Release Date(s)2014 (September 22, 2020)
Studio(s)Bold Films/Blumhouse/Right of Way/Stage Six/Sony Pictures Classics (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller, Divergent, the 2011 Footloose remake) is a first-year music student at New York City’s Shaffer Conservatory. He’s a drummer, who dreams of being world-class like the great Buddy Rich. Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons, The Closer, Counterpart) is the obsessive bandleader of the Conservatory’s prestigious Studio Band. Fletcher is always on the lookout for new young talent, though few budding musicians can meet his rigorous standards of excellence. But when Andrew attracts Fletcher’s interest, and is invited to join the Studio Band as an alternate, he’s shocked to experience the man’s abusiveness. Fletcher is absolutely ruthless and vindictive, yet Andrew is driven to please and impress him, so he practices harder than ever, sacrificing his personal life to the cause. But one can only push a person so far before they break. And it’s what happens after Andrew breaks that will determine just how good a drummer he might become.
Shot on location in just 19 days, Whiplash is a film that lives up to its name, driven by a pair absolutely riveting acting performances. Simmons delivers the best work of his career and Teller, who was already a solid drummer, elevated his skills to another level for this project—reportedly as much as 99% of what you see in the film is him behind the drum kit. The film is based on director Damien Chazelle’s own time as a member of a high school jazz band, an experience he turned into an 18-minute short film of the same name in 2013 (which also starred Simmons). That effort won him a Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, which led to this big screen version. The result is part drama, part psychological thriller, and utterly entertaining.
Whiplash was captured digitally in 1080p HD in ProRes 4:4:4 (with some H.264) using the Arri Alexa and Canon EOS 7D cameras with Cooke, Leitz, and Angenieux Optimo lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. For its debut on Ultra HD, Sony has upsampled that 2K source and graded it for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available on the disc). Given the capture resolution, you wouldn’t think a 4K version would make much difference, but that’s not the case here. I liken it to HBO’s Game of Thrones: Season One 4K release (reviewed here on The Bits); the high data rate and uncompressed signal, combined with the lack of chroma subsampling, means there are no image or color artifacts. Details are a little cleaner and tighter that you’ll find on the Blu-ray, and there’s no color banding whatsoever. But it’s the high dynamic range that really makes the difference here, allowing for ink-black shadows and bold highlights. Given the source, the brightest brights are still a little blown out and lacking in detail, but the colors really benefit from the expanded color-depth of HDR. The film’s palette is warm by design, but the gleaming gold and silver highlights of Andrew’s drum kit really stand out, not to mention the brassy shine of the horn section, the rich browns of a string bass, and all the rest. It’s a nice looking image that really benefits the film well.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is presented in English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). And this is where Sony’s UHD release really shines. The Atmos mix is flat-out terrific. It’s not explosion-filled assault on your ears; this is a music mix that makes you feel as if you’re sitting right in the middle of the practice spaces with great jazz musicians. The sound of drums is firm and crisp, symbols shimmer and linger in the air. Brass instruments have muscular heft. There’s tremendous bass, terrific spaciousness. The soundstage is medium wide, but the height and rear channels really help to expand and create a sense of unique acoustical spaces—from intimate practice rooms to larger halls and performances stages. Dialogue is clean at all times. This is just a great sounding audio experience, not quite a reference experience, but certainly one that’s demo quality for its musicality. Additional audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as English Descriptive Audio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in French and German. Optional subtitles include English, English SDH, French, German, Spanish, and Turkish.
There are no special features on Sony’s 4K disc itself, but the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. That disc adds the following:
- Audio Commentary with JK Simmons and Damien Chazelle
- Timekeepers (HD – 42:56)
- Whiplash Original Short Film with Optional Commentary by Chazelle (HD – 17:56)
- Fletcher at Home Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary by Chazelle (HD – 1:30)
- An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Miles Teller, JK Simmons, and Damien Chazelle (HD – 7:50)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:10)
The highlight of these extras is the commentary, obviously. JK Simmons won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this role—and deservingly so—and it’s interesting to hear his insights. Hard though it is to believe, this was only Chazelle’s second feature film. The Timekeepers documentary starts with him talking about his personal inspirations for the project, but mostly features comments by many acclaimed professional drummers about how they got into music and learned their craft. Chazelle’s original Whiplash short film, upon which this feature is based, is also included. There’s also a Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging.
Whiplash is an absolute gem. This is just a great damn film, period. I would even argue that it’s Chazelle’s best work to date, though his more recent (and criminally under-appreciated) First Man is a close second (see my review of the 4K here on The Bits). If you love Whiplash, there’s simply no better way to experience it than via Sony’s Ultra HD release. And you can get it right now for just $15 on Amazon, which is insane. If you’re a music fan, or simply love a great character drama with outstanding performances, this is not a film to be missed.
- Bill Hunt