Those seeking refuge or solace in a home viewing of Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning best picture "12 Years A Slave" will be startled by its vivid imagery, brought into focus even more clearly in 1080p HD on Blu-Ray. It may be even more painful to watch, though nothing replicates its power on the big screen, where it should be seen first. The 35mm print of "12 Years A Slave" is a glorious, rich and evocative document, its results staggering.
Watching "12 Years A Slave" on Blu-Ray is to see a brighter, harsher light shined on the brutalities and atrocity of slavery. The film is no less tough to watch on 2.40:1 widescreen, with Hans Zimmer's score sharp and piercing in DTS-HD 5.1. The one concern I had is that the visuals might be too pristine but I don't think that detracts much at all from the viewing experience. ("12 Years A Slave" still plays in U.S. theaters and is currently in numerous countries, where it has done well.)
The history-making film tracks Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man from New York in 1841, who is deceived and kidnapped to Washington D.C. then transported to a New Orleans plantation, where he was enslaved for 12 years. Mr. Ejiofor's nuanced work deserves another look, as does Sean Bobbitt's gorgeous cinematography and all the other excellent performances, including Lupita Nyong'o's Oscar-winning turn as Patsey.
Mr. McQueen's direction is stellar. He brings the organics of slavery, tactile, taut and terrifying, front and center. You can smell the blood and sweat. You can taste the tears. It's a wrenching, necessary journey. At home you can't escape from it, either.
The Blu-Ray, obviously pressed prior to "12 Years"' triple-Oscar triumph, has decent extras. "A Historical Portrait", in two parts totaling 41 minutes, featuring interviews with Mr. McQueen, the cast, and historians, including the film's technical consultant Henry Louis Gates Jr. The "Portrait" segments feature Mr. Ejiofor reading from Mr. Northup's memoir at the Young Vic theatre in London during the summer of 2013. "The Team", an eight-minute segment, focuses on the "12 Years A Slave" production team. "The Score" is about Mr. Zimmer's music for the film.
Trailers from Fox Searchlight, "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Book Thief", "The Counselor" and "Baggage Claim", and The Weinstein Company's "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" are also added, as is the original theatrical trailer for "12 Years A Slave". Supplemental to the trailers are promotional ads from MGM's 90th anniversary and for the television series "Homeland" and "The Bridge".
"12 Years A Slave" is a vital keepsake. Any fan of film and history would be advised to purchase the Blu-Ray (the DVD doesn't have the historical portrait extra), as well as Mr. Northup's stirring and unforgettable memoir.
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Omar P.L. Moore is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. He is the editor and creator of The Popcorn Reel movie review/interview website. He is on Twitter @popcornreel. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, read at www.popcornreel.com and seen reviewing films at www.youtube.com/popcornreel.