- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2017

A monstrous fantasy film directed by Zhang Yimou and co-starring China’s legendary wonder of the world gets a welcomed ultra high-definition release after its underwhelming theatrical performance earlier this year.

Please check logic and story analysis at the door before diving into The Great Wall (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated R, 103 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $44.98), a popcorn-munching thrill ride set in the 11th century Son dynasty.

The tale finds a pair of mercenaries (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal) in search of gunpowder on the Asian continent. They end up helping to defend China against an organized army of creatures called the Taotei, a species more potent than an army of swarming orcs.

With variations that look like the Nexus (a large cat-like creature that tried to eat Padme Amidala) from the “Star Wars” galaxy and Wargs (wolf-like creatures) from “The Lord of the Rings” universe), they have attacked the wall for 20 centuries, returning every 60 years to try and break through and consume the human race.

Let’s ignore Mr. Damon’s bizarre accent that waffles between a Spanish, Irish, British and American and focus on some of a few of the outrageous techniques used to hold off the Taotei that make the movie shine.

At one point, a group of female soldiers from the Crane Corps jumps off of the sides of the wall like diving into a pool and near helplessly poking at the beasts with large spears. Note to self, a beautiful looking idea but a very quick way to die.

Or, I was smitten by the soldiers using harpoons like fishing poles to fire hooks into the creatures and drag them up the wall, or the use of spinning blades popping out of the wall that cut the beats in half with florescent green blood spewing all over the screen.

Let’s also ignore why the commanders do not just use the massive supple of gunpowder available to them to build potent bombs. They do later in the movie, as more of a last stand, but why sacrifice so much life before?

Alas, “The Great Wall” had narrative issues, but still offers some stunning battles and creative tactical strategies.

4K UHD moments: Digitally transferred to the 2160p format from an original 4K master and enhanced through high-dynamic-range technology, as one might expect, “The Great Wall” looks fantastic on supported home theater systems.

From the very beginning, the fine detail of the ornate, multicolored armor and helmets worn by the Chinese generals and soldiers pops from the screen as the metal flaking of blues, reds, purples and yellows from each protective piece nearly mesmerize the eyes.

Besides the beautiful views of the computer-generated wall and the expansive orangish mountainous landscapes it rolls across, the resolution allows for such sharpness that on screen 65 inches and above, it may induce vertigo during many of the shots looking up and down the sides of the massive structure.

Highlights of the transfer also include a scene featuring a collection of Illuminated paper balloons flying over the darkening sky that is simply “Fantasia” cool to observe.

And, a final confrontation with the beasts in an oddly situated, massive stained-glass pagoda in the Imperial City showcases the vivid color potential of high-dynamic range in action.

Now, the fault of such an immaculate transfer is the special effects must be near flawless and perfectly integrated into the scenes. Only occasionally is the magic slightly ruined as with the Taotei takes on a slightly cartoonish tone, especially during close-up attacks.

Best extras: Viewers will need to pop in the Blu-ray version of the film to find a 9-minute look at three key battle scenes spotlighting massive crossbows, harpoon ballistas, large spinning blades and trebuchets shooting flaming cannonballs.

Each are dissected with words from the director, stunt coordinator Buster Reeves, and Weta Workshop creator Joe Dunkley and production designer Gordon Sim.

Also worth a look are a collection of five, brief featurettes (averaging 3 minutes each) that cover visual effects, production design, costume design and weapons all with interviews with the actors and crew.

Note: My Samsung 4K UHD player (model UBD-K8500) would not play the Blu-ray version of the film despite my firmware being up to date. This also happened when trying to load another new Universal Studios Blu-ray in the player. I had to use a handy Xbox One to watch the features.

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