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September 4, 2013
Zero Dark Thirty Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
11/4/201314/8/2013IconJessica Chastain
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MKathryn Bigelow

THE MOVIE
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Jessica Chastain is superb as the agent Maya in Zero Dark Thirty.

Without question one of the defining moments of our lifetimes will be the events of September 11, 2001 when America was attacked and the World Trade Center towers came down. It's hard to imagine that it has been 12 years since that event now but perhaps even more surprising that it took almost 10 years for America to track down the orchestrator of those attacks, Osama Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of America's hunt for the worlds most wanted man.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who directed the Academy Award winning film The Hurt Locker about bomb defusal in Iraq, which was also written by Mark Boal) this film doesn't focus on Osama (in fact he's never seen), nor the actual attacks on September 11 (the film starts with a black screen and simply audio from people trapped within the towers), nor the soldiers that infiltrate the compound but rather on the intelligence agents led by Maya (Jessica Chastain) that, through various means, tracked Bin Laden down.

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Does this film glorify torture?
While I commend the filmmakers for their detailed exploration in the interrogation and persistence of the operatives in gathering the intel I actually would have liked a little more focus on some of the techniques to gather intel, the questionability of using torture techniques such as waterboarding, humiliation and sleep deprivation, the missed opportunity to capture Bin Laden in missions including one in Afghanistan, the lack of co-operation from Pakistan and the legality of raiding the compound on their soil, and technical details about the infiltration mission - their training, concerns with attacking the compound including questions about a possible bunker deep underground, where the backup helicopters came from, and perhaps even some final scenes or even text about what America did with Bin Laden's body, and what came to be of the main characters. Still, this would have pushed the runtime up considerably, but an occasion as historically momentous as this almost deserves the extra time.

Although it was a little too short for us with only 30 minutes of the 157 minute runtime of the film, the actual assault on Bin Laden's compound is superbly shot and from what actual accounts seems very accurate to real-life events right down to one of the soldiers calling out a name (Khalid) and then shooting him when he sticks his head around a corner to have a look who's calling his name.

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Zero Dark Thirty is about the hunt for Bin Laden.
In terms of acting Jessica Chastain leads the cast in the role of Maya - while she doesn't represent a single real-life person Maya is reportedly an amalgamation of several female CIA operatives who worked to hunt down Bin Laden. Still, there's no denying that Jessica Chastain puts in a fantastic performance that covers the 10 year hunt for the worlds most wanted man. Supporting cast are led by Jason Clarke as Dan and Kyle Chandler as Joseph Bradley and while he gets a pretty high billing Joel Edgerton is only seen in the final assault on the compound as the Squad Team Leader. Finally, James Gandolfini appears as the CIA director, but it's bittersweet seeing him in one of his final roles.

Zero Dark Thirty is a gripping film that focuses on one of the biggest, if not the biggest, manhunt of all time. It's probably not a film that you would re-watch over and over, but its definitely a film worth viewing at least once, and probably a few times.

VIDEO
Zero Dark Thirty really is a fantastic looking film on Blu-Ray, nigh on reference quality in fact. The film is presented in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been encoded in the almost universally popular AVC MPEG-4 codec (remember the old days when MPEG-2 was used, and the now almost completely gone VC-1?). From start to finish this film looks the part with fine detail that is retained through all manner of natural, artificial or low light levels. Contrast levels are great while colours are muted, but natural unlike some of the overly processed Hollywood productions.

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Protesting the American presence.
When it moves to the mission to capture or kill Bin Laden at night things obviously get pretty dark, although the green night vision goggle viewpoint is used to highlight key scenes to good effect. Even in these low-light scenes the detail remains impressive and truly conveys what it would be like to be storming the compound with the troops.

AUDIO
Zero Dark Thirty is released on Blu-Ray with two audio tracks - a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) and Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Why both lossless audio tracks have been included on the one disc we're not so sure, however they're both there, and nigh on identical in the sound quality. As with the video the audio quality on this release is exceptional with crystal clear dialogue throughout while gunfire and explosions will really boom compared to other aspects of the soundtrack - just as they would in real life. Indeed, there's a good reason why Paul N. J. Ottosson won the films only Academy Award for Sound Editing. It really is fantastic. Music from composer Alexandre Desplat also deserves mention for its tone and suitability to the film.

The Zero Dark Thirty Blu-Ray contains only a single English Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired track, but it's accurate to the dialogue and sounds in the film.

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Zero Dark Thirty shows the tracking of, and then mission to get, Osama Bin Laden.
EXTRAS
Zero Dark Thirty isn't loaded with extras, but what is included is worth checking out. It must be said though we would have liked quite a bit more on this disc - a commentary would have been appreciated, a pop-up trivia track.

Geared Up (7:04/HD): This short featurette looks at the training the actors went through to play the parts of Seal Team Six including the various weapons and equipment much of which isn't available to the public or filmmakers. It also looks at the creating the top-secret stealth helicopter.

The Compound (9:26/HD): This featurette looks at The Compound in which Osama Bin Laden was hiding out in, and how it was recreated for this film. This also includes a slow walkthrough of the rebuilt compound with details about events during the storming of the building.

Targeting Jessica Chastain (5:19/HD): This brief featurette focuses on Jessica Chastain playing Maya in the film and watching the character grow over the 10-year period during the hunt for Osama.

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On the mission to get Osama Bin Laden.
No Small Feat (3:51/HD): Easily the most EPK-ish featurette on this disc this basically sells the fact that the film tells the story of how America tracked Bin Laden, but also focuses on director Kathryn Bigelow and even has Jessica claim "I don't think any other director could have made this film." Really?

This Blu-Ray also includes a DTS-HD Master Sound Check which includes both 5.1 and 7.1 sound check - interesting given the disc only includes 5.1 audio on the feature film.

OVERALL
Zero Dark Thirty gives a fantastic insight into the amount of work that went into tracking down Osama Bin Laden and the final mission into his Abbottabad compound. The Blu-Ray provides a decent transfer, although there's rarely anything too exciting on the audio visual front while the disc contains a couple of decent extras too.

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
8/10
THE VIDEO
9/10
THE AUDIO
9/10
THE EXTRAS
3/10
OVERALL
7.5/10

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