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The Master Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
  • Audio Codec: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
  • Subtitles Color: White
  • Region: A (Region-Locked)
  • Rating: R
  • Discs: 2 (1 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
  • Digital Copies: iTunes Digital Copy
  • Run Time: 144 Mins.
  • Studio: The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment
  • Blu-ray Release Date: February 26, 2013
  • List Price: $39.99

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:3.5/5]

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights; Magnolia; There Will Be Blood) films have always dealt with dysfunction, despair, and loose familial affiliations wherever their characters can seem to scrounge them up. Magnolia, a sprawling film if ever there was one, probably best dealt with all of those themes in one film out of all of Anderson’s works. The buzz surrounding The Master, on the other hand, had been that it would be a film going in another direction, somewhat of a scandalous exposé on L. Ron Hubbard and the inner workings of the organization he founded, Scientolgy. Once you finally see this film, there’s no denying its similarities to Hubbard and the aforementioned organization, but scratch the surface, and what you get is once again a classic Anderson film about broken people brought together into a pseudo family and warding off their personal demons.

Joaquin Phoenix plays recent WWII veteran Freddie Quell. Suffering from what we would today know as post traumatic stress disorder, Quell is given to tantrums, uncontrollable sexual urges, and heavy drinking. He makes his own moonshine out of whatever he can get his hands on – photo processing chemicals, mouthwash, you name it. Unable to hold down a job, he drifts from job to job, filled with rage, filled with booze. One night after one particularly heavy bender, he sneaks onto a private yacht that seems like a party boat and stows away. The next morning he is awoken and taken to meet the owner of the boat, Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a self-professed writer, scientist, and inquisitive man. Dodd takes an immediate liking to Freddie and to his potent hooch and invites him into the fold of his organization right away, starting with his daughter’s wedding on the boat. He invites Freddie to stay with them and be a part of the religious movement he runs with his young wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and his son. Ultimately, Dodd’s movement is a hodgepodge of pop-science mumbo jumbo, hypnotism, reversion therapy, and science fiction. He survives on his wits, his charisma, and his ability to assert his will over others. This is where the relationship between Dodd and Freddie comes into play.

It isn’t really clear what Dodd wants with Freddie, whether he is honestly trying to save him from himself, use him as a test case case of just how much his power to control people can work, or just a release from the normal stresses of his religion and legal problems. What is clear, and Anderson does a fantastic job here, is that the two characters together create sparks on the screen. Dodd’s religion includes certain confessional sessions that are more like psycho-therapy. When he gets Freddie to go through it the first time, the intensity of the performances from both Phoenix and Hoffman is pure gold, Oscar-caliber work.

Helping to make The Master an even more pleasant experience is the masterful cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr., whom Anderson worked with for the first time on this film. Shot mostly in 65mm, the first feature-film to be done so since Branagh’s Hamlet (1996), the imagery is rich and colorful. There are ample shots of cerulean seas, silhouetted bodies, and perfect period décor in homes with soft amber lights.

The film does have its flaws, however. Were it not for the performances of the leads, the gorgeous cinematography, and a few undeniably moving scenes, The Master would falter and fumble through its over two hour long running time. This is one Anderson film that doesn’t seem to build very well toward any sort of conclusion. This is hampered by the most irredeemable quality of the protagonists as well, one, a sex addicted drunkard with no care in the world for anyone but himself, and the other an obvious huckster. It makes it difficult to really root for anyone here.

Video Quality

[Rating:5/5]

The Master comes to Blu-ray being the first feature-length film shot in 65mm since Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 production of Hamlet. Utilizing nearly all 65mm (Kodak Vision3 50D 5203, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 200T 5213, Vision3 500T 5219) film stock on Panavision cameras, except for a limited scenes which used 35mm for a a grittier appearance, the 2.20:1 aspect ratio was cropped to 1.85:1 for consistency and it comes to Blu-ray with that ratio intact in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement that looks absolutely magnificent. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about with a transfer that gives you amazing contrast with deep blacks and no crush, bright whites with no clipping, vivid color reproduction, and crisp details in close-ups and distance shots.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) mix is subtle to be sure, but it serves up the lush string orchestration of Jonny Greenwood perfectly, with lots of air and dynamic range, and delicately balanced with the dialogue and other effects. The surround channels carry mostly ambience and low atmospheric effects.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

Some behind the scenes footage and outtakes fill out the disc, but the real bonus here is the hour-long 1946 documentary on WWII veterans by John Huston.

The supplements:

  • “Back Beyond” Outtakes, Additional Scenes, Music by Jonny Greenwood (20 Mins) (HD)
  • Teasers/Trailers (16 mins) (HD)
  • “Unguided Message” – 8 minute Short Behind the Scenes (SD)
  • Let There Be Light” (1946) – John Huston’s landmark documentary about WWII veterans (58 mins.) (SD)

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

The Master may not be at the top of the list of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, but the powerful performances and gorgeous cinematography make it more than worth watching. Anderson also makes the case for this film going far beyond being a simple religious exposé and becoming a discussion on human misery, desire, and desperation. Recommended.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:3.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]


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