- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A pair of recently released movies on the ultra high-definition format highlights unstoppable entities, one human and one extraterrestrial, looking to survive.

Snitch (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 112 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $22.99) — A pumped-up Dwayne Johnson delivered one of his more complex performances as a distressed father in a 2013 crime drama rereleased on the 4K UHD format.

Based on a true story about a dad’s dangerous and Herculean effort to get his estranged son (Rafi Gavron) released from prison after a mandatory minimum drug law conviction, the story takes viewers on a near improbable journey.

Specifically, Pop’s plan involves getting a political power-hungry U.S. state’s attorney (Susan Sarandon) to help by allowing him to snitch on drug dealers to reduce his son’s sentence.

Using his trucking business to transport drugs and getting an ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal) to introduce him to drug lords (Michael K. Williams and Benjamin Bratt) works, but a DEA agent (Barry Pepper) and the attorney keep expanding his life-threatening assignment.

The result often keeps viewers’ attention, thanks to a fantastic ensemble cast, but some unrealistic plot points, lack of sympathy for his stupid kid and a too-tidy, happily-ever-after ending hurts the final result.

4K UHD in action: The ultra high-definition upscale from a 2K source offers plenty of dynamic detail to admire, including the glossy parts on big rig trucks, water drops on the hood of a Ram pickup, grass reflecting off an aluminum grill, actors’ super white teeth and tears welling up under the eyelashes of Mr. Johnson

However, its urban, overcast locations, drab interior character interactions and muted cinematographic choices by Dana Gonzales do not always showcase the ultra high-definition experience.

Still, even though the visuals often looks like a weekly television series shot on digital video, those who have never seen “Snitch” will appreciate the results.

Best extras: Owners almost get too much information on “Snitch,” all culled from the 2013 Blu-ray release and ported to the 4K Ultra HD disc.

First, director Ric Roman Waugh and editor Jonathan Chibnall offer an optional commentary track dominated by Mr. Waugh. It contains many nuggets of information on story development and character motivations, politely wedged between the movie dialogue. I could have used more expert analysis on the actual shooting of the film.

Next, a 50-minute documentary on the making of the film features interviews from the principal cast and crew with a bit too much complimenting going around for my tastes.

Mr. Waugh, a very serious guy, also pipes in and discusses how he wanted to make a 1970s action film dealing with real people, real issues and a family in crisis in Middle America. He succeeded.

Life (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 103 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $45.99) — A team of not-too-bright researchers stranded on the International Space Station must survive against an evolving extraterrestrial, parasitic life-form in director Daniel Espinosa’s underwhelming sci-fi flick, now available on ultra high-definition.

Viewers looking for the next “Alien” will be disappointed with this story, which is short on suspense and ultimately devolves into a not-so-scary monster movie.

An international cast of victims is led by Jake Gyllenhaal as an American medical officer, Rebecca Ferguson as a British, quarantine officer, Hiroyuki Sanada as a Japanese pilot, Ariyon Bakare as a British biologist, and Olga Dihovichnaya as the Russian commander.

Ryan Reynolds stops by as an American systems engineer on the station and temporarily lends some humor to the disastrous proceedings.

Despite some fantastic simulations of existing in space and the challenges of zero gravity, a too-obvious, sucker-punch ending ultimately dooms the survival horror film.

However, the most intriguing plot premise, concocted by Spider-Man fans and completely discredited by Sony, is that the organism (nicknamed Calvin) is actually one of the web slinger’s arch enemies, the symbiotic entity Venom. Now that would have engaged this comic book geek.

4K UHD in action: Upscaled to Ultra HD from a reported 3.2K master format, the movie shines during any of the space walk scenes. Expect stunning details especially when examining earth’s orangish glow of city lights and cloud formations bubbling up from the planet or the space station’s golden solar panels reflecting the sun’s glare into the camera.

However, the aggressive life-form, the real star of the movie, shares an equal spotlight for beauty when visually appreciating its evolution.

First, beginning as a microscopic single cell collected from a Mars soil sample (inspect the fine cilia on the cell wall), it continues to grow into a multiple-celled organism with loads of stunning detail as its tiny tentacles form appendages and a skeletal-shaped structure like a coral reef formation.

It ultimately transforms into a sometimes-translucent entity resembling both a starfish and squid as it scampers around the ship looking for victims.

Notable extras: Viewers must access the Blu-ray version of the film to find a disappointing trio of short featurettes (roughly 22 minutes long in total).

Most intriguing is the segment covering the creation of Calvin using a biological basis as explained by medical space specialist Dr. Kevin Fong, geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford and special-effects supervisors.

Additionally, fans get three minutes of astronaut video diaries shot from the fictional space station that cover specialists talking about their jobs and a biologist in a panic at the loss of Calvin.

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