With all that is going on in the world, with all the strife and in-fighting filling the news and airwaves, sometimes we just need a triumphant, feel-good story where we can sit back and celebrate the goodness of people coming together for a common good. Sully is that movie.
Sully follows the events leading up to and following the “Miracle on the Hudson” that occurred on January 15, 2009 when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed a US Airways flight full of passengers onto the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out both engines shortly after takeoff.
While the entire flight episode lasts just a few minutes, director Clint Eastwood deftly handles the pacing of the story, weaving in Sully’s backstory, various angles of the crash, the dramatic rescue, and the NTSB investigation into the event. Tom Hanks does an absolutely fantastic job of immersing himself in the role of Sully, an ultra-competent, quiet professional who is just out trying to do his best. Hanks inhabits the role so completely that you are able to be completely engrossed in the story. Frankly, it is a bit shocking that he wasn’t nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.
This film was shot on Arri Alexa 65 cameras at 6.5K and then transferred from a 4K Digital Intermediate, so this is true Ultra HD all the way, and the details leap from the screen. In fact, the visuals are so sharp, that there a few moments when the special effects are laid bare and the CGI becomes a bit too obvious in the UHD world. Even though Eastwood uses a fairly muted color palette, there are plenty of times for the HDR video to shine in dark night and low-lit interior scenes.
The disc also features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that I was curious to hear after Eastwood’s last film, American Sniper (my review of Sniper here). While that movie had some intense audio moments, the Atmos mix virtually ignored the ceiling speakers for 99 percent of the film. Fortunately, the sound designer on Sully is with the Atmos program and this soundtrack fully realizes the entire room, with a lot of dynamic moments. Here are some of the best:
Opening Credits – 0:00 to 1:57
Finding the first demo clip in Sully doesn’t take any more effort than just popping in the disc and pressing play. Sully is imagining what could have happened had he reacted differently, and before video even hits the screen the room fills with the sounds of the jet flying overhead, with an explosion that will rattle the room while the credits are rolling. There are screams from passengers and groaning metal as the plane slides into downtown New York, plowing into buildings and exploding. The super sharp 4K image reveals the CGI limitations of the large jet, but the city skyline is filled with detail.
“It’s been my life.” – Chapter 2, 14:00 – 17:05
The scene starts with Sully talking way off screen left, and then his dialog slowly pans into the center speaker. This is a challenging timbre-match test for your speakers as you travel from the left speaker to the center, and you’ll notice any issues between unmatched mains and center. You also see every detail and feature of Hanks’ face. As the scene cuts back to Sully remembering his flying lessons, you get some terrific audio from the biplane as it sails across the sky, panning up overhead. The flashback finishes with an unseen plane passing by overhead, streaking from the left to the right. When we cut back to present, Sully has another vision of what could have been, watching the plane slam into the city. The audio rips through the room, streaking in from high right to low left as we track the crippled plane, with low-end that will show what your subwoofer is truly made of!
“We’re clear all the way to Charlotte.” - Chapter 3, 27:19 – 31:05
This scene starts with a slow pan overhead outside the airport looking down on the exterior of the plane and the picture just hums with detail and clarity. Check the detail in the interior of the cockpit, where you can see every button and gauge, and the fine detail in the fabric of the seats and the actor’s faces. I love this from an audio standpoint because there is so much subtle audio going on filling the room. I’ve flown on dozens of US Air flights, and those gate announcements, the walk down the jet bridge, and the engine whine and air whish through the overhead speakers turns your listening space into every plane flight you’ve ever been on. As they walk down the cabin you’ll notice overhead compartments closing off to the far left and right of the room, seat belts buckling, etc.
“Birds!” - Chapter 4, 31:06 - 38:36
This continues the previous scene, and while it is long, it is so powerful and dramatic that it makes for a terrific demo. There’s some powerful low-end as the jet powers up and takes off, enough to shake you in your seat with a decent sub, followed by some nice long shot views of the city as they fly over the Hudson. When the birds slam into the plane, you feel it ripping through the room. Notice the subtle change in background sounds as the engines wind down and the steady whine disappears into eerie wind noise. Even the air traffic control office is filled with lots of subtle ambient sounds. As you cut back to the helicopter following the plane, the ceiling fills with rotor noise. When the plane slams into the Hudson, a wave of water rushes up and fills the front of the room.
“Hell of a landing, sir!” - Chapter 5, 38:55 - 42:50
Sully runs through Times Square at night trying to clear his head. The bright lights look gorgeous in HDR, jumping off the screen against the deep inky black, which is totally noise free. While Sully runs, the room is filled with audio Sully hears in his head, bouncing around between the different ceiling channels as he doubts himself and his decisions. When he gets to the USS Intrepid, he sees an F4 Phantom, which cuts straight into a flashback of another emergency landing from Sully’s past. This scene is filled with Top Gun-style jets streaking around the room, and tearing across the sky with terrific dynamics that incorporate every speaker for a fully hemispherical presentation. Let it run a bit long to appreciate the vibrant glow of the neon signs in the bar’s window.
“Heads down! Stay down!” - Chapter 5, 44:15 – 50:00
The scene starts with a ferry blasting its horn in the overhead speakers, its engines steadily thrumming out of the sub. Here we get another view of the plane coming in for landing, with various people watching it streak past and toward the water. I challenge you to not get emotional during the crash scene, as the flight crew prepares the cabin for impact with steady shouts of “Brace, brace, brace!” and passengers crying and praying as they anticipate impact. It’s an incredibly intense scene that is basically the nightmare of everyone that has ever flown, with the audio filling the room with the sounds of the water landing. Once the plane hits, the metal groans and creaks as it settles, and then water starts rushing in, the sounds of it filling the room from the sides. When you’re in the cabin, audio is filled with shouts and sounds of the plane settling. As the one passenger swims back toward the plane, notice the sounds of water splashing and lapping up the front wall. As the helicopter crew rushes out, the room fills with the powerful sounds of the beating rotor blades that will cause a good sub to pummel you in your seat.