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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Thor

September 16th, 2011

Thor - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or Blu-ray

Thor helped kick off summer on a good note, opening with $65 million and finishing its run with over $180 million domestically and nearly $450 million worldwide. However, while it was a hit at the box office and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews, there were some who really didn't like the movie. The combination of the opulence of Asgard and the more mundane parts we saw on Earth led some critics to complain it was two films badly stitched together. Will this be a problem for me? Will one part be strong enough to compensate for the weak parts? Or will I enjoy the entire film?

The Movie

The film begins with Jane Foster, Dr. Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis waiting in the desert in their storm-tracking van. They are waiting for a meteorological phenomenon that Jane thinks is related to her astrophysics work. When it appears, it's bigger than expected and in her enthusiasm to get to it, she causes Darcy to hit someone. When she asks, "Where did he come from?" we flash back and are shown how Thor ended up exiled on Earth.

It starts with Odin telling his two sons, Thor and Loki, about the great war between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants and how Odin led the army that defeated the giants and captured their source of power, the Casket of Ancient Winters. He also explains that one of them will be made king. They both want to rise to the throne, but there can be only one king. Even though Thor was firstborn, Odin is a little worried he doesn't have the right temperament to be king, but he is just a child.

Back to the present day, and on the day of Thor's coronation, three Frost Giants sneak into the weapons vault and try to steal back the casket. The final defense, The Destroyer, kills the intruders with ease, but Thor wants to retaliate against the Frost Giants and tells his father they should go to war. Odin forbids this, but Thor convinces Loki, Sif, and The Warriors Three (Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral) to go to Jotunheim to find out how the frost giants got into Asgard in the first place. While they travel there supposedly just to look for answers, Thor is clearly looking for a fight and he gets one. Outnumbered, the battle starts to go south and if it weren't for the intervention of Odin, it could have ended in tragedy. While Odin is able to stop the fight and rescue the group, it appears he is unable to stop the war. As punishment for disobeying a direct order and destroying the peace that Odin worked hard to forge, Thor is stripped of his power and banished to Earth... where's he's promptly hit by Darcy.

Thor is first disoriented and then understandably irate over his situation, but he is quickly calmed by Darcy's taser. While Jane is content to just drop him off at a hospital and leave, she changes her mind when she realizes he arrived via the strange phenomenon she had been studying. He could provide information that would in invaluable to her research. Dr. Selvig, on the other hand, thinks he's a nut and they should avoid him. Jane wins out and she starts questioning him about where he came from and how he got there. When Thor hears Mjolnir, which had been cast down to Earth with him, is nearby, he decides to retrieve it, even though the man who tells him the location warns him that the military has shown up. Jane wisely decides not to tag along, but after the same military organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., steals all of Jane's work, Thor becomes her last hope of understanding what she saw.

Meanwhile back in Asgard (I don't get to say that phrase enough) it's not a spoiler to say Loki is up to something. He is the god of mischief, after all. However, exactly what's going on is a spoiler, so I'll stop the plot there.

Thor definitely feels like two movies. There's the grand Sword & Sorcerer epic that takes place in Asgard and the culture clash story that takes place on Earth after Thor was exiled. Both aspects of the film work, and they do combine well in the end. However, I did like the fish out of water part better and it did have some of the best humor in the movie. (Kat Dennings is key here, and I hope she returns for the sequel.) Chris Hemsworth has better than expected screen presence and is able to pull off the brash young warrior as well as the humbled character Thor becomes, plus he has good chemistry with Natalie Portman. He also has a lot of great actors to play against. Anthony Hopkins is great as Odin and he adds a lot of dramatic heft to the film.

Kenneth Branagh showed he was the right director for the job, as he brings out the air of pageantry in the film and Asgard is a wonder to look at. The political machinations add a layer of complexity to the plot that are not exactly Shakespearean, but Kenneth Branagh's previous credits can be seen here and there. The fight scenes were not as big as I was expecting. You only get a brief glimpse of the war Odin fought against the Frost Giants. Plus, the fight between the Frost Giants, Thor, Loki, and the others in Jotunheim was not as well staged as I would like. It's just too dark. In fact, many early scenes were too dark to follow the action. On the other hand, the Destroyer did look better on film than I was expecting. What works in a comic book and what works on the big screen can be very different some times.

Overall it is not the best of the films that are leading into The Avengers, but it is closer to Iron Man than Hulk.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio commentary track with Kenneth Branagh. It suffers from the same problem a lot of solo tracks have, namely a lack of energy. However, this is made up for by the amount of information. Next up is Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant, which is a four-minute short explaining one of the cameos in The Incredible Hulk. Under Featurettes, there are several selections to choose from, from an overall making of, a look at the cast, the director, the music, the hammer, etc. The total running time is just shy of 40 minutes. Road to the Avengers is a three-minute look at the film all of these others have been building towards. Finally, there are 24-minutes of deleted scenes with optional audio commentary track.

There are no exclusive extras on the Blu-ray, but it does come with a DVD / digital copy of the movie. Also, it is a visual movie and benefits greatly from being seen in high definition. There are some problems, mainly this is a very dark movie, Jotunheim especially. The sky is dark, the scenery is dark, the Frost Giants are dark. It makes it hard to follow the action, while the level of detail in these scenes is not quite what I would like. On the other hand, in the brighter scenes, the film looks fantastic. There's a high level of detail, strong colors, and no compression issues. In short, there's nothing wrong with the transfer. The audio is better with clear dialog, plenty of ambient sounds, while the surround sound speakers really get a workout during the battles. Excellent dynamics are combined with a thumping base to great effect.

The Blu-ray is a little expensive when compared to the DVD, but the audio / video quality is worth it. Any problems I had with the video on the Blu-ray are worse on the DVD. As for the 3D version, I haven't made the leap yet, but at just $5 more, it's a reasonable price, even though the film is a post-production conversion and was not natively shot in 3D, which means it will likely be even darker than the regular edition.

The Verdict

Thor does an excellent job balancing the epic nature of Asgard to the more down to Earth story between Thor and Jane. The DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and the Blu-ray all have strong extras, but I think the Blu-ray Combo Pack is the best deal. Overall, it's an easy recommendation and Pick of the Week Contender.

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Filed under: Video Review, Thor