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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Rocky Mountain Express  (2011)

(4K Ultra HD Blu-ray – 2011 – Running Time: 46:55)
Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3.5 Stars
(Release Date: July 12, 2016) – A five-years-in-the-making documentary originally released on IMAX screens in 2011, "Rocky Mountain Express" serves as both celebration and memorial. Director-cinematographer Stephen Low hops aboard restored Hudson steam locomotive 2816 for a journey from Vancouver to Montreal while unraveling the amazing, perilous true story of the 1880s construction of Canada's first transcontinental railway. The sheer physical and technical feat of building the Canadian Pacific Railway Lines across the country's ruggedly arduous mountain passes is stunning enough, but also carries with it the gravity of all that was sacrificed—including the lives of thousands of its builders.

Shot in 15 perforation/70 mm film, its aerial footage captured from helicopters and gyro-stabilized camera mounts, "Rocky Mountain Express" works as both a compelling educational document and a dazzling picturesque journey across the Great White North's countryside. Far from a dry history lesson, the film brings a visual lyricism to its images, complemented by an eclectic music score—blues, spare piano melodies—and stirring soundtrack cues. The use of "500 Miles" by Peter & Paul and Mary over a lush montage of the train's odyssey serves as a touchingly reverent tribute to its creation and century-plus endurance. At 47 minutes, "Rocky Mountain Express" does not delve as deeply into its subject matter as it might have; indeed, the picture is such a sweeping experience it easily could have withstood a running time of twice (or even three times) this length.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Shout! Factory proudly presents "Rocky Mountain Express" on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc with a 2160p transfer that ranks alongside "The Revenant" as the most stunning 4K picture I've had the privilege of experiencing with my 4K SUHD television and UHD Blu-ray player. Framed at 1.78:1, the film provides the option to view the film in High Dynamic Range (requiring a High Dynamic Range-enabled TV) or Standard Dynamic Range. Naturally, the former is the preferred version, offering brilliantly radiant colors and a complexity in its lifelike clarity and dimensionality that makes the film look as if you are watching it through an opened window rather than on a screen. No matter what terrain the locomotive is traveling upon—across bridges, around cliffs, through mountain passes, and amidst the trees and underbrush—the details found within each frame are rousing and vivid. Likewise, the shiny metal and steel of the train itself sparks with eye-opening magnificence. The English Dolby Atmos track really puts into perspective how superior it is to other lossless audio options, the chugs of 2816 sharing effortless aural space with the film's voice narration and music, no one layer overpowering the others as they all seemingly come alive in one's home theater. This is a flawless audio presentation. A regular HD Blu-ray disc is also included for those without a 4K UHD player.

Blu-ray Features
  • The Romance of Transportation in Canada (10:56, HD) - An Oscar-nominated 1952 documentary short, created by Colin Low, Robert Verrall and Wolf Koenig
  • Railroaders (21:20, HD) - A 1958 documentary short, directed by Guy Cole
  • Trailers:
    • The Last Reef (1:35, UHD)
    • Wonders of the Arctic (1:41, UHD)
    • Rocky Mountain Express (1:26, UHD)
    • Journey to Space (1:06, UHD)
    • Humpback Whales (1:53, UHD)
    • Flight of the Butterflies (1:10, UHD)
Bottom Line
It has only been four days since I watched "Rocky Mountain Express," and I am already itching to revisit this lovely documentary. This is a reference-quality disc that can and should be used to showcase the exceptional abilities of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and Dolby Digital Atmos. It is heartening to see Shout! Factory's early embrace of 4K UHD. Highly recommended for all, but an absolutely essential purchase for 4K UHD consumers.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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