My comments from the Picture Quality tier thread on the region-free U.K. Blu-ray...North Face (UK import)
recommendation: Tier 1.75
Occasionally a movie surprises in crafting compelling human drama out of a subject which normally holds no interest for me. The subject here is mountaineering, specifically set in Germany in 1936, against the backdrop of nationalistic pride between Germany and Austria. A German language film that premiered in 2008, the region-free Blu-ray was released in the UK on April 27, 2009, by Metrodome Video. The 126-minute movie is encoded in AVC on a BD-25. The video encode averages 18.99 Mbps for the main feature. Occasionally spectacular in sheer visual quality and rarely poor, this is a fine transfer of a movie that easily lends itself to great visual landscapes.
Shot on varying cameras due to the constraints of filming on location in the Alps, the picture quality is a little schizophrenic in character. Exterior scenes at the base of the mountains are simply splendid in appearance. Wide, sweeping shots fill the screen with beautiful mountain imagery in perfect contrast and bold colors. The image exudes a sharpness that creates a great amount of depth and dimensionality, recalling other great-looking titles in the upper quarters of tier one. Important to note is the complete lack of any blown highlights, especially in the final acts, a critical requirement for a movie set in the sheer-white ice and snow fields of the Alps.
Interior scenes in the hotel, a regular setting, are a little different in appearance from the aerial footage and outdoor setups. Contrast is slightly heavier and black levels are very deep, leading to a slightly flatter appearance that on its own merits could be placed in tier 2.0 or 2.25. Interior shots also show a slight color tweaking that creates an unnatural hue in the flesh-tones. In these moments the actors consistently display a push toward yellowed skin in their faces. Black levels are quite good though, and it will test your display's ability to reproduce the inkiest blacks and superior shadow detail.
Digital post-processing is never evident in the transfer. The picture retains a healthy and fairly thick grain-structure throughout the film appropriate to the particular scene. There is absolutely no evidence of any temporal grain-filtering being applied, as high-frequency detail is excellent for the entire movie in all medium and close shots. The grain never tears or smears into a visible mess. A few select shots indicate a small amount of ringing that may or may not be the result of edge enhancement. My inclination is that the ringing, of fairly minor amplitude, is the result of the original photography. The master shows no degradation of any kind and is reminiscent of other new day-and-date releases on Blu-ray in that regard.
A combination of fog, snow and grain pose a small challenge to the video compression in the most difficult circumstances. For a fairly low-average bitrate encoding, it reproduces the grain fairly well with an absolute minimum of obvious artifacts. But a tiny bit of compression noise pops up during the brief scenes late in the movie with fairly thick weather conditions. A movie of this caliber deserves being released on a BD-50, where the encoding parameters could have been substantially increased to improve the encode's transparency to the master.
Hollywood does not typically make movies like this anymore with emotional depth and realistic characters. A ranking in tier 1.75 is a stretch for parts of the movie, but weighing the overall components together makes it a fair estimate. The short text interviews provided with the director and the cameraman who actually filmed the movie on the cliffs of the Alps are fascinating, and discuss the realities of shooting while climbing a mountain.
Watching on a 60 Pioneer KURO plasma at 1080p/24 from a PS3 (firmware 3.01) at a viewing distance of six feet.
BDInfo scan (courtesy of Kannisto):http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...9#post16377429