When it comes to next-gen audio these ageing action stars aren't quite so expendable after all...
It's business-as-usual in this third instalment in Sylvester Stallone's cinematic retirement home for elderly action stars. This time around the plot involves the search for a former-Expendable-turned-arms dealer (Mel Gibson), a situation that is apparently so serious that it necessitates not only the recruiting of even more old action stars (Wesley Snipes! Antonio Banderas! Harrison Ford! Er… Kelsey Grammer!), but an injection of fresh blood (Kellan Lutz! Glen Powell! Ronda Rousey! Victor Ortiz!).
In terms of the franchise, The Expendables 3 is the silliest of the lot, with a definite humorous bent and a lack of the OTT bloodsplatter that marked out the first two (a result of chasing a PG-13 rating in the US). However, it's also plenty of fun if you're in the right mood.
Picture: The AVC 2.40:1 1080p image quality is almost as much of a roller-coaster as the film itself. While facial close-ups are stunningly detailed and pin-sharp, some of the skin tones seem a bit off-kilter. Conversely the detailing and lighting is so good that the make-up artist’s trowel marks are almost visible. The old-team actors look even more old, worn and craggy than they do in real life as the picture focuses sharply on every line, pore and scar.
From the mute greys of tanks and rocks to the green hills and blues skies and the vivid orange of explosions, the film does not hold back on the colour palette. Shadowy scenes are almost nonexistent. However, rarely have we seen a film with so many changes in white balance between cuts. Outside sequences are engulfed in a warm honey hue, while most of the inside shots are blueish and balanced much cooler.
There are a few instances of artefacting around some moving objects. Black objects on light backgrounds sometimes get a slight shimmering edge – particularly Stallone's black clothes and hair. It’s only occasional but it jars.
Of course, these are all minor technical niggles. In reality The Expendables 3’s outrageous action, spectacular detail and vivid colour simply ride roughshod over these issues and, by the time the credits roll, leave your eyes exhausted.
Picture rating: 3.5/5
Audio: As one of the initial Blu-rays to have a fully-native Dolby Atmos soundtrack, it was straight into 7.2.4 configuration for the first viewing.
And, er, wow! Everything here is wound up to the max, yet the movie retains far better dynamic range than either of its forerunners. There is clear differentiation between gentle conversation and, say, small nuclear explosions. Meanwhile, effects leap cleanly out the audio carnage (of which there is plenty). In fact, dialogue is brilliantly focused and intelligible, meaning you understand everything Stallone says – which may be a first.
The Atmos height channels get full use throughout almost every second. Unsurprisingly, overhead helicopter pans and flying bullets lead the acoustic charge from the ceiling but oddly these are also joined by individual and massed screams of people dying. As that is ‘several per second’ in many parts of the The Expendables 3 there is often rather a lot of blood-curdling wailing from above. You don’t seem to be able to pin-point this effect during the movie (we disabled the other channels to see what was up there), as the exploding chaos tends to drown it out. However, it does make you wonder what exactly the sound designer was trying to achieve by having all the bad guys dying overhead. Possibly: 'I've got all these new channels and I’m going to use them'.
During the battle sequences, toggling between 7.2.4 Atmos and 7.2 Dolby TrueHD gives you either thunderously enveloping 3D sound or a more traditional planar soundfield that is crisper and better defined. With all guns blazing from the ceiling even the dialogue gets a little smeared so – shocker – Atmos is not necessarily the best format for the bulk of this flick.
It's when the pace slows that the native Atmos mix comes into its own. The additional channels create proper three-dimensional effects mapped so precisely in the air that they sound ‘in-room’ rather than emanating from the speakers.
Slight issues with the overhead mix aside, The Expendables 3 remains a poster child for full-fat 7.2.4 audio.
Audio rating: 4.5/5
Extras: In addition to two cuts of the movie (the 126-minute 'Theatrical' and a 132-minute 'Extended'), this Blu-ray release also finds space for an enjoyable 52-minute Making of… doc, a pair of additional featurettes (covering new cast members and filming the action scenes), a gag reel and an extended action sequence.
Extras rating: 2.5/5
We say: Atmos-hedz will lap up every minute of this middling action three-quel
The Expendables 3: Extended Edition, Lionsgate, Region B BD. £25 Approx
HCC VERDICT: 3.5/5
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