Guardians of the Galaxy (4K Blu-ray) (2014)

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Released 2-Oct-2019

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2014
Running Time 120:50 (Case: 112)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By James Gunn
Studio
Distributor
Marvel
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Dave Bautista
Bradley Cooper
Vin Diesel
Karen Gillan
Lee Pace
Michael Rooker
Josh Brolin
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Tyler Bates


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
German Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Italian Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 2160p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
French
German
Italian
Japanese
Spanish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

    It's undeniable that 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy represents Marvel Studio's most left-field production as of 2015. Adapted from a mostly obscure Marvel series that has existed in various incarnations since the 1970s, this is not so much a superhero movie but rather a science fiction space opera closer to Star Wars than Iron Man. In truth, nobody expected much from Guardians of the Galaxy, and yet it's easily one of the best pictures in the Marvel canon, a riotously irreverent action-comedy set in a richly-textured, fully-realised world teeming with memorable characters and witty, humorous dialogue - the type of playful, jubilant and emotionally satisfying ride that once defined summer blockbusters before punishing grimness and bloated runtimes became so prevalent. Furthermore, it will be easy for non-Marvel fans and even non-comic book fans to engage in this quirky gem.

    Abducted from Earth as an child right after the death of his beloved mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) now roams the galaxy as a self-styled outlaw calling himself Star-Lord. Working for the Ravagers, led by the brutal Yondu (Michael Rooker), Quill happens upon an orb that's worth a mint and contains a source of devastating power. Also determined to retrieve the orb is green alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) who's in league with the incredibly dangerous Ronan (Lee Pace), another party interested in the orb. Meanwhile, goofy bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) - a genetically-engineered raccoon - and Groot (Vin Diesel) - a tree-like humanoid with a limited vocabulary - are out to score big by capturing Quill. Amid the chaos, Quill forms an unlikely alliance with Gamora, Rocket and Groot, who are soon joined by the brute Drax (Dave Bautista). With so many evil forces out to use the orb to rule the galaxy, the reluctant team take it upon themselves to see that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

    Guardians of the Galaxy was in good hands with writer-director James Gunn (who retooled the original script by Nicole Perlman), an underrated indie helmer from the Troma school of filmmaking. Most indie or foreign directors relinquish artistic integrity in their move to Hollywood, but Gunn's quirky fingerprints are all over Guardians, with shrewd humour and delightfully oddball characters within a cleverly-designed narrative which finds time for world-building and character development without ever becoming drab. It all expectedly builds to a trademark Big Noisy Climax that doesn't feel entirely essential to this story, but Gunn never lets the picture out of his control; although the digital effects are often obvious, it's easy to get invested in the battle due to the hugely charismatic cast that we ultimately grow to care about, and because of how intense this final showdown truly is.

    There's plenty of information floating around the margins that fans will recognise as having been set up before or set to pay off later, but it's possible to actually care about it all in this context. While Guardians of the Galaxy is highly amusing, the movie at no point devolves into an utter joke, as there are genuine stakes here. Threats are real, drama feels genuine, and there is emotional depth to the crew - Rocket is distressed about being perceived as an animal, Gamora is desperate to escape the shadows of Ronan and Thanos, Drax is haunted by the death of his family at the hands of Ronan, and Quill will risk his life for his beloved Walkman, which represents his last connection to his time on Earth. There's vivid realism at play here, and Gunn never gives into excess; he maintains a furious pace, and infuses the production with plenty of awe and excitement. It's an ideal way to kick off a fantasy franchise, and it puts the horrendous Star Wars prequels to shame.

    Backed by a customarily generous budget, Guardians of the Galaxy looks and sounds superb, with top-flight digital effects and equally extraordinary make-up work and sets which give this fantasy wonderland a semi-realistic look. Gamora was originally intended to be pulled off with motion capture, but Saldana was instead given an elaborate make-up job. Likewise, Bautista was covered in practical make-up effects to portray Drax. It's a great move in the long run, bestowing the characters with a tangible quality that CGI simply cannot achieve. And while Rocket and Groot were digital they are miracles of motion capture and voice work; it's simply amazing how much dramatic range Gunn manages to get out of them. And as the cherry on top, the picture is scored with a tastefully-selected buffet of songs from the '70s and '80s, amplifying the production's unique and quirky flavour. Guardians of the Galaxy has achieved something rare by providing a hugely effective soundtrack of old tunes, bringing them back into the limelight for a new generation accustomed to autotuning and dubstep. It further underscores the production's old-school sensibility, and it helps that each song is so perfectly integrated into the proceedings. Tyler Bates' original compositions aren't nearly as memorable, but they are effective.

    Emotion eventually sneaks into the proceedings, but it's not distracting or contrived. Rather, it flows organically from this story. Therefore, even the most ostensibly clichéd story beats do not come off as cliché in the slightest; they work. And ultimately, that's what matters in a motion picture of this ilk. You can be forgiven for shedding a few tears as the movie approaches its finish line; personally, I left the cinema with a smile on my face and damp eyes. Who the hell can complain about that?

    The actors are the real high point of the entire enterprise, with absolutely no weak spots in the ensemble to speak of. Chris Pratt is an ideal Star-Lord, mixing equal parts Sterling Archer and Philip J. Fry to play this outlaw. It's amusing to watch Pratt as Quill, who tries so comically hard after his capture to embody a grade-schooler's idea of a badass space hero even when he's hopelessly out of his depth. Saldana is just as good, and Gunn manages to pull a remarkable performance out of wrestler Bautista, who's a comedic instrument of blunt force to be reckoned with. Diesel is about as good as can be expected for a character who says the same few words over and over again, while Cooper gives real spark and spunk to Rocket.

    Ronan has been branded as an unmemorable villain by some, but he's easily one of the more successful bad guys we've seen in the Marvel canon (certainly better than Jeff Bridges in Iron Man or the notoriously vanilla antagonists in Thor: The Dark World). As Ronan, Lee Pace is authoritative and menacing. We are also given our first glimpse of Josh Brolin as Thanos, and it is awesome. Filling out the supporting cast, there's the underrated Michael Rooker who's an absolute riot as Yondu, while John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, and even Glenn Close make appearances.

    Guardians of the Galaxy is not only hugely entertaining viewing - it's also incredibly rewarding. Its combination of well-judged classic tunes, a perfect cast and unforced emotion just comes together amazingly well, and its replay value is through the roof. In fact, if anything, the flick improves with repeat viewings. It's a fun, hearty afternoon at the movies for all ages, and it is highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Arriving as part of the last batch of Marvel Cinematic Universe 4K catalogue titles (along with Doctor Strange and Ant-Man), Guardians of the Galaxy comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 2160p, HEVC/H.265-encoded transfer framed at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (there is no expansion of the aspect ratio for the IMAX scenes). Guardians of the Galaxy was shot digitally with Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras at 2.8K resolution, and (unsurprisingly) completed with a 2K digital intermediate - therefore, this Ultra HD presentation represents an upscale of the digital source. The two-hour picture gets an entire BD-66 to itself, resulting in a frequently healthy video bitrate (usually ranging between 40-50 Mbps) that falls in line with other Marvel/Disney titles. On 4K Blu-ray, Guardians of the Galaxy isn't a top-tier title, but the encode provides an appreciable and worthwhile upgrade over the regular 1080p Blu-ray: firmer textures, more vibrant colours, better definition, and superior highlights. Considering that James Gunn was instrumental in forcing Disney to jump on the 4K bandwagon, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being Disney's first 4K title, this is a particularly exciting upgrade. (How funny - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was Disney/Marvel's first 4K title, and Guardians of the Galaxy is among the last MCU titles to see a 4K upgrade.)

    The improved tangibility of this UHD transfer is stunning from time to time. The finer textures of Peter's Walkman are effortlessly brought out, for example, while Peter's leather jacket also looks texturally firmer. These qualities translate over the remainder of the movie, particularly the intricate make-up on Gamora, Drax, Ronan, Yondu, and Nebula. Thanks to the improved encoding and resolution the wider shots see the most noticeable improvement over the regular Blu-ray, which is still no slouch for a 2014 Blu-ray release. Close-ups reveal exceptional definition and sharp refinement on Peter's facial hair, and the encode brings out every last bit of fine detail that the source will give up. Look at the close-ups of Yondu and The Broker during the scene at the 47-minute mark; the transfer looks pristine, sharply rendering the facial hair and make-up. This is actually the first time in the MCU that Josh Brolin played Thanos through motion capture. The CGI design is noticeably different compared to his appearance in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, particularly in terms of his skin colour, but the digital effects still stands up to the added scrutiny of Ultra HD. The amount of detail on the digitally-created Groot is likewise astonishing at times. However, as with virtually every other MCU title on 4K, it does look as if Disney's remastering team did some minor de-noising, as there is some slight smoothness to the image as a whole, but it will only be noticeable to discerning videophiles viewing on large TVs. Indeed, the presentation looks texturally precise and borderline perfect on my 55" TV, but my 65" television revealed some limitations. However, this is a very slight knock against the otherwise sharp and richly-detailed presentation - I doubt the 2K source could look much better without going back to the original source plates and performing the compositing again, at higher resolutions (which will never happen).

    As ever, it's the High Dynamic Range enhancement which really helps to elevate this UHD transfer above the Blu-ray. And, as ever, it's only encoded in HDR10, while the Dolby Vision-enhanced presentation is saved for the movie's Disney+ stream. This is another case of HDR subtly enhancing the image, as opposed to face-melting HDR that some people have become accustomed to expect. For instance, the greenery behind Nova Prime at the 20-minute mark is healthier and lusher, the palette ably retains primary colours (such as Peter's red jacket and Gamora's green skin) which stand out all the more in darker conditions, and skin tones remain accurate as opposed to washed-out or overcooked. Other expected improvements are afforded by the HDR grade, with firmer specular detail on skies and harsh light sources (see any external shot in space), while there's more intensity to laser blasts, explosions, fires, starships, and even the orange lights on the Nova Corps' outfits. The Knowhere exteriors also look bolder, thanks to the added luminance possible by UHD. Just see a beat at the 57-minute mark, when Drax commandeers some communication equipment. Additionally, the vibrant images of the cosmos, such as in space outside Knowhere, are more colourful with HDR enhancement, and the black levels are improved as well. When Peter walks into the structure on Morag in the opening title sequence, his silhouette is inkier and truer, while improved contrast also gives this one some superior depth. This is especially noticeable in scenes which show the depths of space.

    In addition, the HDR grade brings out all the highlights possible, which again augments the tangibility of the make-up and creatures. It's worth pointing out that the HDR grade results in scenes looking noticeably dimmer than the Blu-ray (such as Peter and Gamora sharing a moment on Knowhere), which might displease some viewers, but this never results in any noticeable black crush. On that note, in terms of Disney's encode, I noticed some minor and fleeting banding in the smoke at the beginning of the film, as the ship hovers above child Peter outside the hospital. Other than that, however, it's smooth sailing - no aliasing or macroblocking to blemish the 4K transfer. Without standing out as especially remarkable or perfect, Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid catalogue 4K presentation which delivers on expectations. And as with every other MCU 4K title, the regular Blu-ray is now useless to me, as the UHD disc is now my default go-to.

    An array of subtitle options are available, including English SDH. Said English track is well-formatted and easy to read, without any encoding issues or spelling errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    While reviewing the standard Blu-ray, I gave top marks to the disc's DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack, but I was a bit too hasty there. Looking back, it does have its shortcomings, especially compared to other titles of a similar type (from studios other than Disney). For this 4K Blu-ray, Disney presents Guardians of the Galaxy in Dolby Atmos, with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core. As ever, you'll need to raise the volume a bit higher than usual listening levels, and the track comes up a bit short in terms of impact and dynamic range - it sounds a bit compressed on the whole. Dialogue is a bit soft at times, some of the major sound effects lack low-frequency effects, and the subwoofer is a bit underused. The surround channels also aren't active enough, though separation and panning effects are evident whenever ships fly around. Still, at least there's no hissing, crackling, drop-outs or sync issues, even when you raise the volume to hear the track better. Indeed, music - both Tyler Bates' original score as well as the selection of retro tunes - come through with ideal clarity, and never overwhelm the dialogue. When the Atmos track is on, there is sufficient impact to blasts and explosions, but other moments are less impressive, and the dynamics still feel undeservedly squished more often than not.

    It's not terrible, but it's not necessarily great, either - Guardians of the Galaxy's Dolby Atmos track is merely fine. I mean, during the "Cherry Bomb" montage at the 80-minute mark, the scene is strictly front-centred, without even the most perfunctory of surround activity (aside from a PA announcement) - it sounds like a 2.0 stereo track. The Atmos mix is a step up over the Blu-ray's 7.1 track, thanks to the added channels, but I just know that Disney is capable of something better.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras on the 4K disc, and the set is single-disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is the same disc worldwide. The only meaningful difference is the inclusion of the regular Blu-ray for overseas editions, which contains extras. If you already own the movie on Blu-ray, you can hang onto that disc and buy this 4K-only set. Otherwise, you're probably better off importing to get the complete set.

Summary

    Guardians of the Galaxy was a box office dark horse, taking in more money than anyone could have reasonably predicted, and its critical reception was incredibly positive. Such success was deserved. I love this movie; it is pure cinematic joy, and it's close to my heart. Even in 2020, it's one of my top 5 favourite MCU films.

    Disney's much-anticipated 4K Ultra HD upgrade provides the expected improvements over the regular Blu-ray, with firmer textures and better colours. The Atmos mix is a bit underwhelming, but it's not exactly terrible, and it's still serviceable. The 4K, meanwhile, comes with no extras, as the set is 4K-only. This is a recommended upgrade.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Monday, February 10, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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