- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2017

Two hard-core heroes deliver some heavy-duty action in recent movie releases displayed in the ultra high-definition format.

Dredd  (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated R, 96 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $22.99) — Director Peter Travis’ cinematic tribute to the most famous judge, jury and executioner of Mega-City One returns for home theater-appreciating fans to admire his brutal work in ultra high-definition.

The post-apocalyptic, dystopian thriller never originally caught on with audiences back in 2012, but it has gained a cult status over the years for a gritty faithfulness to its comic book roots and the unrelenting graphic violence.

Keith Urban (Dr. Leonard McCoy in the current “Star Trek” film series) stars as Judge Dredd, a man on a mission to stop a disfigured prostitute-turned-crime-lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her minions from spreading a new drug called Slo-Mo that when taken reduces a user’s perception of time to 1 percent of normal speed.

He gets help from rookie telepath Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), but is it enough to survive waves of gang attacks after being locked in a 200-story ghetto complex?

“Dredd” is the “Dirty Harry” of sci-fi action films and would have given “Deadpool” a run for its money if the blood-soaked romp had been released today.

4K UHD moments: Upscaling from the 2K master to ultra high-definition does not sell the release, but the high-dynamic-range upgrade sure made the film quite a visceral evening of entertainment.

From the first execution by Dredd using a hotshot round from his Lawgiver pistol that caused a criminal’s head to melt in such detail that I almost had to look away from the screen, the movie delivers a visual torture chamber for the eyes.

Expect to see skinned bodies, oozing wounds, eyes gouged out, torsos torn apart by Gatling guns, bloody head butts, immolation (with enemies’ flames reflected in Dredd’s visor), a crushed windpipe, a blown-off appendage, and a steady supply of detailed blood spurts.

Now, better yet, and to balance the grotesque, are the scenes showcasing the effects of the drug in action. Slow motion of water droplets illuminated to look like starbursts breaking apart midair, kaleidoscopes of smoke rings and skin rippling away from the pressure of an explosion are simply stunning in vivid color and contrast.

Best extras: Owners will be pleased to learn that all of the previous extras from the 2012 Blu-ray release have been ported over to the 4K UHD disc.

That means lots of good content for fans of the Judge Dredd mythology to appreciate.

First, a 15-minute documentary on the comic book origins and evolution of Judge Dredd quickly covers its nearly four decades of existence through plenty of great illustrations from the original books and welcomed words from the co-creators Matt Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra.

Additional interviews with legendary artist Brian Bolland and writer Mark Millar, who both worked on the comics over the years, offer a reflection on the political climate back in the 1970s, as well as the creation of this iconic character in British comics.

Next, a nicely illustrated motion comic prequel to the movie offers the origins of Ma-Ma (Madeline in her prostitute days) and her drug of choice Slo-Mo.

Finally, viewers get a 15-minute overview of the slick special effects explained mainly by visual effects art director Neil Miller, visual effects supervisor Jon Thum and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.

They focus on the concepts for Mega-City One, on the new high-speed camera developed for the slow-motion effects, and the new 3-D handheld camera used to cover the ballets of violence.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage  (Paramount Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 107 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $49.99) — Van Diesel’s legendary XXX covert NSA agent revisited screens last year in another successful super-spy blockbuster that moves to the 4K UHD format.

Cajoled out of retirement after the apparent death of a mentor Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the extreme sports and muscle-bound version of James Bond is on a mission to secure a device that can take control of satellites and strategically crash them on earth.

Xander gets help from an eclectic group of pals and experts such as sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), getaway driver Tennyson (Rory McCann), pencil-necked DJ Harvard Zhou (Kris Wu), and tech specialist Rebecca Clearidge (Nina Dobrev), as well as former adversaries and XXX members Xiang (Donnie Yen) and Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone).

The paper-thin plot acts as a placeholder for some high-octane action scenes featuring Xander skiing down the side of a jungle, a motorcycle chase over water, a foot chase on top of moving trucks on a crowded highway, martial-arts mayhem, slow-motion firefights, longboarding down a mountain road and a firefight aboard a crashing plane in zero gravity.

More a version of a junior “Expendables” movie than ever a refined 007outing, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” keeps the killing breezy and the action eye-popping throughout to offer the fan base a wildly entertaining evening.

4K UHD moments: Upscaled from the 2K source, the transfer won’t impress, but it still does display some beautiful, panoramic views of many of its locations — including the Santa Domingo, London and the Philippines while even Detroit’s skyline looks pretty great.

Finer details to admire, using the high-dynamic-range enhancements, include Xander’s complex tattoos, motorcycles riding under massive ocean waves and the martial-arts skills of Mr. Yen, even in dimly lit locations.

However, the Dolby Atmos track delivers a heavy punch to viewers listening in a compatible sound system with every firefight, car crash and explosion feeling like it is taking place in one’s entertainment room.

Best extras: Four featurettes (about an hour long in total) focus on the key themes of the production, with plenty of cast and crew interviews, and cover the exotic locations, new characters, the XXX franchise and the incredible stunt work.

The later is the most interesting, and viewers learn in 15 minutes about some of intense action delivered with the use of motorcycles (dubbed motocross martial arts), long boards and Honk Kong-style fighting.

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