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4K UHD reviews: ‘Hunter Killer’ and ‘Overlord’

February 21, 2019

Here’s a look at a pair of military action thrillers in 4K ultra-high definition with stories tied to secret missions.

Hunter Killer (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated R, 122 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $24.99) Director Donovan Marsh perfunctory military action thriller sank at the box office late last year but gives UHD home theater fans a reference quality presentation with plenty of dazzling visuals and a nail-biting tale.

The story finds an American submarine commander, Joe Glass (Gerard Butler), rescuing Russian sub captain, Sergei Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), and what remains of his crew after a mysterious attack.

The two veteran warriors work together under the sea along with a grizzled land-based Navy SEAL team to stop a Russian military coup that could trigger a war between the super powers.

Mr. Butler keeps the machismo with a pinch of indignation flowing during some tense encounters, and he is balanced by a “cash grab” performance by acting chameleon Gary Oldman who does plenty of shouting at subordinates as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Not quite the caliber of “Hunt for Red October” or “Crimson Tide,” “Hunter Killer” still delivers a popcorn-munching punch for an evening’s worth of home entertainment.

However, the visuals are excellent throughout. I can’t confirm that this a pure 4K transfer, but it sure looks like it.

It was an eye-catching experience starting with an opening flyover of an ice barrier as the camera then dives into the Barents Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean.

Jaw-dropping moments continue with ice exploding above land after a sub takes a torpedo hit below, panoramic views of the snowy Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands (you can nearly count the patches of lichen on rocks), a demonstration of a Russian destroyer’s fire power and a harrowing Navy SEAL parachute jump.

Also, despite much of the action taking place underwater and in a sub, the outdoor moments deliver some of the bluest skies and crisp rippling sea waves I have seen in a film, thanks to the high dynamic range enhancements.

Best extras: Viewers will appreciate an optional commentary track with Mr. Marsh that has him first mentioning that the name “hunter killer” refers to the make of the submarine featured in the film and then immediately dives into a quick history of nuclear subs and their navigation.

Throughout, the director covers nuances in the story and plenty of production detail on the film, while continually impressing with his knowledge base, dropping fact nuggets such as Virginia class subs do not have a periscope, for example.

His expertise on military technology and submarines alone, as well as obvious enthusiasm for his final effort, makes this track required for fans.

Additionally, two featurettes, dominated by interviews with Mr. Butler and Mr. Marsh, offer 24 minutes on the origins of the project and the story as well as briefly covering the technical aspects and military authenticity presented in the film.

Overlord (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 110 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $34.99) Director Julius Avery’s homage to B-movie horror films that delivered a World War II drama plucked right out of the “Twilight Zone” moves to the 4K format, much to the chagrin of easily frightened, weak-stomached viewers.

With a story set on the eve of D-Day, a group of U.S. soldiers parachute behind enemy lines in France to destroy a pivotal Third Reich radio tower.

What they find is an underground medical research lab harboring a Nazi super-soldier program filled with experimental atrocities.

All of the ingredients are in place for an intense and scary action thriller including a few jump scares, a riveting parachute sequence, gritty firefights, an evil SS officer (Pilou Asbk from “Game of Thrones”) and some frenzied monsters.

Unfortunately, I was already spoiled having seen a similar premise in the much more violent and “cover your eyes” gore film “Frankenstein’s Army” as well as playing the video games “Wolfenstein” and endless hours with “Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies.”

Despite appreciating the American soldiers fantastical dilemma and the nightmares they encounter, “Overlord” never reaches the level of heart-pounding terror that should have been a no-brainer in this freakish R-rated flick.

The film’s UHD presentation certainly highlights in too-crisp detail some of the gross horror moments; the atmospheric nighttime outdoor scenes (watch the plumes of orange-tinged smoke); and equally well the excellent period costumes and soldier uniforms created by Academy Award-nominated designer Anna B. Sheppard.

Best extras: Six featurettes (51 minutes in total) bundled under the title “Horrors of War” cover the script origins, the cast, costumes, special effects, stunt work, creature design, weapons, practical effects and features plenty of gushing by producer J.J. Abrams.