The Hurt Locker’s opening scene is remarkable. Aware of nothing about the characters, their motivations, or what their job entails, emotion and tension exists. A military bomb squad begins to dismantle a roadside explosive, carefully cutting wires after a robot fails to perform as anticipated. While the audience sits on edge, the soldiers laugh, smile, and joke with each other.
This is normal for them.
When things take a turn for the worse, you see why they are the elite. Analyzing each individual surrounding them, they begin sweeping the area, pointing guns forcefully at any suspicious onlookers. Kathryn Bigelow’s tight, claustrophobic camera work is in the mix, placing the viewer inside that tension with little break.
Numerous bombs are disarmed in Hurt Locker, yet the film is never repetitive or familiar. Each situation or call is unique, trapping the actors in character-building situations. They rely on each other, even though their vastly different personalities clash.
Hurt Locker does not contain a central story. The audience never learns the identity of the bombers, their motivations, or reasons (not that the latter is already known given the setting). The script is concerned solely with character, the core being loose cannon SSgt. William James (Jeremy Renner). His carefree attitude terrifies his squad mates. He walks towards the explosives, barely flinches when they go off, and refuses to wear a blast suit.
Hurt Locker’s ending is an emotional downer, despite the lack of death. The audience believes James is simply off-cue, a little different, possibly even enjoying the challenge. It is more than that, something that not even his family can change. That is devastating, but James doesn’t even seem to care.
Bigelow shot Hurt Locker on both 16MM film and on video. The AVC encode keeps the shifting styles in check, giving them equal footing in terms of depth, color, and sharpness. Immediately, this transfer appears striking, with bold, deep blacks and a bright, clean whites. Details, including uniform texturing and facial pores, are represented cleanly with minimal drops.
Hurt Locker uses multiple color schemes, from the dry browns of the desert, cold blues of a housing unit, to the bright oranges of the debris-laden bomb site at night. Each produces superb saturation, and the stable black levels ensure their richness is maintained in near total darkness.
The one thing this AVC encode can’t do, despite a high bitrate, is handle the roughest grain structure. Artifacting is routine, first notably heavy around 17:56, and then randomly popping up when the grain becomes too thick. The transfer struggles with smoke, causing discoloration when it becomes heavy. Video noise is evident during the nighttime investigation.
The opening scene of Hurt Locker contains a bomb explosion, and it pushes this DTS-HD effort as low as it can possibly go. The room-shaking bass is not just exceptional, but powerful. A genuine rattle is caused, perfect to replicate the intensity of the explosion.
There is more than a forced subwoofer jolt, as rocks and bomb debris begins falling back to earth in each channel. Separation here is beyond exceptional. It sounds as if every pebble is accounted for. The stereo channels are split wide, capturing car horns, kids yelling, and general dialogue. This mix is focused enough to deliver the drop of a box of cereal into a shopping cart on the right of the soundfield, exactly where it should be.
Hurt Locker excels at ambiance as well. Listen to the debris bring kicked off the tires of the trucks when the camera is in the backseat. Helicopters and jets are overhead in force, loudly breaking the tension on purpose with phenomenal tracking. Brief shoot-outs do not overload the surrounds with gunfire, but subtly places missed rounds specifically to better indicate their position.
Despite lavish raise from critics, Summit includes few extras. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal deliver a commentary, while a properly titled behind-the-scenes featurette delivers on the usual focal points (concept, script, casting, shooting, etc.) during its 12-minute run. An image gallery offers an audio-only Q & A session with Bigelow and Boal while the stills pass.