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Blu-ray Review: Shutter Island

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The Film

I was mostly satisfied with Shutter Island on my first viewing — letting go of the hope that Martin Scorsese will ever make another masterpiece in the realm of Taxi Driver or Goodfellas is a key component to enjoying his later period work, and Shutter Island works better than any of his other films from this century.

Still, I couldn’t shake the notion that it was mostly a one-off experience — so dependent on a highly telegraphed twist ending that there was little point to revisit it, even if the creepy and noir-drenched atmospherics were typically excellent. I said as much in my original review of the film (There’s more plot summary available there if you’re interested), but sources as disparate as hype-world denizen Ain’t It Cool News (It’s not like I read the site; the pull-quote on the cover art is just hard to miss) and the inimitable Glenn Kenny asserted that the film, in fact, would reward another look.

And they’re both kind of right, although the specifics of the big reveal remain rather stupid — not really Scorsese’s fault, as he was beholden to the source material by Dennis Lehane. What really becomes evident on another viewing, however, is just how little Scorsese is interested in a gotcha ending — sure, there are little clues along the way that become more apparent when knowing the truth straight away, but that’s not what makes Shutter Island a film worth watching twice.

Rather, it’s the way in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character disintegrates, culminating in a masterful sequence near the end of the film where the truth is finally revealed. Scorsese takes a ho-hum attempt at pulling the rug out from under the audience, and collides all the film’s previous dream sequences into the very upsetting reality.

The film does remain a little too plot-centric to qualify as a true masterpiece — the pacing is fantastic, but the story is unremarkable. It’s a testament to Scorsese’s ability that the film comes off as well as it does. Those underwhelmed by Shutter Island the first time owe it to themselves to give it another pass.

The Blu-ray Disc

Shutter Island is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film’s visual palette is very faithfully represented here, with the dim and dingy corridors of the mental hospital contrasting nicely with the sumptuous dream sequences. Visually, those scenes are the most stunning ones in the film, and the heightened color saturation looks fantastic here, especially evident in Michelle Williams’ yellow patterned dress. Color definition is sharp throughout, and excellent contrast persists in the large number of lowlight scenes. Overall, this is a quite strong transfer.

The audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD mix that is thundering from the very beginning. Ominous cues from the soundtrack are almost overpowering at times, and the major storms that the island gets pounded with show off the range of the mix quite nicely. Clear and crisp dialogue centers this excellent and well-rounded mix.

Special Features

There’s not much to speak of in terms of bonus material. The two included featurettes each run about 20 minutes and are presented in HD, but don’t expect any interesting revelations as most of this is fairly typical EPK stuff. Behind the Shutters goes into the making of the film, while Into the Lighthouse explores its depiction of mental illness. Scorsese and most of the principal cast make appearances in the featurettes.

The Bottom Line

Audiences wanting a good surprise ending are barking up the wrong tree, but audiences willing to appreciate the film beyond its fairly obvious plot points will glean a lot from another viewing, and the technically solid Blu-ray makes it an even easier choice.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.