Ward, The (UK - BD RA/B)
Chris takes a quick look at the Blu-ray release of John Carpenter's recent film
Welcome to North Bend Psychiatric Hospital in 1966, an isolation ward for female offenders with a deadly secret guaranteed to terrify beyond words. Kristen (Amber Heard) finds herself committed to The Ward after setting fire to an abandoned farmhouse. Imprisoned in this terrifying asylum alongside a group of erratically behaved young women, Kristen not only faces overbearing wardens during the day but by night a savage ghostly figure stalks the ward hallway for her next victim to swallow into the darkness.
With no recollection of previous events and fellow inmates disappearing one by one, the terrifying realisation dawns on the patients that anyone could be next. A petrified Kristen is forced to band together with four other female offenders to piece together a dark secret and reveal the horrific truth in a desperate struggle for survival. (Taken from the Warner synopsis.)
If you cast your mind back far enough you may remember that The Ward was originally due to arrive on Blu-ray way back in May, but negative reaction to Warner’s decision to release the film open matte forced the distributor to abandon its release plans and head back to the drawing board. I’m as critical as the next guy when it comes to distributors butchering the visual integrity of films, so it’s only fair to give Warner some credit for taking the time to do things right. Of course John Carpenter weighing in on the subject on Twitter probably helped tip the scales, but it's still commendable…
After all the furore surrounding the original check discs and their open matte, 1.78:1 transfers of the film, I’m pleased to report that The Ward finally arrives on Blu-ray with a rather spiffy transfer at its theatrically correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC). Shot on 35mm rather than in one of the increasingly popular digital formats, the image is very clean and detailed, with a wonderful layer of grain for that filmic look. The colour palette is intentionally muted, but still surprisingly natural, and contrast appears variable by design. In some scenes it appears very hot, causing blooming as the girls stand against large window, while in others it’s a bit flat, lending an almost washout out appearance to the film. This sometimes has the unavoidable side effect of rendering less than inky blacks, but again I must stress that it seems to be a calculated effect. DNR is never an issue and there's no unsightly edge enhancement to be seen. All things considered this is a good effort.
To compliment the video Warner has furnished The Ward with a great little Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (haven't seen that codec in use for a while). It presents strong, natural dialogue that remains firmly anchored in the centre of the sound-stage and intelligible above the rest of the effects. Speaking of effects, well there are actually quite a few, from the roar of a fire and the sound of sirens, or thunderclaps and pouring rain, to various creepy sounds and audio stingers during the jumpier moments. The surround channels get quite a decent workout during these sequences, but they also assist the frontal array with general ambience throughout. Bass also plays its part during the scares, but even simple things like doors being slammed shut carry some weight. The creepy music is well utilised to add tension and again it's liberally spread across the available channels to immerse the viewer. It's not a flashy soundtrack, but it does the basics very well.
This is where I felt slightly let down by Warner's Blu-ray Disc. The only supplemental material is a series of three interview segments, the first with John Carpenter (03:00 HD), the second with the actors (26:01 HD) and the third with the producers/production designer (18:14 HD). Carpenter's interview is so short it might as well not have been included, but the female cast all have strong opinions on the director and the film (even if some of them overlap). Obviously the producers talk the movie up big time, but that's hardly surprising.
I really hoped that The Ward would be a return to form for John Carpenter, but sadly it was not to be. To be honest it’s not really his fault, as he didn’t write this one and the direction is perfectly competent, but I found the whole thing too predictable and lacking in any real scares or excitement. To be honest I think the film has been somewhat mis-sold as a horror when it is in fact more of a psychological thriller. It’s not that it’s a particularly bad film per se, just a spectacularly average one, and I expect more from the man who brought us some of the greatest horror films of the last thirty years. On the plus side the Blu-ray is technically proficient, with a very pleasing visual transfer and a solid audio track. The extras aren’t much to write home about, but that seems to be par for the course these days and it was nice to hear from the cast. I just wish Carpenter himself had a greater presence in the supplements. All in all, probably worth a rental for casual fans but only Carpenter completists should be handing over serious money until the price falls. Sorry John, but we'll always have The Thing...
* 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 15 years and over
Release Date: 17th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio Descriptive English
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Mamie Gummer, Jared Harris, Mika Boorem
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 88 minutes