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Deepwater Horizon

(2016) *** Pg-13
107 min. Lionsgate. Director: Peter Berg. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Douglas M. Griffin, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee.

/content/films/4976/1.jpgThe new historical disaster film Deepwater Horizon has more facts and figures than a presidential debate. 126 crew members on board the titular floating rig, drilling on behalf of $186 billion company BP. 390 broken machines, according to chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg). “43 days and $53 million over budget” explaining, according to Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), why BP site manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) doesn’t want to know about the rig’s failings. And one Dantean inferno, which will go on to spill 210 million gallons of oil over 87 days.

In telling the tale of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand (working from the book Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde & Stephanie Saul) also hammer home what the news media didn’t much convey in 2010: the human-level horror of being on the rig and the sheer scope of the unnaturalness of the enterprise. The film succeeds in cultivating a harrowing “you are there” feeling, bolstered by outstanding production design, special effects, sound mixing, and editing, and mitigated only by familiarity with the principal actors. In most respects, Deepwater Horizon proves one of the most technically proficient films of the year.

Though the film begins awkwardly by literally having a child explain the work of the rig, non-engineers may soon long for that blunt exposition, given the complicated jargon and action geography to follow. The script alternates mostly between salt-of-the-earth banter, portents of doom, finger-pointing at BP’s “money-hungry sons of bitches,” and shouted hope of survival. Berg’s sympathies lie with the Transocean crew operating the rig, and particularly Williams and Farrell as keep-their-cool, all-American heroes of incredible endurance. As with his Friday Night Lights, Berg captures some local color (Cajun and Texan) and takes an effective fly-on-the-wall visual approach.

The pressing question of such films as this and, say, United 93, is their value as entertainment and art, especially in covering such raw recent history. No question: the film’s action is blisteringly intense—at times suggesting a truth-based horror film. After all, eleven people died in the incident the film searingly recreates, with its terrifying rush of oil, fireballs, deadly projectiles, and bodies tossed and battered like rag dolls (the film ceremoniously memorializes the victims).

But Berg also seizes a vital opportunity to celebrate American heroism by standing with those good workers caught in the American Dream’s nightmare, and Deepwater Horizon cannot help but be an implicit sociological statement. It’s not natural what we’re doing to the environment with deepwater rigs, not in day-to-day operations and certainly not in disasters. The film indicts BP, but so too the viewer for supporting an oil-based lifestyle with such dire consequences for the planet.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1

Street date: 1/10/2017

Distributor: Lionsgate

Lionsgate does a terrific job in presenting the spectacular Deepwater Horizon on home video in a BLu-ray + DVD + Digital HD set. Picture quality is outstanding. The disaster scenes present a number of challenges, especially in low lighting and busy imagery alive with fine detail, but the HD transfer here holds up nicely and with admirable consistency. Color and contrast hold true, and detail and textures are sharply realized. The audio department is where the disc truly excels, in a state-of-the-art Dolby Atmos presentation that will, well, blow you out of the water. The aural immersion goes a long way to making the film as powerful as it is, and Dolby is the master of placement and discrete separation and potency. Explosions? But of course. But also remarkably audible dialogue amidst the chaos, and before matters get out of hand, life on the rig gets a precise rendering in well-situated effects.

Bonus features begin with the extensive making-of "Beyond the Horizon" (51:21, HD) which incorporates profiles of actors Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell and Dylan O'Brien and their characters, while also looking at the complex physical production.

"Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg" (18:15, HD) zeroes in on the film's director.

"The Fury of the Rig" (27:20, HD) discusses the architecture, operations, and demise of the title "character."

"Deepwater Surveillance" (17:40, HD) presents "raw footage" captured on the set as various sequences were filmed.

Participant Media: Work Like an American comprises eight "American Worker Tributes" (1080p; 16:03) looking at real-life rig workers.

"I Am a Steel Beam with Narration by Director Peter Berg" and "I Am a Steel Beam with Narration by Gina Rodriguez" (each 1:03, HD) offer the same piece (with two different narrations) looking at what runs through the rig.

My package from Lionsgate didn't include the new Google Cardboard headset VR viewer, but did include instructions on how to download the Deepwater Horizon VR app. The draw here (or gimmick) is a set of three 360° "VR commentary" scenes with director Peter Berg and editor Colby Parker, Jr. The first comes with the app download, and the other two "will unlock...after listening to the film on your TV or second screen."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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