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3 James Cameron Classic Films Drop In Digital 4K For The First Time

3 James Cameron Classic Films  In Digital 4K Dec. 12 2023

Three of James Cameron’s most notable films have just been released in Digital 4k for the first time, and two of those titles have never even been released in HD. Aliens (1986), the sequel to Alien (1979), has been available in Digital HD and on 2K Blu-ray for some time, but True Lies (1994) and The Abyss (1989) have been stuck in SD land (Standard Definition/480p) since the days when DVD was the highest quality format we could see at home.

Now, all three films can be viewed in Digital 4k with Dolby Vision, HDR, and Dolby Atmos. But, as noted, only in digital format. All three movies release on 4k Blu-ray exactly three months later on March 12, 2024. The premiere dates of the 4k remasters differ from the release of Cameron‘s biggest hit, Titanic, which arrived simultaneously in 4k on both disc and digital on Dec. 5, 2023.

How do the James Cameron films look remastered in Digital 4k UHD? In a nutshell, the video is sharper and color deeper than ever before. Dolby Vision HDR expands the bit depth up to 10 bits, so the contrast ratio is also expanded, especially on TVs that support HDR video. 

However, the video also has what you might call a mushy, or DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) quality to it, the amount of which varies, depending on the scene and movie. Some scenes look great, but others squash details into a waxy, overly processed image. Upon first glance, True Lies looks the worst, with Aliens following second. The Abyss is really the best-looking of the bunch.

Keep in mind, there are several factors involved when delivering video via streaming or download. First, the video has to be compressed to a manageable size. Compression can lead to a loss of detail as algorithms generalize detail in order to the reduce file size. So, whether or not a DNR look comes from purposeful filtering, or simply from a compressed file, is not always clear in the end product. However, bad compression results in more recognizable hard digitized look, like interpolation, rather than softening. Softening is clearly evident in shots of Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, however, there are shots of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same movie that are very sharp and retain some grain.

True Lies shot comparison
True Lies (1994) 4k Digital screen photos – Can you believe these are from the same stream?

With that said, a 4k Blu-ray disc, which doesn’t have the same limitations as streaming and/or downloadable files, currently offers much more detail because of the expanded size of the disks. Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc formats are either 66GB or (preferred) 100GB sizes. The less compression required, the more detail and bit data can be retained.

Secondly, we should also consider output. An unforgiving backlit screen such as a large OLED or QLED will certainly reveal the undesired qualities of compressed and/or noise-filtered video much more than a projection. A long-throw or short-throw projector may be the most forgiving display output as the image sits on a flat surface rather than derived from being backlit.

In addition, since these movies were made to stream you might find the qualities to be more desirable on devices such as tablets, laptops, and phones. After scanning all three movies on three different mobile devices (Apple iPhone 14, iPad Pro, and a 16’ MacBook Pro) the video image from True Lies looked the most processed while The Abyss looked the least processed.

The Abyss (1989) 4k screen photo
The Abyss (1989) 4k remaster features Dolby Atmos

Sound is another matter. We haven’t had any of these films available in Atmos until now. And for audiophiles, the new mixes may be the most exciting part of the upgrades. Keep in mind these films are from decades ago and were not made when Atmos was available. So, throwing in height elements and surround effects just because you can with object-based sound technology is not necessarily the best thing to do, especially for films of this merit that don’t need handicaps.

In True Lies (never even released on Blu-ray), sound effects in fight/action scenes are nicely distributed across multiple channels. In the bathroom scene at 30 minutes, the effects of breaking glass and tile hit the side and rear speakers providing an immersive experience. As the heroes and bad guys run through the streets, the sounds of cars, screams, and music are also distributed across the 3-dimensional sound space. In the new Atmos soundtrack, subwoofers are activated for select moments. And, the music score is more distributed than in the old 2.0 stereo mix. The dialogue, however, remains front and center, as it should. 

In Aliens, we also hear a mainly frontal approach to dialogue, which is not uncommon – it makes sense to see voices emerge from pictures. But in the more intense scenes, sound gets distributed to surround speakers in 7-plus discreet channels. The aliens’ crawling noises are evident in the left and right speakers. And, when weapons are fired there are cross-room effects. When the crew is working outside the base, the sounds of high winds brush through left and right channels. With Dolby Atmos lies the potential to move beyond the previous 5.1 channel mixes and into height locations and expanded left and right speaker locations. 

In The Abyss (which never made it to HD Blu-ray) sound has been improved from previous formats and offered in Dolby Atmos. The surround sound has an exceptional mix. The foley effects of the submersibles travel left to right as if passing by the viewer. The heavy breathing of Jammer (just before his encounter with the NTI (Nonterrestrial Intelligence) being) puts listeners right in the scuba mask with him. The first time Lindsey sees the NTIs the sounds travel through the 3-dimensional sound space in a delightful yet somewhat frightening way. The creaking of the submersible platform, breaking of the surface crane in bad weather, are all enhanced in this new Atmos mix. 

What is the takeaway from this review? For those who have given up physical media, these 4k remasters are a great way to experience the films at home. For diehard home theater enthusiasts who don’t want to double-dip on these Cameron titles, the 4k Blu-rays will hopefully provide a much sharper and less processed image.

Note: As of this review The Abyss – Special Edition (1993) and Aliens – Special Edition (1990) are not provided in Digital 4k, but rather upgraded HD versions of each film.

Jeff Chabot
Jeff Chabothttps://hd-report.com
Jeff has a background in photography, video and television production. He writes about technology, broadcasting, home theater, and digital entertainment.


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