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Deepwater Horizon Ultra HD-Blu-ray Review

This is the second pairing between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, a team that is carving out quite a niche by focusing on recreating actual events for the big screen. Here they tackle what happened back in 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon exploration platform.

This is the second pairing between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, a team that is carving out quite a niche by focusing on recreating actual events for the big screen. The team’s first outing was the terrific adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor, one of the most accurate portrayals of Special Forces tactics and behavior, and a film that I highly recommend. Berg and Wahlberg recently teamed up again for Patriots Day, a film that covers the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt from several years ago, which is in theaters now.

Here they tackle what happened back in 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon exploration platform. The film focuses on the events that led up to the uncontrollable blowout on the DH, which created the largest manmade disaster in U.S. history, and follows the heroic actions of the crew to evacuate and save as many lives as possible.

Even though this 4K transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, images are clean, sharp, and detailed. There are also many low-lit scenes aboard the rig that really show off the capabilities of High Dynamic Range. Right from the film’s opening shot, you can appreciate the high bit depth of the UHD disc as the camera slowly pans down to the ocean floor. The image remains clean and stable, with no banding or artifacts in the image, as the submersible lowers to the bottom of the ocean, illuminating the ocean’s murky depths. This is one of the most underappreciated areas of UHD, in my opinion: its ability to deliver such a clean, noise-free image.

Sonically, this disc’s Dolby Atmos mix is absolute reference quality. There is immense, wall-flexing bass, constant use of the overhead height channels, strong aggressive audio pans, and subtle atmospheric audio that sets the stage in every scene. You could pretty much pop the disc in, skip to the one-hour mark, and then just let it play for some awesome demo fodder. But, here are some of my favorite scenes from the film that really highlight the best moments.

“That was a bird strike!” – Chapter 3, 12:30 to 15:00
The scene starts in a lobby, with office noises in the background, but when they walk out toward a helicopter, the room becomes a helipad, with audio shifting nicely to track the character’s onscreen PoV. While they are aboard the chopper, the room is filled with the steady hum and whine of the engine and blades turning overhead, the dialog locked and intelligible in the center. At about 14:50, the helicopter hits a bird that slams into the room high up on the wall, left of center, and then wings back through the room. It’s sudden and jarring, and a great use of audio to capture the sudden moment, and I bet you’ll get more than one person to jump if you play it near reference volume.

“Got a lot of pipe to pull” – Chapter 4, 20:00 – 21:40
Nearly every interior scene is filled with subtle background and distant sounds of the rig. Hums, buzzes, clicks, beeps… all of it happening in the background to establish you on the rig with the Deepwater crew. In this scene outside on the rig, you get the sounds of machines locking and moving into place, with tons of little atmospherics that surround and fill the room, really putting you on the rig. You can also appreciate the fine detail in all the drilling equipment and gear, and even in Wahlberg’s shirt.

“Biggest damn kick I ever seen” – Chapter 8, 51 – 58:10

The crew starts pulling back the drill and pumping out the mud when everything goes sideways. There’s deep rumbling as the mud starts flowing back up the drill line, when it explodes in a geyser that sprays mud, rock, and water all over the room. The water rushes and splashes around, a steady geyser jetting up the front wall. In between the mayhem, notice the vibrant reds of the worker’s uniforms, especially contrasted with the mud-covered employees out on the deck. At 53:50, you pan outside and up the rig, and travel to the ocean’s floor, the rumblings and waves swirling and rocking around the room. At 56:30, glass starts shattering all around the control room, letting you clearly pinpoint each window’s location. After the mud-covered seagulls fly around in the confined space, the film cuts back into the pumping room, and you can hear sounds covering every inch of the 360-degree space surrounding the listening position.

“We’ve got a gas alarm” – Chapter 10, 58:10 – 1:01:15
The rig continues tearing itself apart, and with a massive gas leak, really bad things are about to happen. If anything is more Atmos-friendly than a rainstorm, it is a raging conflagration. Starting the scene a bit early allows the tension to build, and there is plenty to heighten the tension and enjoy sonically. A massive explosion quickly rips through the rig, sending debris tearing through the listening room. Fire billows and roars up the side walls and overhead, smothering you in the inferno. At 1:00:40, the rig explodes like an atomic bomb. Pay attention to the video at the end of the scene as the HDR does a terrific job of capturing the inky black of the night sky surrounding the rig while pumping out tons of light for the super bright red of the flames.

“Evacuation procedures In effect” – Chapter 10, 1:02:50 – 1:05

As Wahlberg digs himself out of the rubble, notice the sounds of falling debris that happen around the room. The moaning and creaking of metal overhead, the constant rustling of the rig, warning sirens, announcements on the PA, glass breaking… Sonically, this scene has so much going on, it’s like an atmospheric smorgasbord that puts you right in the room with him as he works his way through the Deepwater, and shows what next-generation surround sound is all about in roughly 2 minutes.

“We’ve got to get to the boats” – Chapter 13, 1:18:42 – 1:27:40
This is a longish scene that ends well, but it includes plenty of drama and excitement. Destruction is in full effect as fire and explosions continue to rock the rig, and the Deepwater crew is racing to abandon. Throughout the scene, fireballs burst and hurl into the room, jets of flames rush past your head, explosions send shrapnel ripping through the room, and the entire listening space becomes a raging inferno. As they try to turn and stabilize the rig, massive notes fill the room, producing all the subsonics of the straining and groaning metal, followed by plenty of bass-filled explosions. When Wahlberg enters the water at the end you get some great “submerged audio,” as water bubbles up and laps up and over the ceiling.