Iron Man Blu-ray ReviewSeptember 22, 2008
Two Blu-ray Disc releases this holiday season possess the potential to provide a big boost to the format and bring in new Playstation 3 and Blu-ray Disc player owners in droves. Ironically both are comic book-inspired superhero flicks: Warner's The Dark Knight and Marvel/Paramount's Iron Man.
The Dark Knight's success was written on the wall long before reaching theaters much less Blu-ray later this year. Iron Man, in stark contrast, fought an uphill battle from the get-go. It was the first film forged by newly formed Marvel Studios, features a director known for comedy and not visual effects, features a cast plucked from indie films including negative press target Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, and features a superhero most non-comic book readers may never have heard of.
Positive buzz unexpectedly built on the Internet built for Iron Man through its production that seeped into mainstream media. By the time Iron Man's first footage was released, comic book fans were joined by film fans in general in anticipating the film's May 2009 release. And what a release it was, garnering a lofty $318 million dwarfing Batman Begins' $205 million take and instantly birthing a legitimate franchise.
Iron Man is far from a perfect film but manages to stay true to its comic origins without alienating mainstream audiences. The story is simple and straightforward, almost to a fault given the predictability of the villain's supposed secret identity, yet still abides by the principles of Iron Man introduced in the comics.
Robert Downey Jr. plays billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in the vein of Howard Hughes as a flawed superhero who, like Batman, possesses no supernatural abilities. He designs the Mark I Iron Man suit out of self defense and learns the hard way that following in his father's footsteps isnt necessarily the right path. The script cleverly and appropriately never abandons Tony's personality and thirst for attention as perfectly translated in his final speech to the media.
It is Stark's personality and interaction with Pepper Pots, played with the perfect subtle touch of naivety by Gwyneth Paltrow, amongst other characters that makes watching Tony as interesting, if not more interesting, than suited-up Iron Man. The effects and set pieces are outstanding save for a brisk and uninspiring final showdown with Iron Monger that comes across like a cheap Transformers knock-off, but it is the charm and hurt that Downey Jr. portrays through Tony that carries Iron Man's allure, not the snazzy CGI and flying suits.
Moviegoers' wallets proved they love Iron Man which puts immense pressure on Marvel and Paramount Home Entertainment to deliver a Blu-ray release fitting the film's success. Paramount has shown a willingness to go "all out" for big films on Blu-ray such as Transformers and Beowulf with impeccable audio/video presentations on two-disc sets loaded with high-def supplemental features. That is precisely the template chosen for Iron Man.
The 2.4:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer was expected to shine like the sun glimmering off Iron Man's armor and wow, does it. Iron Man's locations are diverse and challenging ranging from a cave to a sweltering desert to nighttime streets in downtown Los Angeles. The contrast and colors in all these scenes vary greatly and are all presented nearly flawlessly. There are a small handful of exceptions where blacks fall a bit flat, namely in the cave, but by and large this transfer is one to cue up for friends, neighbors and anyone else you need to show off the benefits of 1080p Blu-ray to.
More impressive than the video transfer is the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track. Lets face it; a movie about a man in a metal suit who flies alongside jet fighters and launches missiles should light up the surrounds and .LFE channels. This mix is incredibly deep and immersive along the lines of Bay's Transformers. If missiles aren't swirling around the soundstage then a thunderous boom is bursting from the subwoofer such as the surprise explosion of a Humvee in the opening act. Remarkably never lost in the mayhem is dialogue; always crisp, clear and audible. After demoing the video to friends there's no need to switch discs for audio. Iron Man represents proudly and formidably on both high-def fronts.
Supplemental features, spread across two discs and almost all presented in high definition, are accessible via a custom three-dimensional interface reminiscent of Iron Man's heads-up display. The effect is simply "cool" and fitting the films visual style, a perfect primer for the extensive never-before-seen footage to come.
Hall of Armor (HD) This interactive learning tool provides "did you know?" tidbits and tech facts about the Mark I, II, III and Iron Monger armor. Each armored suit and its accessible body parts can be rotated 360-degrees but there is no way to control the rotation or zoom in or out manually. The facts are fun to learn but accessing them would have been a lot more fun with a fully interactive and moveable camera, the type of feature expected on a Blu-ray release.
The Invincible Iron Man (47:04, HD) Six short featurettes are available with a play-all function: Origins, Friends and Fores, The Definitive Iron Man, Demon in a Bottle, Extremis and Beyond, and Ultimate Iron Man. Together they delve deep into the history of Iron Man with interviews with many of the comic's creators, including Stan Lee. Viewing this is like taking a class in Iron Man lore only without having to take a quiz afterwards.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (23:56, HD) There are ten scenes total including a lengthy extended scene with the final shots of Iron Monger and Iron Man. Also included is an extended opening scene with the ambush on Tony's military caravan. In this sequence Tony tries to fire his own guns but doesn't know how, not something expected from a man who can scratch build a flying suit and a heart charger from scraps.
BD-Live The BD-Live feature is not enabled at the time of this review. Based on the packaging insert the feature will add a trivia game that will run simultaneously with the film.
I Am Iron Man (1:49:00, HD) Seven featurettes form this nearly two-hour long definitive behind-the-scenes Iron Man documentary. Raw footage spans the period six months before principle photography, through post production including divulging the secrets of where practical effects end and CGI begins, and right up to the film's premiere night.
Standout bits come from either Downey Jr. intensely and lightheartedly preparing for the role of Stark and Favreau making minutia decisions in the editing suite. With this access to Downey and Favreau behind-the-scenes come a slew of curse words which are unfortunately censored given the film's PG-13 rating. At the same time, the lack of a feature-length commentary with Favreau and Downey Jr. is a non-issue thanks to the inclusion of this documentary that explores every facet of producing the film without requiring re-watching the film.
Wired: The Visual Effects of Iron Man (27:01, HD) The original ILM test for Iron Man in its entirety is an unexpected and welcome surprise, along with an in-depth look at the other two effects companies that worked on the film. Focuses include the creative decision behind and ins and outs of the depth-defying HUD and Mark I armor design and fabrication. This is a fantastic extension of the Hall of Armor feature on disc one.
Robert Downey Jr. Screen Test (6:03, HD) Watch Robert nail the character in auditions for three scenes and make the job easy for Favreau and company to choose him for the role.
The Actor's Process (4:13, HD) Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges rehearse a scene as Favreau curiously looks on. They walk through in painstaking detail how the scene should work. It is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the filmmaking process with acting veterans typically unseen.
The Onion: Wildly Popular Iron Man Trailer to be Adapted Into Full-Length Film (2:38) A silly newsroom spoof with few laughs that has the distinction of being the lone extra feature easily passed over and the only extra not presented in HD.
Trailers (HD) Included are the Theatrical Teaser, Theatrical Trailer, International Trailer B and International Trailer C.
Galleries (HD) Concept Art, Tech, Unit Photography and Posters are all covered.
Also included are credits and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles for the extras and the feature film.
I was actually one of the mainstream moviegoers who knew little to nothing about Iron Man before learning about the film's production online. Like thousands of others like me, Favreau, Downey Jr. and company have converted me into a fan of the billionaire industrialist turned publicly acknowledged superhero.
My admiration for the film, despite its flaws, has been justly realized on Blu-ray Disc thanks to Paramount Home Video. A near-perfect transfer, an arguably perfect lossless audio track and a wealth of informative and fun supplemental features come together into a two-disc package that can truly impact adoption of the high-def format in a positive way. Iron Man on Blu-ray is not merely recommended. It is a must-own title, period.
- Dan Bradley
Click here to shop for Iron Man on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com.
Note: Paramount Home Video has issued a statement regarding Iron Man on Blu-ray that reads as follows, "We have learned that a small portion of the review copies of Iron Man Blu-ray disc one may not play on all players due to differences in manufacturing specs." HDR reviewed Iron Man on a Playstation 3 with the latest firmware installed and ran into no issues with disc one playback.
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