Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, the first film to be shot in the extremely rare 65mm format since Hamlet in 1996, arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning, essentially pristine, 1080p High Definition video presentation.
Bearing three Oscar nominations and a number of awards, it really is no surprise that The Master looks this amazing. But while the quality of the format remains unquestionable, the film itself will divide audiences.
“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world,” utters Lancaster Dodd to a dreary, troubled and emotionally disturbed loner, Freddie Quell. Lancaster, who describes himself as a writer, doctor, nuclear physicist and philosopher, is the Master of the title, a spiritual guru, and leader of a small cult. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has always been engrossed in delivering character studies, whether it is a gritty oilman in There Will Be Blood or the emotionally abused sibling looking for love in Punch Drunk Love. In The Master, he expands his craft and continues to delve into the psyche of his characters. The results here are two fine performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but unfortunately, Anderson’s storytelling has taken a huge hit.
Set in the period just after WWII, The Master, which is loosely based on sci-fi novelist and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, starts off with some of the most powerful imagery and filmmaking of the year. It paints the perfect picture of veteran fighters who have suffered a mental breakdown due to the trauma of war. At the center is Freddie Quell, a violent, emotionally unstable seaman, who is unable to fit back into society. Along his travels from place to place, he meets Lancaster aboard a ship. Not long after, the charismatic fast-talking Lancaster takes Freddie on as a project, convinced that he can cure the misfit of his mental problems. But does Lancaster really have the answers to all of Freddie’s questions? Or is Lancaster simply making up the rules of his beliefs as he goes along? Freddie soon finds himself at the forefront of the cult, another one of the many followers who regard Lancaster as a sage.
The main fault with The Master lies in the fact that Anderson doesn’t commit to too much of anything – not story, not character development, not faith, not spirituality, not science, not anything. Instead, he allows the two great actors (three if you count Amy Adams) to be the center of attention, both delivering memorable scenes in a unmemorable plot. Although the mystery remains interesting, most viewers will leave confused by what they’ve just watched – there is no real conclusion. And while the commitment of both Hoffman and Phoenix to their roles is impressive, like Freddie Quell, at times you’ll feel completely lost at sea.
It’s an important and remarkable work, but Anderson is capable of much better.
The Master comes to Blu-ray featuring 1080p AVC encoded video with an average bitrate of 24.4 Mbps. As I mentioned before, it’s flawless. The sheer grandeur of the 65mm format could never be fully recaptured on a home-theater system. It would probably require 8K resolution to do so. Nevertheless, the Blu-ray is rich in detail and texture, showing off the film’s vivid bronzed colour palette and solid black levels. The period is fully captured in with the wonderful tones and a touch of grain. The image is crisp, sharp and thanks to the immaculate cinematography of Mihai Malaimare Jr., viewers are treated to beautiful, spectacular scenery, making The Master Blu-ray all worth the purchase.
While The Master’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 focuses mainly on filling the front speakers, there aren’t many complaints that can be aimed at the audio department. Vocals are all audible, with the music and dialogue well-balanced. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides the unsettling score, giving the film an unnerving and frightening presence as if we were in Freddie Quell’s warped mind. It’s hard to make a comparison between, say, The Avengers and The Master. The audio for the Master works well for what it is and is completely solid in its presentation.
Unfortunately, the version reviewed here had no extras to offer. However, there is a version (which is most possibly the one that will make it into stores) that offers a few extra tidbits. This includes:
Back Beyond (Deleted Scenes)
Promotional Material (Teasers/Trailers)
Unguided Message (Behind the Scenes)
Let There Be Light (Documentary)
If you loved the film, then The Master is certainly worth owning on Blu-ray. The format only further highlights the greatness of Paul Thomas Anderson. Even after several viewings I’m still caught between whether or not The Master deserves a higher rating. Although I enjoyed it thoroughly and added it to my Blu-ray collection, I can’t help but wonder if deserves the merit. Hmmm…