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March 17, 2013
The Master Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
8/11/201213/3/2013Village RoadshowPaul Thomas Anderson
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MA15+Philip Seymour Hoffman
Joaquin Phoenix

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Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in The Master.

For many, any new film from writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson garners immediate attention. He's one of those directors that creates unique character driven stories that often cover a range of emotions but base themselves in real-world situations that almost anyone can releate to. Having said that, I honestly can't say that he's a fan of the majority of his work, but with Joaquin Phoenix starring in The Master we were definitely keen to check the film out when we received the Blu-Ray.

The Master is somewhat contentious as it has been heavily rumoured to be loosely based on Scientology - yes, that "religion" that always hits the media for the wrong (or perhaps right depending on your point of view) reasons - mostly for Tom Cruise being involved.

The Master is set in 1950s post-World War II America and follows a naval veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who comes home to an uncertain future and struggles with alcoholism. After becoming a stowaway on a ship he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader in a group called "The Cause".

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Philip Seymour Hoffman, superb as Lancaster Dodd.
Prior to receiving this disc for review I'd heard great things about the film - Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Joaquin Phoenix, Best Supporting Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Amy Adams attest to the fine performances which each of them puts in to the film and we have absolutely no hesitation in supporting each of their nominations - Joaquin is sensational yet again and this is a great comeback from his misstep, albeit an interesting diversion, in I'm Still Here. Another big positive to this film is the often gorgeous cinematography from Mihai Malaimare, Jr. which has, no doubt, been given an extra layer of polish due to the 65mm filming process for the majority of the film. It gives The Master a unique, clean, striking look that is rarely seen in cinema today.

As we mentioned writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson is one held in high regard with many movie critics - his films including There Will Be Blood, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love are highly regarded, but never really "clicked" with me. What I found with this film was an overly long (143 minute), disjoined, often dull film which is broken into several parts, and jumps in time quite frequently and it's a case that the sum of its parts doesn't make a whole. It can be slow, plodding, and quite a dull movie to watch. That's not saying that a film needs Michael Bay styled explosions to keep it going, but this film just drags.

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The film explores sexual themes, and alcoholism.
Regardless if this is based on Scientology or not (and given the dates, the events, and the methods shown in the film we lean towards this film being "heavily inspired" by the creation of Tom's religion), The Master is an interesting, albeit slow paced and disjoined, film that is only worth bothering with for the superb performances. If slow, dramatic, films aren't your thing then give it a miss.

The Master is a very rare film in that it was, for the most part, shot using 65mm film. This gives a clarity to the image that is rarely seen in feature films, and even the transfer to Blu-Ray looks quite fantastic. The video is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and has been altered from the 70mm presentations seen in some cinemas (in America at least, I'm not sure in what aspect ratio this film was show in Australia). No matter what, this is a gorgeous film to look at with a superb level of detail - from the soldiers fighting on the beach to the scenes where portraits are being taken, or any interior or exterior shots. Don't expect any Hollywood styled gloss and sheen however as this is a very realistic looking film overall with great colour reproduction and fine detail.

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The Master is a visually impressive film, even with many interior scenes.
The Master is very much a dialogue driven film and as such is very front heavy with the audio. There are a few instances where the surround sound channels liven up, but they are few and far between, primarily in larger crowd scenes, but that's as it should be. The primary audio track is encoded en DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and it provides everything one could hope for from the lossless audio encoding in this film, it's just that there's rarely anything to really make this an audio standout.

This Blu-Ray contains a Descriptive Narration for the Vision Impaired which has been encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps and while lacking surround sound channels this isn't a film that really needs it so gets the job done nicely enough despite the bitrate being quite low with a loss of fidelity as a result. There is only a single English subtitle track which is accurate to the on-screen dialogue, but subtitles are placed centrally making determining who is talking hard to do given the fast paced (due to occasionally quick dialogue) subtitles at times.

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The acting in The Master carries the story.
This Blu-Ray kicks off with a trailer for Silver Linings Playbook but there are a couple of other extras on the disc. Sadly though we do miss out on what is supposedly a brilliant documentary called "Let There Be Light" which is included on the American disc. This is a hour long documentary made in 1946 which looks at the psychiatric treatment of World War II veterans. It would have a fantastic inclusion on this disc. We also miss out on a short behind the scenes featurette called "Unguided Message". Unfortunately the American disc is region locked.

Back Beyond (19:59/HD): This featurette is essentially a series of deleted scenes presented with music in the background which works remarkably well. The film seemed drawn out enough and it's clear these were cut for pacing, although there are some great moments here.

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Freddie Quell (Phoenix) as a photographer.
Teasers/Trailers (16:23/HD): These Teasers and Trailers are pretty good and include many moments not in the feature film. Included are "Was There A Fight?" (1:44), "Hopelessly Inquisitive" (1:31), "She Wrote Me A Letter" (1:54), "I Lost My Ship" (1:02), "Tell Me What You See" (1:21), "Gone To China" (0:49), "Last One/Thank You" (4:30), "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26), "Man Is Not An Animal" (1:06).

There is no doubt that the performances in The Master truly are superb, but we found the film to be a bit of a mixed bag. At times The Master is riveting and captivating, but at other times it becomes pedestrian and somewhat dull, probably due to some repetition. The transfer is quite nice while the End of Watch is a fantastic film which demonstrates what law enforcement, anywhere in the world, sacrifices to make our world a safer place. The film is fantastic, the transfer is solid but a few more extras would have been appreciated.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.