Defiance appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The Blu-ray appeared to accurately reproduce the challenging material.
Why do I refer to the visuals as “challenging”? Because of various stylistic decisions. In particular, Defiance came with a lot of grain – much more than one might expect from a modern movie. This appeared to be a choice done to give the film a gritty period look. I’m not sure it succeeded, mostly because the grain became a bit of a distraction. Nonetheless, I couldn’t really fault the transfer for the occasionally heavy grain. Source flaws remained absent, and I saw no signs of compression issues, jagged edges, shimmering or edge enhancement.
Defiance went with your basic period movie look as well. To reflect the forest setting, chilly blue-greens dominated the film; firelight sequences brought out a heavy red-orange sensibility, but the blue-greens cropped up the majority of the time. These looked fine given the restrictions inherent in the limited palette. Blacks were deep and tight, but shadows could be a bit thick. The movie went for a dark look that meant low-light shots became more impenetrable than usual. As with the grain, I regarded this as a stylistic choice and not a flaw.
Sharpness excelled. A few brief images occasionally looked just a smidgen soft, but the vast majority of the film exhibited terrific clarity and delineation. Indeed, sharpness became one of the best aspects of the transfer. Given the murkiness that came with the various visual choices, I didn’t think I could give the image a grade higher than a “B+”, but I felt satisfied with the picture.
As for the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Defiance, it was good but not as strong as one might expect from a war-related movie. I think that’s due to the film’s emphasis, as it focuses on characters and doesn’t want to embrace its wilder side. I get the feeling the sound designers want to avoid the relentless Saving Private Ryan sense of warfare and to keep things simpler, which ends up as a bit of a mixed bag. We still get some broadness to the gunfights, but they come across as restrained, like the filmmakers are afraid to embrace the visceral side of things.
In any case, the various battles do bring a decent impact to the production. These tend to concentrate on the front speakers and broaden to a varying degree. Again, the scope seems restricted compared to what we usually find for this sort of movie, though the sides and surrounds do contribute reasonable activity when appropriate. A bombing sequence during the third act provides the most involving material, and a few other scenes function fairly well, but the track remains restrained much of the time.
Audio quality always works well, though. Speech is natural and crisp, without edginess or intelligibility issues. Music proves bright and dynamic and effects add good punch. Those elements come across as accurate and full, with nice bass response. The moderately limited scope of the soundfield leaves this one as a “B”, but it’s a quality “B”.
We find a decent array of supplements here. First comes an audio commentary from director Edward Zwick. He provides a running, screen-specific look at sets and shooting in Lithuania, cast and performances, language choices, story and tone, historical background, cinematography and music, and the depiction of action.
Overall, Zwick provides a pretty good track. At times he seems a little too impressed with his movie, but he goes through a lot of useful topics here. Despite a few slow spots, the commentary usually informs.
In addition to two trailers, the disc includes four featurettes. Defiance: Return to the Forest goes for 26 minutes, five seconds and involves Zwick, co-producer/co-screenwriter Clayton Frohman, producer Pieter Jan Brugge, make-up and hair designer Trefor Proud, costume designer Jenny Beavan, dialogue coach Neil Swain, supervising armourer Nick Jeffries, special effects coordinator Neil Corbould, and actors Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Mark Feuerstein, Tomas Arana, Jodhi May, Mia Wasikowska, George MacKay, Iben Hjejle, and Alexa Davalos. “Forest” discusses the film’s origins and aspects of its story and characters, cast and performances, locations and attempts at authenticity, language choices, effects, and a few other production issues.
Much of the material heard here appears in the commentary. While the program offers different perspectives, it still doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know. It still offers some decent elements, but don’t expect a lot of fresh information.
During the 13-minute and 41-second Children of the Otriad, we hear from Zwick, Frohman, Tuvia Bielski’s granddaughter Sharon Rennert, children Michael, Robert and Ruth Bielski, and Zus Bielski’s son Zvi. We learn a little more about the film’s main characters. In addition to the comments, we find archival footage of the various Bielskis, and that factor adds a lot to the program. We get a nice look at the real-life inspirations for the story.
Scoring Defiance lasts seven minutes and features Zwick, violinist Joshua Bell, editor Steven Rosenblum, and composer James Newton Howard. We learn a little about the film’s music. The piece doesn’t tell us a ton, but it adds a few decent notes.
Finally, Bielski Partisan Survivors runs one minute, 58 seconds as it shows modern day photos of some of the remaining folks who experienced the film’s story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show their names until the end, so we can’t identify them. Still, it’s a decent way to commemorate them.
Given the noble cause detailed in Defiance, I almost feel bad that I didn’t much care for it. While the tale itself boasts a lot of merit, the telling just doesn’t elevate the material in a significant way. Defiance provides a standard inspirational flick without much real life or emotion. The Blu-ray demonstrates good picture and audio as well as a decent collection of extras. I don’t think this is a bad movie, but it’s not one that rises above the usual “triumph of the human spirit” fare.