La La Land – 4K UHD Review
The Movie (5/5)
I love meta Hollywood features. I also love musical movies, and the promises that come from a Cinemascope tease at the beginning of a movie. What happens when you put them all together? High expectations, but also Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. A smash hit at the box office and a dominant force at the 2017 Academy Awards, the film is both an introspective indie romance, as well as a bombastic Hollywood musical that examines what happens when the American dream comes crashing down on two lovers lost in the ebbs and flows of life in Los Angeles.
La La Land is the story of accidental lovers Mia and Sebastian. Mia, an aspiring actress and barista by day, attends audition after audition in an attempt to land a part in a major Hollywood motion picture. On the other end of the romance is Sebastian; a jazz musician by trade, he spends his days wandering from gig to gig, pining after the club he once ran and was swindled out of. Criss-crossing at various social functions while on the town, they slowly bond over their passion for film, music, and artistic vision. The quickly fall into a passionate romance, leaning on each other as muses. It goes well, until the passion drops off and reality sets in, threatening to tear them in different directions as they struggle to sing, dance, and act their way through the trials and tribulations of maintaining the Hollywood lifestyle.
La La Land, the product of director and writer Damien Chazelle’s love for film and music, is a catalog of references, stylistic choices, and cliches that all collide in the just the right to capture lightning in a bottle and keep it there. The film, as described by Chazelle as, “taking the old musical and grounding it in real life where things don’t always work out,” carries with it all of the calling cards of a modern indie-styled romance; it has the quirky pop-culture laden dialogue, the moments of sharp humor contrasted with the crushing reality that happiness is often just out reach, and an ending that turns away from the escapism that was so prevalent in the films of old. Damien and his creative team have just decided that the best way to do this is with a color scheme that echoes of the technicolor monstrosities of the 40s, a widescreen aspect ratio that calls back to the early Fox and Warner Cinemascope musicals, and the production values, cinematography, and sharp pacing of a modern Hollywood blockbuster.
The film escapes the trap falls of most modern movie musicals by finding a brilliant balance between music and film; too often original musicals tend to lose themselves in too many extravagant song and dance numbers. Plot gets exchanged for displays of production value talent, and it weakens the narrative power of the movie. Instead, La La Land jumps right in your face with it’s incredible opening number, establishing a clear thesis about uncompromisingly chasing dreams and still managing to be successful and feel fulfilled in life. From there, it acts on that thesis, using flashy song and dance numbers sparingly only to embellish and engage the passions and frustrations of our two leads. Chazelle uses these movie musical moments to maximize narrative power, rather than using them to hide behind as the script collapses underneath them; I’m looking at you, NEWSIES.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling shine on screen as Mia and Sebastian respectively, oozing chemistry and charisma as we join along for the ride as their characters fall in love. Gosling jumps into the role of a passionate jazz musician with a fervor; to prepare for the role, he learned all of the music that his character is playing on screen, and combined with his enthusiastic line delivery, makes for a very authentic portrayal. As a former jazz musician in high school and college, he’d fit right in with many of the characters I ran into during those days, mirroring their spontaneity and charm. Stone, winning an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mia, plays into the role with equal enthusiasm and passion, but manages to ground the film as things start to fall apart. She steals the show as her character refuses to make compromises as an artist, and her attitude begins to turn on their relationship. In a role that could have quickly melodramatic, she grounds the film with a performance that is equal parts fantastical idealism and frustration that is easy to relate to.
I could wax philosophical on what I loved about La La Land all day, going into depth about the way it’s structure parallels the nature of some of the best jazz performances with their highs and lows, the brilliant decision to cast leads who don’t necessarily have Broadway-perfect voices in order to make their moderately fantastical story more engaging to typical audiences, and how absolutely obsessed I am with Justin Hurwitz’s delightfully jazzy score and the wonderful song lyrics by Pasek and Paul, but I think I’ve made my point clear enough: La La Land is wonderful. It’s that perfect slice of cake, where the ratio of cake to frosting is just right, and all of the different components mesh to create an extremely satisfying experience. It’s that rare evolution of a classic genre that feels like two steps forward. It is movie magic at its finest.
The Video (4.5/5)
La La Land was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses and modified Cinemascope 55 lenses. Using the full aspect ratio of classic Cinemascope as presented in the mid 50’s, the film was presented in the 2.55:1 aspect ratio in theaters. During post production, the film’s negative was scanned at 6K, downsampled to 4K for editing, and finished in 2K resolution. The film is presented in 2160p on UHD Blu-ray, maintaining the full 2.55:1 aspect ratio.
Upscaled from the final 2K master, La La Land is presented with the full grandeur of classic Cinemascope without any of the resolution, color quality, and grain issues that the films it pays homage to suffered from. Instead, with the help of HDR, La La Land is one of finest photochemical presentations we’ve seen yet in 4K UHD. Color graded to resemble a classic Technicolor musical, the film absolutely pops off the screen with bright yellows, steely blues, and warmly saturated reds and greens, some of the best I’ve come up against on the format. Detail and sharpness are mostly excellent, except on select occasions where the increased resolution showcases and embellishes some of the inherent softness of the Panavision lenses used, especially in effects sequences and long shots. The picture has a lovely layer of natural film grain, lending to it an authentic film look. It’s far too early to call, but La La Land is definitely going to be a solid contender for 4K disc of year on my list without a doubt.
The Audio (4/5)
La La Land is presented Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. For reference, the film was listened to using the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core in a 5.1 surround configuration.
La La Land is a dialogue heavy musical feature, with a soundtrack that really only opens up to take advantage of the full surround capabilities of this track during the busier musical sequences, such as the opening number and large party sequence early on in the film. Beyond that, the film is mostly a front and center affair, with score filling out the stereo channels, and dialogue and sound effects occasionally panning from side to side. It isn’t an incredible track in 5.1, but it certainly gets the job done, and might benefit a little from Dolby Atmos additions.
Special Features/Packaging (4/5)
La La Land, released to 4K UHD Blu-ray by Lionsgate Home Entertainment in a standard black keepcase with accompanying slipcover. The slipcover and keepcase feature the same artwork, with the front featuring a redesign of the film’s poster featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s characters dancing against a star-lit background and overlooking the whole of Los Angeles. Also featured is the Academy Awards banner, and the standard 4K UHD Blu-ray banner stating what discs are included. The slipcover features a holographic effect transposed onto the image. The back artwork features a cutout of Ryan and Emma in character at the movies with a cropped shot from the opening dance sequence in the background behind them, as well as a list of features, technical specs, and various trademarks and copyright information. Overall, it’s a pretty, if standard package job that doesn’t look terrible, but doesn’t really stand out.
Onto the Features:
All features are available on both the Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray discs.
Audio Commentary – feature commentary is performed by writer/director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz. Typical commentary, in which they discuss making the movie, stories from the set, and various stories about how the movie came to be over a very long, slow process.
Another Day of Sun: They Closed Down a Freeway – a ten minute feature that focuses on the opening number of the feature, in which drivers stuck in a traffic jam leave their cars and start singing about their dreams. It covers both the themes of the scene, why it was made the way it is, and how it was made on an actual Los Angeles highway ramp.
La La Land’s Great Party – a five minute feature in which they deconstruct the first big party sequence from the film. Members of the crew discuss set design, choreography, cinematography, and the significance of the scene.
Ryan Gosling: Piano Student – a five minute feature that explores the training that Ryan Gosling went under in order to play the character of Sebastian. Members of the cast and crew discuss the methods he undertook to learn his craft for the film.
Before Whiplash: Damien Chazelle’s Passion Project – a ten minute feature that explores the story behind the creation of La La Land, which was Chazelle’s passion project from college. Chazelle talks to great lengths about his inspiration for the project, the themes he wanted to touch upon, and what the movie was to everyone involved with the progress.
La La Land’s Love Letter to Los Angeles – a seven minute feature in which cast and crew discuss the use of Los Angeles as a character, how it was paired with an overall application of fantasy and how film history played into shaping the script and production of this movie.
The Music of La La Land – a 13 minute feature which digs into the creation of the music that is heavily featured in the film. Insight from cast and crew guide the discussion how the music was written, performed, and used in the film.
John Legend’s Acting Debut – a five minute piece which covers how Legend ended up being a part of the movie, and his participation in writing some of the music he played in character during the movie.
The Look of Love: Designing La La Land – I wasn’t able to dig into this one. I got total video dropout, and had to default back to the menu to get picture back. Interesting.
Ryan and Emma: Third Time’s the Charm – a six minute piece that chronicles the relation of the two leads in previous films, and how that changed the production of the film.
Epilogue: The Romance of The Dream – an 8 minute feature in which the cast and crew breakdown the epilogue scene from the film.
Damien and Justin Sing: The Demos – Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz perform demos of movie songs, “What a Waste of a Lovely Night,” and, “City of Stars.” Just as interesting as you’d expect.
Marketing Gallery – three trailers and a collection of posters used to advertise the film prior to, and during its release to theaters.
La La Land has a pretty average packaging job, but a wealth of awesome extras to help sweeten the deal. If you were interested at all in the details behind this production, or wanted to know more about how the film came to be, look no further: this release has everything you’ve wanted and more.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: None
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Dolby Atmos (English)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English Late Night Listening, Descriptive Audio)
Runtime: 128 minutes
La La Land was a personal favorite of mine from last year, and continues to hold my attention as it prances out onto home video. The film is a phenomenal piece of work, with incredible song and dance numbers, an engaging plot that both engages and squashes fantasy in just the right ways, and two leads who practically leap off the screen with energetic and authentic performances. It has received the prestige it deserves in coming to 4K UHD Blu-ray, with a fantastic 2K, HDR enhanced upscale, a decent Dolby Atmos soundtrack and a plethora of extras that more than make up for its less than incredible packaging design. If I had to pick one 4K UHD Blu-ray to define my experience with the format so far, it’d be this one. RECOMMENDED