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'Water for Elephants' is, in my humblest opinion, a good film, but it's not a great one because I wasn't able to connect with the love story between the two lead characters. However, this quality adaptation looks marvelous in high definition, sounds wonderful, and features terrific performances from Christoph Walz and other character actors. Definitely not a must buy for those who have not seen the film or even fans of the book. I would say give it a rent first.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
While there are some minor flaws in terms some black level grayness and/or crushing as well as occasional soft shot or two, 'Water for Elephants' sports a very successful MPEG-4 AVC encode (aspect ratio 2.35:1) that shows no signs of encoding artifacts or compressions issues.
Let's get the bad out of the way up front for a change, because there's very little to nitpick. There is some black crushing from time to time (evident in the opening's interior trailer scene where eyes disappear into shadow in a bright room), but the larger black level issue seems to be a persistent grayness in the background of many night time scenes, leaving them a tad flat. Also, there seems to be some unintended focus issues as actors move forwards and backwards in random shot.
Though a few nitpicks prevent this from being perfect, as I said before, 'Water for Elephant's generally looks great. Period pieces with warm, saturated colors do well in high definition and, as we expect from brand new movies, there are no age issues, damage, or dirt to blemish the picture. Detail and resolution are strong, highlighting the authentic exterior and interior production design elements as well as clothing, animal skins, hair, and human faces. Everything is so dreamlike and vibrant, but never completely over the top and unnatural. And despite what I said about black levels above, the film's first few night exterior shots are exceptional -- set on a rainy night, where actors are wearing black jackets against a black night sky. Overall, this is another fine Blu-ray release from the folks at Fox.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Water for Elephant's arrives on Blu-ray with a well made, but just shy of spectacular, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack.
Dialog is perfect and the film features a wide front soundstage with an enveloping ambience from the rears. Rain, crowds, and creaking train cars fill the rear channels to build out the world. LFE runs deep, filling your home theatre with rumbling animal noises and train engines, etc. What's particular nice about the bass tones is that they are purely supportive, and never call attention to themselves (something I've noticed with some lossy surround sound television mixes of late). James Newtown Howard's score might not be as amazing as his work in 'Road to Perdition', but it soars in surround sound. Overall, there's very little to complain about in 'Water for Elephant'. It's a very good track that supports the film experience, but personally I reserve my 5 star audio ratings for more aggressive sonic experiences
Other audio options include Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 Dolby Digital. For those who like to or need to read their movies, there are English SDH and Spanish subtitles available.
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