As I mentioned in my last post (where I covered Academy Award winner for Best Sound, Hacksaw Ridge), I always try and watch the Academy Award winning movies for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing as they often look and sound terrific in a well-designed home theater and make for terrific demo material.
La La Land took Hollywood, as well as much of the country, by storm. This modern take on a golden-age-of-cinema musical brought together Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone for the third time, delivering fresh, but sometimes heavy-handed homages to classic films throughout. Besides winning the Best Cinematography, La La Land also took home statues for Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Actress, and Best Production Design.
First off, make sure you get La La Land on Ultra HD Blu-ray disc. A huge part of this film is its style, look, feel, and use of vibrant color, and these images not only pop but leap off the screen in Ultra HD with HDR. This film is a love letter penned to classic Hollywood, and the director, Damien Chazelle, and cinematographer, Linus Sandgren, took this to heart by shooting the movie entirely on film, specifically 35mm film stock with Panavision lenses. To complete the new-but-classic illusion, they also used a classic Hollywood 2.55:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, as opposed to the modern 2.40:1 ratio typically used. This alone makes La La Land look and feel unlike anything you’ve seen lately. Unfortunately the Digital Intermediate is only 2K resolution, leaving you to wonder how many more fine details (or possibly too much film grain?) could be revealed in a true 4K transfer.
Bold, bright, sumptuous ROYGBIV colors play a prominent role throughout the film, from the costumes and accessories worn by the actors, to the neon lights and other special lighting, to items used as set dressing in various scenes. These visual details made the movie feel incredibly vibrant and alive, creating the dreamy, fairytale world of idealized LA and highlighting the wide color gamut capabilities of Ultra HD.
A bit unusual, the UHD disc contains multiple special features (usually the disc only contains the feature film, with any extras on the Blu-ray only), including a mini documentary about the film’s iconic opening freeway dance number, “Another Day of Sun: They Closed Down a Freeway” as well as “Ryan Gosling: Piano Student,” which chronicles the lengths the actor took to authentically pull off the role of a jazz musician, as well as bookmarks to all of the songs in the film. Check out some of my favorite scenes below, or just sit back and enjoy the entire movie!
Warning: Spoilers follow…
Another Day of Sun: Film’s opening to 4:45
The cacophony of LA freeway traffic fills the room as the scene begins, with honking all around as we get a long panning shot showing four lanes of traffic at a standstill on the freeway. Music on car stereos is heard as the camera pans by, and a girl starts singing, then gets out of her car and breaks into a dance, setting off a chain reaction of other singers and dancers abandoning their vehicles. This scene is shot in one continuous take — more than five minutes long — that puts you right in the middle of the action as the camera weaves through cars with dancers swirling in and out of frame.
That Someone in the Crowd: Chapter 2, 9:30 to 15:15
This scene exemplifies the dynamic color palette used throughout the film and begins with Mia (Emma Stone) and her roommates getting ready for a night out on the town. In this song-and-dance number, pay attention to the saturated colors of the girl’s dresses, especially the incredible shade of blue in Mia’s outfit and the red of her roommate’s. The scene moves to an outdoor pool party with more brightly dressed party goers looking their Hollywood best, including a really great splash of water overhead when the camera dunks underwater and ends with a perfectly timed fireworks show that makes nice use of HDR.
'80s Pool Party: Chapter 4, 26:30 to 29:25
The camera and film love this brightly lit outdoor scene at a pool party, and vibrant bathing suits and suntanned skin fill every frame. Plus, it includes a nice throwback ’80s mix, and you get to see a darling Emma Stone doing a great lip sync of Flock of Seagull’s “I Ran.”
Better Than Being in a Theater! Chapter 7 50:05 to 50:44
This scene is short, and doesn’t offer anything really spectacular in the way of picture or sound, but the dialog is just so great that it demands that you take it in. Please to enjoy!
City of Stars: Chapter 10, 1:08:45 to 1:11:30
The scene starts in soft light and focus, with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) playing piano and singing. He is soon joined by Mia both vocally and at the piano. The lighting and focus sharpens on them as they sit together, both on the precipice of having their dreams realized. Visually, the scene really takes off when the camera cuts to outside their apartment. Everything is now brightly lit, more tightly framed, and razor focused. Notice the shades of color, especially the red stool where Sebastian signs his contract and the sports jackets in the shop where he is being measured.
Start a Fire: Chapter 11 1:13 to 1:16
This scene starts out as a black-level torture test, revealing the strength — or weakness — of your display’s ability to produce a full screen of deep black with a single bright light. We See Sebastian onstage in a black suit, completely black all around him, lit by a single overhead spotlight. Show this on different sets in your shop to test the different local dimming or OLED technologies in action. It also shows the strengths of UHD’s 10-bit video with no banding evident and pristinely clean black levels. It then cuts to Sebastian in a black suit, with black shirt and black tie in an all black background; if your set isn’t properly calibrated, you’ll see nothing. This song also features some of the best use of Dolby Atmos audio in the movie, being mixed like a live performance, with music and crowd noise filling the room along with a big, fat bass line.
The Big Hollywood Finish: Chapter 15, 1:50 to 1:58
We jump ahead five years, and the pair sees each other for presumably the first time in years. Mia is now a big Hollywood star, married with a child, and Sebastian has opened his dream jazz bar. As Seb starts playing piano, we have a fantasy sequence showing what might have been had they made different choices. The entire sequence a gorgeous, fully saturated Technicolor marvel. This is like a reprise of all the songs and scenes in the film, played out idealistically and recapping the movie in classic grand Hollywood style. There’s a big dance number finish, big smiles, and big score, hitting all of the high notes from the film, and the whole bit is a feast for the eyes and ears.