The Movie (5/5)
I was 14 years old when Chesley Sullenberger took his plane into the Hudson River, saving 155 lives and causing a national commotion in which he went through a massive media junket and was hailed by all as a hero. I have never lived in New York City, so in 2009 went it occurred, it was like a tiny blip on my radar. 7 years later, when Clint Eastwood’s Sully hit theaters this past year, I passed on it in theaters, as I was unsure whether I would be able to make a connection with the events that it depicted, and I was also really busy with the start of a fresh semester of undergraduate studies. Now, with its release to home video, I can honestly say missing out on Sully on the big screen was probably one of my bigger movie-related mistakes of the year.
Sully tells the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot of the passenger plane that, when struck by an oncoming flock of birds, lost both of its engines and began to rapidly lose altitude. As a result of the sudden loss of propulsion, Sullenberger, with the help of his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, must take quick and desperate action in order to land the plane on the Hudson River in to save the lives of its crew and 155 passengers. Once the passengers and crew are rescued, Sully is faced with a grim reality as he grapples with the impacts the crash landing has on his career, his family, and his own psyche as he’s run through an antagonistic National Transit Safety Board investigation, and the trials and tribulations associated with being in the media spotlight.
Sully is a quietly burning, but intense film that is less of a biopic, and more of a celebration and examination of our humanity. Under the watchful eye of veteran Hollywood director and resident cranky old man Clint Eastwood, the movie explores a number themes, most importantly our ability as a species to come together under crises, and the impact such a traumatic event has on the mind of the afflicted. Running a brisk 96 minutes, there are really only two distinct halves of the film; the crash itself, and its surrounding events, and Sully versus the NTSB, in which he must prove to the United States Government that he made the right choice in his decision to make for the water. Each of these halves are constructed brilliantly, guided by another career highlight for lead actor Tom Hanks.
These two halves don’t exist in distinct ends of the film, but rather mix together through a creative use of flashbacks for the crash, interwoven into Sully’s experience with the NTSB. The crash itself is executed with poise and patience, establishing a small set of characters whose backgrounds are briefly established in order to anchor the sequence to their emotions and reactions. With the help of a brilliant script, and a reserved use of CGI special effects to recreate the flight trapping us within the plane, you really feel like you’re part of the experience. Although brief exteriors are used to show the movement of the plane into the water, we smartly get a backseat pass to the crash, and follow the few established characters as they journey out onto the cold Hudson River and eventually into the hands of the coast guard and the NYPD to safety on the shores of the river.
The other half of the the film looks introspectively into how Sully’s mind handled the crash, and its bureaucratic riddled aftermath. During these portions of the film, we watch as our lead struggles with nightmares related to the craft, and an overall sense of hopelessness as he faces the potential decimation of his career at the hands of the NTSB hearing regarding his crash. We get to watch as reality painfully resumes after the adrenaline high of the crash, in which the NTSB representatives do everything they can to try and convince us that Sully’s made the wrong decision and recklessly endangered his plane. Although established history spoils the ending for us, the way Eastwood and his crew craft the investigation makes for an engaging courtroom experience, one which lacks the baggage and outlandish dramatics that usually follow suit for such a sequence in films.
Sully is a perfectly paced, level headed examination of a near-tragic experience whose avoidance hinged on the performance of a single, incredible man, and the aftermath that followed. It uses its 96 minutes to illustrate the power we hold as a species to come together in the face of certain danger, as well as highlight the triumph of Sullenberger and his co-pilot’s accomplishments at the helm of Flight 1549. It occasionally succumbs to dramatic license, with a slightly over the top vilification of the NTSB, but it’s a flaw that is easy to look past, due in part to an excellent lead performance by Tom Hanks, a powerful yet quiet score composed by Christian Jacob, and the overall excellence that Clint Eastwood and his team bring to the production as a crew.
The Video (Blu-ray: 5/5, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray: 4/5)
Sully was photographed using the Arri Alexa 65, as well as the Arri Alexa 65 IMAX modified camera using Hasselblad 65 lenses in native 6.5K resolution mode. The film was then finished in 4K resolution, and presented in standard theaters cropped to the 2.35:1, and cropped to 1.90:1 aspect ratio for Digital IMAX theater presentations. Both the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and standard Blu-ray utilize the 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation, in 2160p and 1080p resolutions respectively.
Sourced from a 4K digital intermediate, Sully looks nearly picture perfect in 1080p on the standard Blu-ray. Close-ups and mid shots reveal excellent, sharp detail and texture, especially in the concerned faces of the passengers and pilots of flight 1549. Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern use the scope frame effectively as wide shots capture the essence of the grandeur of New York City, both during the crash sequences, and later during sequences in which Sully is out and about in the city while waiting for the hearing to conclude. Color pushes into the grey and blue spectrum more often than not, which makes for a rather cold, but appropriate color palette for the middle of January. Visual noise is hardly noticeable, if at all present in this presentation of the film.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray:
Sourced from the identical 4K digital intermediate as the standard Blu-ray, Sully in HDR-enhanced 4K resolution makes for a viewing experience that is at times a remarkable improvement over its 1080p presentation, but also one that reveals some interesting flaws that may urk those who watch closely. Right away, the HDR enhancements make for an improved experience, as blacks are impressively deep when compared to the standard Blu-ray, making those nighttime sequences in New York City that much more lifelike. On top of that, skin tones are less exaggerated, and do a much better job of approximating the variety and complexities of human skin. Detail is improved, especially during the wider shots of the plane flying over the Hudson, and in close-ups, revealing every last pore of some of our frightened passengers. As for the issues, the 4K presentation reveals some moderately distracting distortion/banding in the digital skylines used throughout the movie, and digital noise, especially during effects sequences is incredibly prominent. Under the lens of the 4K microscope, I guess a few more seams reveal themselves which slightly diminish the experience.
The Audio (5/5)
Both the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray feature an identical Dolby Atmos sound presentation. For review purposes, the film was listened to in a standard 5.1 surround sound environment.
While Sully sometimes is a rather quiet, introspective feature, when things get intense, you can tell someone told the sound designers to go nuts. Man, this track is busy, and at times, fiercely impressive with its use of subwoofer activity to recreate the feeling of being on a moving plane. Surround activity is fairly impressive, opening up to make you feel like you’re in a room full of NTSB representatives, and dialogue often reflects the speaking character’s position in the frame. On multiple occasions, dialogue naturally shifted across the 3 channel front, making for a more engaging audio experience. I quite enjoyed Sully’s sound design, which is presented through a well crafted Dolby Atmos track.
Special Features/Packaging (x/5)
Sully has been released to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in the standard black case, with accompanying slipcover. Both the slipcover and case feature mostly identical artwork. The front artwork features Tom Hanks as Sully, who is placed over the plane in a post-crash state, separated by the film’s title. Part of the left wing of the plane is annoyingly covered by an HDR bit, which is not a stick, unlike the Digital Copy bit. The back of the slipcover features a picture of Sully in the cockpit at the top of the design, with 4 character shots beneath him, accompanied by a paragraph about the film, a list of features, an Ultra HD banner, a large paragraph of digital streaming information, and technical specs for the release. The back of the case features the same exact thing, but minus the picture of Sully at the top, to make room for a UPC code. Apparently that requires them to rearrange the entire design, something I’ve noticed recently with these 4K releases.
Anyways, onto the features:
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray:
None – there is one bonus however, and that is that there are no trailers included on this disc!
Moment by Moment: Averting Disaster on the Hudson – a 15 minute feature in which the actual air traffic controller, and pilots of the plane recount the events of the plane crash as it happened in 2009.
Sully Sullenberger: The Man Behind the Miracle – a 20 minute feature which details the life of Chesley Sullenberger, and his history as a pilot, as well as various events that led to his piloting of flight 1549 and afterwards. Essentially a pseudo-documentary on his life.
Neck Deep in the Hudson: Shooting Sully – a 20 minute feature in which the origins of the film are explored, as well as the film’s production, featuring much of the film’s cast and crew.
Overall, Sully has a pretty light set of features, but each one is fairly meaty in length and depth. The packaging is pretty nice, but I just wish that HDR logo has just a sticker. Warner has done this with with all of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays I’ve come across so far, and it drives me nuts!
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Codec: AVC(Blu-ray), HEVC (4K UHD)
Resolution: 1080p(Blu-ray), 2160p(4K UHD)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Dolby Atmos (English)
Dolby Digital 5.1 ( English Descriptive, English, French, Castilian and Latin Spanish)
Runtime: 96 minutes
Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, and the entire creative crew behind Sully turned what was a little blip on 14 year old me’s radar into a massive celebration of the human spirit, as it shows the hardworking people of New York City coming together to help save the people of flight 1549. That, coupled with a fantastic introspective look at how Sully faced the aftermath of the event makes for an incredibly compelling movie, one of the year’s best in my books, and one that I’m sad I missed in theaters. Warner has handled the home video with finesse, producing a mostly excellent pair of 1080p and 2160p video transfers, each one utilizes a fantastic Dolby Atmos mix. Add to that a decent packaging job for the 4K release, and a couple of meaty features, and you have yourself a very compelling home video release. Recommended.