Wrestler, The (UK - BD RB)
Chris Gould takes a look at the new BD release of the recent Mickey Rourke film
Back in the 80s, Robin 'Randy the Ram' Ramzinski (Mickey Rourke) was a professional wrestler with a glittering career. Now, twenty years later, he ekes out a meagre living at a grocery store and spends his weekends performing for small crowds of die-hard wrestling fans in high school gyms and community centres around New Jersey. Divorced from his wife and estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), Randy is unable to sustain any meaningful relationships and lives for the thrill of the ring and the adoration of the crowd. However, after a heart attack forces him into retirement he loses his sense of identity and is forced to re-evaluate his life. He tries to reconnect with his daughter and attempts to romance an ageing stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), but in spite of this new-found hope Randy can't forget his wrestling days and the lure of the squared-circle could prove fatally hard to resist.
The Wrestler is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of around 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) and if my (admittedly shaky) memory serves me, it looks extremely close to the theatrical presentation. The film was shot in Super 16 and this has resulted in grainier looking picture than most 35mm films. Now I know many people hate grain, but in this instance it actually serves the film very well by lending a 'documentary' style to the picture that would have been absent if it had been shot on 35mm or greater. In fact, a little bit of research reveals that Super 16 has a comparable resolution to high definition, so the picture is still very pleasing even with the grain. Colour rendition is accurate (if intentionally washed out), blacks are deep with good shadow detail, and the image is also very clean with no obvious film or digital artefacts (grain isn't an artefact, it's part of the image). It may not be everyone's idea of a good looking film, but I really like The Wrestler's visual style and this transfer does a great job of maintaining its integrity.
Optimum delivers an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that is constantly engaging from the moment the opening credits appear. Although there are numerous intimate, dialogue-heavy moments throughout, a lot of the runtime is dedicated to the rockin' '80s soundtrack and ambient effects. These largely consist of crowd noises, which are incredibly atmospheric and really draw the listener into the various wrestling matches. However, even the quiet moments have a great deal of atmosphere thanks to some judicious use of environmental effects. Dialogue is well placed within the mix and is never overshadowed by the effects. Bass is also surprisingly weighty during the bouts of squared-circle action, with every body slam registering a satisfying thump. While it won't push your system to its absolute limits—simply because the nature of the film doesn't lend itself to the sort of incredibly dynamic sound design found in most blockbusters—it is a great representation of the source material and I actually found it superior to the aural experience in my local cinema (but it's a run-down Cineworld, so that's not hard).
Firstly, it may come as a surprise to Optimum, but I do not want to sit through five minutes of forced trailers before I can even get to the main menu of a film! Furthermore, I do not then want to have to sit through another promotional spot for Sky Television, a service I neither want nor require. If this was a rental disc it could almost be overlooked, but including this sort of advertising on a retail disc is unforgivable if you're going to prevent viewers from skipping. I'm just glad my player has a few fast forward speeds. Anyway, let's move on to the bonus material.
Within the Ring (42:42 SD): This is a fairly comprehensive making of documentary that includes plenty of interview footage with Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Rourke and other members of the cast and crew. The documentary covers diverse topics such as the development of the story idea into a script, casting, the filming and so on. Whereas most 'making of' documentaries now seem to be little more than promotional fluff pieces, 'Within the Ring' is actually quite an informative and in-depth document of the process.
Interview with Mickey Rourke (15:45 SD): This short interview deals with Rourke's reasons for getting involved with the project (he jokingly says 'money'), his first impression of the script, his character's arc, the physical element of the role and so forth. Rourke is actually very candid about his past troubles, which makes for a more interesting interview than usual. The actor seems to be genuinely grateful for his 'second chance' and you have to respect him for having the strength to admit his failings.
Theatrical Trailer (02:27 HD): The film's theatrical trailer is available in full 1080/24p with accompanying two-channel LPCM audio. I've never really been one for trailers when I can watch the actual film, but it's nice that it has been included anyway.
The Wrestler is a touching, but ultimately tragic story with an incredibly strong central performance by Mickey Rourke and a great supporting turn by Marisa Tomei. The intimate style of filmmaking is such that at times it almost feels like you're watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which really humanises the characters. It makes for a welcome change of pace and style from Aronofsky's previous body of work, and it is certainly more accessible than The Fountain (which is good news for unsophisticated philistines like me). A quick look at his IMDb page reveals that his next project is going to be a remake of RoboCop (of all things), so you can't accuse him of playing it safe.
So, is the Blu-ray worth your money? Although the extras are pretty thin on the ground, the quality is a little better than the average promotional material that accompanies most major studio releases, so it can be forgiven. Most importantly, the audio-visual quality is more than up to snuff, and as long as you realise that the grain is intentional and not a flaw with the transfer you should be more than happy with Optimum's presentation of The Wrestler. Fans should have no hesitation in picking this one up and if you haven't yet seen the film this will make for a great introduction.
* Note: The above images 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: 1st June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Within the Ring, Interview with Mickey Rourke, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Length: 109 minutes
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