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Blu-ray Reviews: The Road

Originally published in Sound and Image, v.24#02
Last updated 11 June 2011

The Road
2009 - Icon Film Distribution Pty Ltd
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt and Charlize Theron

Movie: 4.5 Picture: 4.5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 3.5

(The following review was published as part of a combined review with The Book of Eli.)

I confess, I just love post-apocalyptic stories, and here we have two very worthy ones. The first -- The Road -- is the smaller of the two. Its total budget of $US20 million is the per movie salary of the star of The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington. But they have elements in common.

In neither is the apocalypse explained. The survivors have failed to establish civilised society, with violence and robbery becoming the normal mode of life. And both are road movies. In The Road, Viggo Mortensen is trying to deliver his young son, Kodi Smit-McPhee, to the coast in the hope that they can find a life for themselves in a world in which all plant life seems to have died. In The Book of Eli, Washington is trying to deliver a book to a repository in San Francisco which is intended to act as a seed for the renewal of civilisation.

There are differences, too: Mortensen's journey seems to be just a year or two after the world had fallen, while Washington's journey seems to be a couple of decades later. Mortensen has adopted a strategy of stealth, avoiding contact with others, while Washington strides like a lion. His is the kind of role you'd expect to see Will Smith performing, but Washington fits it beautifully.

Two other ways in which the movies are the same is that their Australian distribution is different to that in the US. The American Eli, for example, comes from Warner Bros, so it gets VC1 video at less than 17Mbps. The Australian one comes from Sony Pictures, and scores MPEG4 AVC at nearly 25Mbps. In fact, there is very little visual difference between the two, especially given the almost entirely yellow/brown palette used. It scores an interesting 'Survival Guide' mode which employs BonusView PIP, storyboard comparisons and jumps to 'Focus Point' featurettes. The sound is delivered with high impact, quite immersive DTS-HD Master Audio.

The Australian version of The Road also has an average bitrate of nearly 25Mbps in MPEG4 AVC format, compared to the US Sony version at nearly 29Mbps. Any difference would be totally indistinguishable. As with Eli, a restricted colour palette is employed, with much of the movie in dark or overcast conditions, blues and greys predominating.

The audio on this one is alleged, like the US version, to be 24 bit, 48kHz DTS-HD Master Audio in 5.1 channels. But while the compression of the US version leaves it with over 3700kbps, the Australian one is way down on 2080kbps. That's by far the lowest of the 120 similarly specified audio tracks I've checked.

But it sounds fine, encompassing and atmospheric, and delivering great impact when called upon. So there has been no skimping on surround use. Some saving is realised by providing the DTS core at just 768kbps rather than the usual 1,509, but my guess is that the main saving comes from the bottom four or six bits having been filtered out. If you can hear the difference, you're a better man than me.

Running time: 112 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 24.72Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 2080kbps (core: DTS 16/48 3/2.1 @ 768kbps); English: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 256kbps
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired
Extras: 2 Featurettes (1080i25, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 25 mins); Photo Gallery (36 stills, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, no audio)
Restrictions: Rated MA (Australian rating); Locked to Region B

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

The Road video bitrate graph

© 2002-2011, Stephen Dawson