Ralph Potts reviews this international spy thriller that tells the story of Dominika, a former Russian ballerina that is forced to enter a secret government program that thrusts her into a treacherous espionage game between Russia and the CIA.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )


Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 2018
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 140 minutes
Genre: Thriller

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 2.40:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1, DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio,, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoernaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Mary-Louise Parker
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Music by: James Newton Howard
Written by: Justin Haythe Based on the Novel by Jason Matthews
Region Code: A

Release Date: May 22, 2018
"Who Can You Trust?"
My Take:

Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets a CIA agent who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.

Red Sparrow aims high but comes up a bit short of the mark. It’s an espionage thriller tosses quite a bit at the wall. Unfortunately, not everything sticks. Based on the novel by Jason Matthews, the plot is hazy, centering on a young Russian ballerina that is forced into retirement and then forced into becoming an operative who is placed in the middle of a search for a Russian informant that is working with the CIA. There were things about the story that I liked, mostly having to do with Jennifer Lawrence’s character and the seemingly complex, no-win situation she was placed in.

The problem lies in the fact that the narrative in general isn’t deep enough to support the variety of elements that aren’t properly fleshed out, there isn’t any meaningful suspense, and the cache of characters written around Dominka are paper thin. At two hours and twenty minutes, the film runs a bit too long as well. As I said, Red Sparrow isn’t bad, it just needed a smarter, better refined script that could have made for a very solid genre entry.

Replay Value:
Parental Guide:

The rating is for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

UHD Presentation: 92
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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Dolby Atmos Rating: 82
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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Red Sparrow comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 channel sound.

For its presentation in Ultra HD, Red Sparrow was derived from 2.8K/3.4K sources and rendered from a 4K DI. From a cinematic perspective, this film was shot with a specific visual aesthetic in mind, and that comes through in this presentation. At times, the image is nearly devoid of color, while at others, it has a pleasingly diverse palate that sets the mood of a scene. Shot digitally, the image has a smooth aesthetic, with clean delineation that draws out plenty of detail in both close-up and wide-angle camera shots. Blacks are deep without compromise to fidelity, as the layers of detail seen with them is readily apparent. Contrast abounds as the richness of the depth in grays, whites, and mid-tones pops in the film’s variety of low-level sequences. Flesh tones are wonderfully lifelike and consistent throughout the presentation.

As I alluded to earlier, Red Sparrow isn’t a predominantly colorful film, but its cooler chromatic hues, sepia tones, and variants of blue/red benefited from UHD's wider color gamut, appearing warmer and pleasing to the eye. There is intermittent use of visual elements that utilize high dynamic range. I wasn't especially impressed with its application, although some of that may be due to the nature of the photography. There were instances where bright elements looked appreciably vibrant (such as the Russian police’s pursuit of the CIA operative through the dark streets of Moscow), but none really stood out.

This Ultra HD rendering makes the most of the film’s elements, which are excellent. Looking at the 1080p version, which is solid in its own right, the difference is noticeable but not what I would describe as night and day. That being said, there is no question about which of the two makes for the most engaging viewing experience.

In listening to the Dolby Atmos mix, I found it to be of the less aggressive variety, but considering the source material, that’s not a complete surprise. Its use of sounds placed above is minimal, limited predominantly to atmospheric extension. Sounds in the listening plane at ear level are busier, utilizing effects that are discrete and ambient in nature to create an enriching level of immersion that coincides with the onscreen events nicely. The music score is subtly mixed over the platform, adding natural depth to its orchestrated elements without drawing attention away from the thematic details of what is transpiring onscreen. While I might have preferred a mix that made more extensive use of the Atmos platform, I found it to be effective and complimentary given the nature of the film's production design.

For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray Video:

Video: 96
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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Audio: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

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Red Sparrow comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video and DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound.

This is an excellent high-definition rendering that sports plenty of fine detail and crisp definition, providing discerning dimensional perspective. Colors range from warm and vivid to cool, reserved, and almost tonally neutral. This is obviously a creative decision that draws definitive visual boundaries and works quite well. Contrast is strong and blacks are deep without compromise to delineation. Shadowy areas exhibit excellent depth of field and visible gradational stages. Framed at 2.40:1, images onscreen have excellent depth and a stimulating visual aura. I didn’t see any signs of degrading artifacts or extraneous compression-related noise. Red Sparrow looks great on Blu-ray.

The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a good one that makes excellent use of the entire surround platform. It is led by James Newton Howard’s music score that sounds fantastic as it sets the tone that drives the story’s elements. This is a fairly active and at times dynamic surround mix that employs the subwoofer and rear channels to stimulate the senses and draw you into the film. This creates a believable and enveloping soundfield that replicates the film’s various interior/exterior environments. Low-frequency effects have substantial weight and presence. The front and rear soundstages combine perfectly as sounds emanating from both during panning and dimensionally spaced sequences are seamless. Dialog and sounds within the recording are highly detailed and clearly articulated throughout the course of the presentation. I think it sounds great.

Bonus Features:
  • Disc 1: Red Sparrow Ultra HD Blu-ray
  • Disc 2: Red Sparrow Blu-ray
    • A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation
    • Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast
    • Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity
    • Heart of the Tempest: On Location
    • Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts
    • A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production
    • Director Commentary by Francis Lawrence
    • 10 Deleted Scenes (With Optional Commentary by Francis Lawrence)
    • Movies Anywhere Digital Code
Final Thoughts:

Based on the novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is a fair espionage thriller that, with a better sculpted script, could have been much more. It comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in this Ultra HD Combo Pack that features excellent overall image quality, terrific lossless surround sound, including a Dolby Atmos immersive mix, and a worthwhile assortment of bonus materials. Red Sparrow is easily worth the cost of a rental for fans of the genre and/or Jennifer Lawrence.
Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from  Spectracal )
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems