James Brown Biopic has incredible A/V quality; deserves multiple Oscar noms

Following up The Help, director Tate Taylor fishes for more Oscar nominations with his masterful Get On Up, a powerful biopic about James Brown that celebrates the icon’s life and music. The music legend passed away in 2006 but the rights to this biopic had been tied up for years between various entities. Producer Brian Grazer finally got that messy situation cleared away, leading to Chadwick Boseman’s star-making performance in Get On Up as the Godfather of Soul. James Brown was an intensely charismatic performer with a very distinctive personality, a perfect subject for any biopic.

Get On Up is one of the most enjoyable biopics I have ever seen and certainly one of the more creative. Its brilliant narrative style owes much to Todd Haynes’ inspired musical tribute to Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, weaving important personal events sprinkled throughout James Brown’s life as his music career rapidly develops into stardom. That creativity helps Get On Up from growing dull and predictable over its near 140-minute length. Featuring an impressive cast in Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd and Lennie James, Get On Up touches on some of the legend’s biggest hits, including It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World and Please, Please, Please. This is not a biopic that narrowly focuses on one brief moment in the star’s life, chronicling James Brown’s rise from singing choir to his later music career as an international superstar.

Chadwick Boseman literally transforms himself into James Brown. The singer with his distinctive mannerisms and physicality on stage was always going to be a tough role for any actor. It is a marvel as Boseman completely becomes the icon, both in the smaller moments and larger musical performances. This is a flashy role and performance that very well could lead to an Oscar nomination. It is that fantastic.

The biopic is respectful to Brown’s legacy as a musician and businessman, while covering his more erratic personal behavior with associates. It also carefully portrays the singer’s early roots from poverty in Georgia, including when his mother (Viola Davis) walks out on her young son and abandons him. The viewer is invited to identify with Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), Brown’s close friend that basically rescued him from jail as a teenager. James Brown and Bobby Byrd had a complex relationship over the years, one that began in their early teen years and which eventually fell apart decades later. The movie is careful to paint Brown’s hard-driving ways as band leader, he was a task-master that demanded complete adherence to his vision.

Other recurring figures in Brown’s life prove influential to the singer, including Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd). Bart originally worked for Brown’s record label, eventually managing his business affairs in the music industry. The encounters with Little Richard in Get On Up feel more apocryphal, as if audiences would get bored if they didn’t see a recognizable name along the way.

Get On Up is a delightful film, one filled with the spirit of James Brown’s music and life. Everything in it is so well crafted that a crime will have been committed if the biopic does not snag several Oscar nominations. Director Tate Taylor’s movie tells the legend’s story and shares his music in an unconventional but brilliant manner. A must-see film for music lovers, this biopic will have wide appeal beyond its intended audience.

Movie ★★★★★

In the spotlight @ 14:30

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best-looking Blu-ray you will see this year or possibly any year. Get On Up has more raw depth and dimensionality in its pristine picture than I have seen since Avatar, widely considered the best video quality ever released on the format. This is raw, unfiltered resolution of unmatched quality in 1080P video. I am knocked out by its perfection, razor sharp does not begin to describe how awesome Get On Up appears. This is absolutely one of the best demo discs ever manufactured.

The secret to Get On Up’s intense, award-winning demo quality is that some of it has been filmed at 4K resolution on Canon digital cameras. The rest was shot on very capable Arri Alexa digital cameras, still in great 2K resolution. I was utterly blown away by the dense foliage and its shocking clarity as a young James Brown watches his parents fight in rural Georgia. These scenes literally pop like 3-D film. On a calibrated display I’ve never seen anything like it. The lovely color saturation reveals a lush palette with perfect contrast. There isn’t a single complaint I can lodge against its video, the digital transfer by Universal is perfect. The AVC video encode has flawless compression transparency in a high-bitrate effort. Everything about this video screams untouchable quality.

I don’t say it lightly when calling this BD the best picture quality of 2015. I am fairly confident this will end up the best demo of the year and we are only a few days into 2015. Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt should be applauded for this sparkling presentation of astonishing beauty. He skillfully fills the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio with carefully composed imagery and thoughtful composition.

Video ★★★★★

While Get On Up’s audio quality is not the otherworldly stuff of legend that its video reaches, the powerful 5.1 DTS-HD MA is a wonderful sonic complement. The surround mix is strongly directional and includes some very interesting moments, including an earth-shaking scene as Brown’s band flies to Vietnam for a USO show. The film’s narrative liberally uses some of Brown’s biggest hits in full surround glory, greatly enhancing its storytelling and entertainment. Heavy on bass with incredible fidelity, the musical performances should delight fans. I found this to be a strong audio presentation and solid mix, a critical necessity for a music legend’s biopic.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles appear in a white font. Spanish and French dubs are included in 5.1 DTS at 768 kbps. A DVS audio option has also been included.

Audio ★★★★★

Universal fills out this combo pack (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) with a fairly extensive set of special features. The featurettes begin to resemble themselves after a while, featuring director Tate Taylor in candid answers and a host of others, including such guests as Ice Cube and Mick Jagger. Jagger was actually a producer on Get On Up, he was critical in helping to secure the music rights.

Initial copies should include an embossed slipcover. The provided digital copy is good for both UV and iTunes.

Feature Commentary with Director/Producer Tate Taylor – A somewhat boring solo commentary, his comments in the featurettes are more illuminating and focused. I would probably skip this for the other special features.

Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (15:03 in HD) – Finished scenes that probably didn’t make the final edit for whatever reasons. The movie’s script is so tight that these scenes do not really deviate from Get On Up’s intended message. Worth a viewing but nothing that seriously changes the tone or alters our perceptions.

Full Song Performances – Out of Sight, Steal Away (Steal Away to Jesus), I’ll Go Crazy, Cold Sweat

Extended Song Performances – Please, Please, Please (Recording Session & Montage), Live Performance, Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud

The song performances are all short clips in HD video taken from the film.

Long Journey to the Screen (03:58 in HD) – Producers Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger discuss the issues that took this film so long to get made.

Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown (11:25 in HD) – A breezy featurette interviewing his choreographer and other cast members. Some snippets of backstage footage and Boseman hamming it up for the camera as Brown himself, make it worth watching.

The “Get On Up” Family (06:27 in HD) – A featurette covering the strong ensemble cast.

On Stage with the Hardest Working Man (06:25 in HD) – A couple of pop stars like Ice Cube and Pharrell discuss James Brown and his influence on music. There is also discussion of shooting the scene for Brown’s appearance in the TAMI show.

The Founding Father of Funk (13:19 in HD) – This is more directly focused on James Brown’s music.

Tate Taylor’s Master Class (06:57 in HD) – A goofy outtake when two actors take Taylor’s stage directions too far and go crazy on the dance floor. It is actually pretty funny.

Extras  ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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