Action Adventure

'The Great Wall' Blu-ray Review: Bourne in China

May 23, 2017Ben MK

First thing's first: The Great Wall is not a movie about U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to build a border wall between America and Mexico. It is, however, set 900 years ago, and follows an archer named William Garin (Matt Damon), who finds himself out of his element when he and his comrade-in-arms (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal) are caught in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between the defenders of the Great Wall — an army 100,000 strong, dubbed The Nameless Order — and the mythical creatures it was designed to keep out.

Directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) and starring a cast of predominantly Chinese actors — including Andy Lau (the Infernal Affairs trilogy), Jing Tian (Police Story: Lockdown), Hanyu Zhang (Bodyguards and Assassins), and pop stars Lu Han and Junkai Wang — The Great Wall's spectacular visuals prove to be a major selling point, thanks to the elaborate costume design, not to mention the visuals in general, which evoke an Eastern-themed version of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, the epic scope of which rivals the Great Wall itself.

The script, on the other hand, a joint effort by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy, is basic at best. A retreading of the tried-and-true hero's journey, it not only borrows inspiration from Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai, but also 47 Ronin and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, a reflection of the fact that, while Gilroy may have helped pen hits like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the Bourne series, the former have been responsible for such misfires as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Of course, The Great Wall is more than just a spectacle-filled, fantasy-inspired re-imagining of historical legend; it's also quite literally the embodiment of the very creative and financial partnership Hollywood has been so diligently forging with its distant neighbors to the East for the past several years. In that respect, the movie is as much about bringing together individuals united towards a common goal as it is about protecting oneself from foreign threats. Now that's a topic that the politicians of today could certainly use a lesson or two about.

If the best defense is a good offense, then The Great Wall proves quite impenetrable indeed, at least from a purely technical perspective. The film's vibrant color scheme is brilliantly rendered, from red desert sands to the golden hues that adorn the interior of the Imperial palace; picture quality is sharp and crystal-clear, revealing even the tiniest of details hidden within the visually resplendent production and costume design; and it's all bolstered by a thoroughly immersive, action-packed Dolby Atmos sound mix, which steeps viewers in the sounds of epic battles, whether it be flying arrows and exploding fireballs or the otherworldly screeching of fantastic beasts.

Universal's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:49) - Eight scenes ("Commander Lin Enters the Great Hall," "Guards Take Tovar to the Barracks," "Ballard Takes Tovar Inside the Wall," "Extended Scheming in Ballard's Suite," "Extended Funeral Sequence," "Tovar and Ballard Wait for William," "Lin Mae Arrives at the West Tower" and "Extended Emperor Sequence").
  • Matt Damon in China (2:45) - Damon talks about working with the cast and crew in China, from the language barrier to learning how to be an archer.
  • Working with Director Zhang Yimou (3:06) - The cast and crew share their thoughts about working with the legendary director.
  • The Great Wall Visual Effects (3:06) - A look at the film's VFX, from the CGI used to extend the physical Great Wall set, to turning a handful of extras into an army of thousands.
  • Man vs. Monster (9:22) - A three-part, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie's key battle sequences, from the action choreography to the production design ("The First Battle," "The Second Battle" and "The Third Battle").
  • Weapons of War (3:17) - A look at the weapons arsenal built into the Great Wall itself, from hidden blades, to trebuchets that shoot flaming cannonballs, to oversized crossbows.
  • Designing a Spectacular World (3:34) - Production Designer John Myhre, Set Decorator Gordon Sim and Costume Designer Mayes C. Rubeo talk about their work on the film.

The Great Wall is available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment as of May 23rd, 2017. The Blu-ray features English Dolby Atmos, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 43 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on February 17th, 2017.

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