Release Date(s)2011 (July 12, 2016)
Studio(s)The Stephen Low Company/IMAX (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
Who doesn’t love trains? Walt Disney certainly did. So too did many of his best animators, including Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, not to mention the likes of Rod Stewart, Tom Hanks, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, and many others. Neil Young even once owned a model train company. As for myself, I learned as a child that my own great grandfather worked as an engineer on the Northern Pacific Railway more than a century ago. My stepfather, an architect, enjoyed designing miniature train layouts his entire life – when he passed away, I inherited his collection. And though they’ve become somewhat passé today, I suspect that many of you, like me, have woken up – once upon a Christmas morning – to find your very first electric train set laid out under the tree, whether Lionel, HO, or N-gauge.
Stephen Low’s Rocky Mountain Express is a love letter to trains and those who love them, as well as a testament to one of the great railroads of the Industrial Age, the legendary Canadian Pacific. Its construction was led by William Cornelius Van Horne, and its story is an epic tale of ingenuity, willpower, engineering, and sheer human endurance. Many considered the construction of a railway from Vancouver eastward across the Rocky Mountains impossible, and it was only accomplished at great expense and loss of life. Its final achievement not only allowed the easier passage of people and freight across the continent, it helped to build the nation of Canada itself. Low’s film, originally released to IMAX theaters in 2011, is equal parts documentary, travelogue, and romantic adventure. It features stunning photography that takes you along on the journey of a newly-restored vintage locomotive, No. 2816, as it traces the route of the railway’s construction through some of the most gorgeous high mountain landscapes on Earth. It is, in short, a delight.
Shout! Factory’s 4K release is a 2-disc set. The first is a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc that includes two versions of the film in 4K – one with HDR and one without. The film’s original 15 perf/70mm footage was scanned digitally at an impressive 11K resolution (10928 x 8192), which was then down-sampled to 4K (3840 x 2160) for this release. The film is presented at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. High dynamic range really makes a difference here, especially when the camera is taking in various aspects of the locomotive itself – ironwork, brass, sunlight glinting off steam-covered machinery, glistening oil, and the like. The film’s soundtrack is included in an excellent English Dolby Atmos. The mix isn’t terribly active in terms of surround gimmicks, but it’s highly atmospheric, helping to fully immerse the viewer in the onscreen imagery. Audio options are also available in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in both French and Spanish, with optional English closed captions.
Extras on the 4K disc include pair of excellent short films from the National Film Board of Canada, including The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952 – 11:56) and Railroaders (1958 – 21:20). They appear here in what looks to be 4K upconverted HD. Also included on the disc are 4K trailers for The Last Reef, Wonders of the Arctic, Rocky Mountain Express, Journey to Space, Flight of the Butterflies, and Humpback Whales, all of which are now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray format from Shout (click on the title links for our reviews of each).
The second disc in the package is a standard Blu-ray that includes the film in 1080p high-definition. The A/V quality is excellent, though obviously not as impressive as the 4K experience, and the disc includes the same bonus features listed above in HD. There’s also a code for a digital download version.
The experience of watching Rocky Mountain Express in 4K with High Dynamic Range is almost a kind of meditation. It’s one of my favorite IMAX films to date and Shout! Factory is to be commended for releasing it on the UHD format. If you have any interest at all in this subject, trust me... this disc is highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt