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Deepwater Horizon (2016)

4K UHD Released: 1/10/2016

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/23/2016

Horror movies are popular because they offer a harmless way for people to explore their fears. No one wants to be chased by a killer or attacked by an animal, but if we can watch it happen to someone else on the screen, it can be a healthy and safe catharsis. While we don't see them quite as often, the same goes for disaster movies. Being trapped in a situation where all hell is breaking loose should be no one's idea of fun (or at least, it shouldn't be), but if we can take that journey via a movie, it can help us to process those feelings of fear. Be it a natural disaster or man-made, these movies show us what a true loss of control can be. And if they are based on a true story, like Deepwater Horizon, there is an added layer of emotion.

The Deepwater Horizon was a free-floating oil rig which was drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, 2010, a group of crew members, including technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), and pilot Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), return to the rig following a sabbatical. Upon reaching the Deepwater Horizon, which is some 40 miles from shore, they find that officials from BP have been there and dismissed a crew who was supposed to run an important test. As Williams begins researching the very problems on the rig, Harrell tries to convince BP reps Kaluza (Brad Leland), Vidrine (John Malkovich), and Kuchta (Dave Maldonado), that the rig may not be safe. His words fall on deaf ears, as Vidrine orders a test of the pipe leading thousands of feet into the water. The test literally backfires, as mud and methane gas flood onto the deck, leading to a fiery disaster.

Sometimes dramatizations like this cover a story which is either not well known or only vaguely familiar. However, I clearly remember the news coverage of not only the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, but the aftermath which resulted in one of the greatest ecological disasters of all time. Following the loss of human life from the accident, oil spewed into the Gulf for nearly two months, effecting the ecosystem and the coastlines of several states. I recall the stories blasting BP, and the subsequent commercials where they apologized, as well as the commercials from the various boards of tourism, inviting travelers back to the Gulf. But, beyond all of those headlines, I didn't really know the whole story.

And I still don't. Director Peter Berg has created an incredibly realistic film (more on that in a minute), but the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand isn't nearly as clear as it thinks it is. While I did learn that the Deepwater Horizon was a floating rig and not something which was connected to the bottom of the ocean, many of the other technical details were treated far too non chalantly. We get a brief explanation of how drilling the hole is not the same as pumping oil, and then the movie settles into a groove where every character says "mud" about 50 times, but it's never clearly explained how and why this is an issue. Once the test of the system is started, we, the audience, know that there's going to be a problem, but the true nature of this is lost on us. Once the incident begins, it's implied that some kind of gas gets into the ventilation system, but I had to do research on my own to learn that it was methane. I applaud the film for wanting to keep things real and not talk down to the viewer, but they could have taken a few seconds to truly expand on what is happening.

Having said that, Deepwater Horizon does not hold back on recreating the reality of what happened. From the outset, Berg and Co. attach us to the hips of those involved, beginning with their helicopter journey from the mainland to the rig. From there, we are taken aboard the massive and detailed sets, where we see how the setting was painstakingly reproduced. Once the accident occurs, we are placed right in the middle of spewing mud, explosions, and fires. Through a mixture of real-world and visual effects, the movie shows us what it was like to be in a place where everything was coming apart at once. These effects are quite seamless and there were very few times where it looked like the actors were in front of a green-screen. This approach adds a good amount of drama to the movie, as we are right there when characters are killed.

Most likely due to the political climate at the time, the advertisements for Deepwater Horizon's theatrical run made it appear that seeing the film was some sort of exercise in patriotism. In reality, what we have is a good old-fashioned disaster movie which does focus on the heroism of those involved and also includes a movie tribute to the victims at the closing, but is really all about showing us what that hellish night was like. While the story is just as muddy as the incident, the second-half of the film is a well-made thrill-ride, as we watch the rig come apart at the seams.

Deepwater Horizon contains a shocking number of familiar actors on 4K UHD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the UHD contains a 2160p HD transfer. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no immediately noticeable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The opening daytime scenes are crystal clear, and show an amazing amount of detail. Once nighttime falls, the action is always visible, and we get an impressive display of depth, as the actors are clearly separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos (TrueHD) 7.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. (And which most like runs in the average range of 6.5 Mbps.) From the outset, once the crew boards the helicopter, this track begins to flex its muscles, showing a very deep bass response. The surround sound and stereo effects are constantly active, highlighting the various sounds coming from around the rig. Once the explosions start, the track is a non-stop whirlwind of sound, placing us right in the middle of the disaster.

Unlike most 4K UHDs, Deepwater Horizon contains extra features (which are also found the Blu-ray Disc included here). "Beyond the Horizon" (51 minutes) is a five-part featurette which focuses on Wahlberg, Hudson, Russell, Rodriguez, and Dylan O'Brien. These segments contain interviews with that particular actor, as well as other members of the cast and the creative team. We get on-set footage showing that actor shooting specific scenes. "Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg" (18 minutes) offers an interview with the director, behind-the-scenes footage of him at work, and comments from the cast about his working style. "The Fury of the Rig" (27 minutes) shows us how the Deepwater Horizon (in the film) was designed and executed, from the design of the sets to the visual effects which were used. "Deepwater Surveillance" (17 minutes) offers twelve short segments which are comprised of on-set video showing how some key scenes in film, most containing stunt-work, were shot.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long