Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan, which is presented in high-def, and The Art of the Prestige. But, while there are two trailers on this disc, they aren't for The Prestige, and being greedy I'd have liked a commentary from Nolan at least. Given the subject matter it's possible that there are hidden features somewhere on the disc, but I couldn't find them in time to report here.
While it might seem faint praise to say this was my favorite movie of 2006 since I only saw about three movies all year (got a two year-old at home, man), this would have been a favorite in any year of my life. This film also has something in common with other first-rate mysteries like The Usual Suspects or even Sixth Sense: viewing it the second time around is perhaps even more enjoyable than the first, as you watch for the clues to its mysteries throughout. This makes this BD a must purchase.
Picture: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen. Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player and Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray Disc player via HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Audio sent as PCM over HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Theta Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers. All video cables by Bettercables, all audio cables by AudioQuest