Urban Explorers (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a quick look at the Blu-ray release of this survival horror feature...
Looking for something different away from the usual well-beaten tourist trails of metropolitan Berlin, four young people – partners Denis (Nick Eversman) and Lucia (Nathalie Kelley), plus recently acquainted Marie (Catherine de Lean) and Juna (Brenda Koo) – hire local guide Kris (Max Riemelt) to take them on a tour with a guaranteed surprise. Kris leads the group into the city’s dark and dank subterranean maze of wartime escape tunnels and underground fortifications on a rare, and illegal, trip to visit the legendary, graffiti-laden and now walled-up Nazi war rooms rarely seen by anyone since the end of World War II.
The trip takes an initial bad turn when the group encounters a pair of confrontational neo-Nazis and their dogs prowling around, but things get much worse when an unfortunate accident leaves Kris immobile and desperately in need of medical attention. Marie and Juna set off to find help, leaving Denis and Lucia to stay behind and look after Kris. The unexpected arrival of a bedraggled looking man, Armin (Klaus Stiglmeier), provides a ray of hope. A former East German border guard and now a self-appointed "guardian" of the tunnels, Armin takes them to his base with the promise of safety and a phone call for help. However, it soon becomes apparent that Denis and Lucia have just made the biggest mistake of their young lives. (Taken from the press release.)
Presented at its original ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Urban Explorers was shot digitally. I would imagine that it would have made things easier in the demanding locations and it would also explain the overall look of the picture. A great deal of the action takes place underground in low light levels, and I was quite impressed by the lack of noise in the scenes. Unfortunately, as with a lot of films that are shot digitally, fine textures look a little waxy and the image lacks that atmospheric layer of grain that is characteristic of traditional 35mm photography. I don't believe it's a problem with the encode or the result of any nefarious digital tinkering, but rather the result of the cinematographic process employed to shoot the film. Still, there are no obvious artefacts (apart from some minimal banding) and the image looks better in motion than it does in the stills on this page. However, while it might seem unfair to criticise the Blu-ray simply because I'm not a huge fan of the digital look, I've seen much better examples of digital photography in recent times (Norway's Troll Hunter springs to mind), hence the overall score.
Probably the most impressive aspect of this release is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. I was a little disappointed early on, as the music didn't really seem to fit the tone of the piece, but once the group descended into the underground tunnels things improved dramatically and the score became dark, moody and atmospheric. There are plenty of creepy effects throughout, from dripping water and creaking beams, to breaking glass and the distant sounds of the subway, all of which serve to create the required ambience. There aren't too many obvious discrete effects, but the surround channels come into play fairly frequently in order to reinforce to the score. Similarly, although bass isn't particularly potent, it does lend weight to a number of key scenes. Dialogue is always clear and the forced English subtitles that accompany the soundtrack to translate the German-language sections of the film are well placed and without grammatical errors.
Not a sausage. (Should that be Bratwurst in this instance?)
I wish I could be more positive about Urban Explorers, but while I found the premise intriguing I didn't find the end result all that scary and it was very difficult to overlook some of the utterly brain-dead decisions the characters made (seriously, the scene on the train towards the end was just too much). The acting isn't any great shakes either, and two of the characters are redundant to the point that they might as well have been omitted entirely. If I had to liken it to another film I'd say that tonally it has much in common with Wolf Creek, so that should give you some indication of what to expect. The BD release looks and sounds fine, so that's a plus, but the total lack of extras is disappointing. Would it have killed Anchor Bay to include a short featurette on urban exploration at the very least? Anyway, as far as I'm concerned the film didn't live up to the hype but if you're into the survival horror sub-genre it might be worth checking out.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 5th March 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Andy Fetscher
Cast: Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Brenda Koo, Klaus Stiglmeier, Catherine de Lean, Max Riemel
Length: 94 minutes
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