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Review: Schmigadoon!

Schmigadoon! (2021)

I need to get a couple of formalities out of the way up front. I’d assumed I’d be able to binge this series and review the whole thing, but only the first two episodes were available upon launch. I’m not a fan of reviewing works in progress but I’d already put the time aside to write this up, so I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

 

Second, I’ve known Schmigadoon! director/executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld for a while and have interviewed him a number of times, including in these pages. That has in no way inflected this review. Oddly, and fortunately, once a movie or episode begins, the experience takes over completely and I’m able to consider it on its own terms. Anything I might have 

heard about it or any outside influences become irrelevant. That’s no great skill or anything—it just is.

 

Some series telegraph exactly where they’re going straight out of the gate and subsequent episodes become minor variations on what was laid down at the beginning. That’s not the case here, so my comments will very much pertain to just the first two episodes, along with some likely misguided speculation (i.e., blind guessing) about where the show will go from there.

 

It’s good Apple has two episodes out there at the start because if they’d launched with just the first one, the show would likely be in serious trouble. I realize that in a culture that’s given over its creative soul to fantasy, anything resembling plausibility is strictly optional, and even a sin, but given that this is supposed to be a series about relationships, it would have helped a lot if there had been 

SCHMIGADOON! AT A GLANCE

The jury is still very much out just two episodes into Barry Sonnenfeld’s deliberately pared-down take on classic movie musicals. 

 

PICTURE
The 4K/Dolby Vision presentation is (with the exception of a couple of soft frames) sharp and vivid throughout.

 

SOUND     

The Atmos mix is surprisingly tight and upfront, lacking the expansiveness you usually associate with big production numbers.

more of an effort to develop the core relationship and show how it necessitated the transition to a fantasy world.

 

But there’s a bigger problem: The dominant lead, Cecily Strong, is just unpleasant, both as a character and as a presence. I’ll readily acknowledge that, in her brattiness, she well represents some kind of current cultural ideal, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to go along for the ride. The idea of enduring her throughout a six-episode run is right up there with preparing my taxes as an inherently odious task. But I’m only two episodes in, so hopefully things will somehow get more interesting or in some other way improve—but I doubt anything will much change with her voice, which is a constant reminder that I need to get someone to come look at my garbage disposal.

 

It doesn’t help that her partner, Keegan-Michael Key, is as insubstantial as a wraith. He works hard to try to manifest himself but—so far—hasn’t been able to make much of an impression. It’s hard to have a show about relationships when half of the pair is barely there—but I have to wonder if, on some level, that wasn’t intentional. O, and I don’t believe for a second that either he or Strong are doctors. If you should ever find yourself with a physician as fundamentally immature as either of 

these two, it’s time to turn to prayer.

 

That’s not to say there’s no benefit to watching Episode One. There’s something fundamentally appealing about finding yourself lost in a world based on classic movie musicals, and the production numbers have an inherent verve and charm, even if some of them feel a little forced. And there’s a certain fascination to the overall approach to the production (about which I’ll have more to say below).

 

And even if you have to shield your eyes in the presence of the leads, focusing on some of the standouts in the supporting cast—in particular, Aaron Tveit as the town bad 

boy, Alan Cumming as the perpetually popular mayor, and Kristin Chenoweth as the scolding preacher’s wife—helps make the ride more enjoyable.

 

But Schmigadoon! doesn’t really begin to get interesting until early into Episode Two, when the ensemble breaks into “Lover’s Spat,” the first genuinely satisfying moment in the series and the first indication the hands at the levers might be able to steer the show someplace intriguing. It’s engagingly staged while bringing some new twists to the movie-musical conventions, and manages to strike the right balance with the somewhat treacherous equation that lies at the heart of the series without ultimately coming down on one side or the other.

 

About that equation: It seems possible the whole relationship thing is little more than a pretext for wading into the quagmire of the culture wars and, if true, there’s a chance Schmigadoon! could end up being bolder than it appears at first blush, and could ultimately redeem itself. The series places two moral systems in opposition: An archaic one, associated with movie musicals and rooted in a sense of community, and a more contemporary one that eschews community in favor of the individual. 

 

Putatively framed as a present-versus-fantasy-world-based-in-the-past thing makes the whole exercise seem pretty anodyne, but stand just off to one side and squint a little and it’s not hard to see it as what happens when smug urbanites happen to wander beyond the castle walls and go out into the countryside to mingle with the peasants. There’s so much I could say about that but I’m really biding my time and hoping the series has the courage to mix things up a little and show some understanding of those forgotten parts of the country and doesn’t become yet another exercise in coastal elitism (like, say, Space Force), just adding another echo to a chamber already deafening with noise.  

 

Maybe the most interesting thing about the production, though, is its claustrophobia. You expect a movie musical to feel big and lavish, but Schmigadoon! feels intimate, even squeezed, with no effort made to hide the scaled-down nature of the main set (or of the town’s populace) and with the dancers forced right up against the edges of the frame, with barely an inch of room to spare. Part of this is an extension of the aesthetic Sonnenfeld explored through his Series of Unfortunate Events for Netflix, shooting the whole series on a soundstage and deliberately emphasizing its staginess, which made it feel like a throwback to early cinema—as in really early cinema—giving it a Black Maria/Victorian feel. Deployed here, it makes the action seem constricted, like it’s all playing out inside a Cornell box. Again, it’s too early in the series to know if this will pay off, but it’s undeniably intriguing. 

 

So far, I haven’t been real happy with how that approach has been translated into the audio mix, where all of the voices are tightly focused and upfront, with none of the sense of space you’d expect with ensemble numbers. But it’s a strategy that may yet justify its existence. 

 

There are some surprising choices with the color palette as well. You expect Technicolor—what you get is a kind of candy striping, with pumped-up whites (of all things), which, again, makes this feel way more Victorian than Studio Era. (The 4K/Dolby Vision presentation, with the surprising exception of a couple of soft frames, is sharp and vivid throughout, although there have been a few moments that seemed a tad too video-like.)

 

Sorry to have hedged so many of my bets, but it’s impossible (or at least irresponsible) to say anything definitive based on incomplete information. Schmigadoon! is worth a look—it’s diverting enough and may yet morph into something more substantial. But at this point, your guess at where it’s going to land is as good as mine.

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Ep. 14: Barry Sonnenfeld on . . . a Little Bit of Everything

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Knowing that Barry Sonnenfeld has just finished shooting a series for Apple TV+—a tongue-in-cheek take on Studio Era musicals called Schmigadoon!—and that it was one of the first projects to go into production in the midst of the pandemic, we were curious to check in to see how he fared. He proved eager to talk not just about how he and his team rose to that challenge but about a slew of other topics as well, especially his plans to create a new screening room in a less than hospitable space.

 

Given all the ground we covered, it seemed best to opt out of the usual description of topics and provide a stripped-down road map instead:

 

4:39     His experiences shooting during the pandemic.

8:15     The virtues of filming in Vancouver.

8:52     The similarities of shooting Schmigadoon! and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

11:23   The similarities between Schmigadoon! and Pushing Daisies & his other work.

13:17   Apple TV’s and Netflix’s requirements for shooting in 4K.

15:33   Fighting HDR.

17:48   8K.

19:17   Working with Apple TV and Netflix vs. traditional studios.

22:37   The emergence of cinematic television.

23:53   His various screening rooms.

26:05   The challenges and opportunities of his new screening room.

26:44   The Apple app for accessing Academy screeners.

27:32   Jumping into Atmos.

28:38   Digital room correction.

29:06   Get Shorty.

35:45   Can they pull off the Oscars this year?

37:02   Somehow, we end up talking about the designated-hitter rule.

37:52   The fate of movie theaters and its impact on film financing.

40:21   Should streaming-only content be eligible for Oscar consideration?

41:12   Doing professional film production on an iPhone.

42:55   His James Randi project.

44:33   The intersection of art and technology.

44:59   The one good thing about 8K.

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Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Review: The Snoopy Show

The Snoopy Show (2021)

One of the things I love about Roku is the ability to quickly and easily customize its home screen. Find yourself watching content from one app more than any other? Just click the asterisk and move it closer to the top of the screen. Left cold by the offerings of another streaming service? Bump it down in the list, perhaps to page two or three. It seems a little trivial, but I use the arrangement of apps as a metric for deciding whether or not to cancel streaming subscriptions. If I have to scroll down past the topmost three and a half rows of icons to get to an app, that app is no longer worth paying for.

I only mention that because, after having watched The Snoopy Show, Apple TV+ has moved up from the precarious ninth position (right near the bottom of the screen at bootup) and is now resting more comfortably on the second row of icons, just below YouTube, Netflix, and Disney+.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it but The Snoopy Show is better than it has any right to be. And if that seems a little harsh, think back to when you first heard that Apple would be producing new Peanuts animated specials. Was your initial reaction even slightly hopeful? If so, I wish I could bottle your optimism.

 

But maybe I’m just jaded. Thanks to Ronald Reagan’s reign of deregulation, I grew up in the era of cartoons as commercials, when every 22-minute animated romp—

SNOOPY AT A GLANCE

Both family-friendly and charmingly weird, this Apple TV+ series presents the new adventures of everybody’s favorite cartoon beagle without lapsing into franchise-itis.

 

PICTURE
The Dolby Vision presentation, while not expansive in its luminance, gives the gradience and shading of the backgrounds plenty of room to breathe.

 

SOUND     

It’s a shame the score doesn’t aspire to be anything more than poor-man’s Vince Guaraldi.

whether it aired on Saturday mornings or after school—was trying to sell me all manner of things I immediately begged my parents to buy. Robots in Disguise. Real American Heroes. Whatever M.A.S.K. was about. And, in the case of The Peanuts, Dolly Madison snacks, Coke, and Mickey D’s. (Although, to be fair, that last one wasn’t Reagan’s fault—that was true from the giddy-up.)

 

We’re in the midst of something of a cartoon renaissance, though. Kids today (and yes, it hurts my soul to type those words) have an embarrassment of legitimately good, kid-friendly, non-propagandist episodic animation to devour, from Steven Universe to Craig of the Creek to Hilda and Infinity Train, and it’s only been a couple of years since Adventure Time ended its run as one of the hands-down best TV series of the past 50 years.

 

Given that this is the environment The Snoopy Show is parachuting into, perhaps my expectations should have been a little higher. But I’m still honestly shocked that the creative talents behind this new Apple-exclusive series have put so much effort into making it so darned good.

 

Its virtues begin with its animation, which is both an homage to the classic Peanuts animated specials and a loving upgrade of their style. The characters themselves seem pulled straight from Sparky Schulz’s pen, and although the foreground animation has been giving a big boost (both in draftsmanship and resolution), there’s still something incredibly comfortable about the way Charlie Brown and Snoopy and the gang are animated. The herky-jerky, overly dramatic body language for which 

everyone’s favorite cartoon beagle is known translates beautifully into this new world of cartoons.

 

The background art, meanwhile, is a whole new ballgame. The canvas upon which these little animated adventures take place is of a quality quite unlike anything we saw in Peanuts specials of yore. There’s some Looney Tunes influence, for sure, especially in the way the background artists play with 

abstractions and intentional registration errors. There’s also some obvious homage to the earliest Peanuts Sunday strips, before everything got simplified down to flat secondary colors. The Dolby Vision presentation of The Snoopy Show, while not expansive in its luminance, gives the gradience and shading of the backgrounds plenty of room to breathe without banding.

 

But what impresses me most about the imagery is that the background artists have cobbled their influences and inspiration into something unique, with a character of its own, and of a quality you just don’t expect to see outside of feature-length animation.

 

It’s a shame that the same can’t be said of the music. Composer Jeff Morrow seems content to play a poor-man’s Vince Guaraldi here, aping the musical style of the old animated specials without taking any risks. Classics like “Linus and Lucy” may seem in hindsight to be an essential element of the Peanuts, but it’s important to remember that laying down a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas was a creative risk at the time. The studio suits thought it would never fly. So while Morrow’s soundtrack feels comfortable, and is incredibly well-recorded and mixed, it’s not really true to the spirit of what 

Guaraldi and producer Lee Mendelson were aiming for with the music of that original special and its increasingly less-interesting followups.

 

That’s really the only bummer of note here. I could also grumble about the fact that some of the Peanuts gang have been voiced by actors who fail to capture the old-soul timbre I associate with the characters, but 1) that’s more of an observation than a criticism and 2) the humans are really the 

The Snoopy Show (2021)

secondary characters here. As its name implies, The Snoopy Show is about Charlie Brown’s canine companion, not Charlie Brown himself. And the focus on Snoopy (and Woodstock) results in a genuinely chaotic vibe that I just love to pieces.

 

Yes, the show still captures the existentialism inherent to The Peanuts (and in that respect, it hews closer to the comic strip than previous animated efforts), but given the rich imagination for which Snoopy is known, and the fantasy worlds he famously inhabits, the shift in focus away from the human gang and toward the pup results in a commensurate shift toward the whimsical and downright weird.

 

As such, there isn’t always a clearly defined narrative arc to the three eight-minute vignettes that make up each episode, nor is there any continuity between them. Each is its own little universe. One entire short is dedicated to Snoopy trying to cool off on a hot day. Another is entirely about his spastic and unselfconscious dancing. The latter, by the way, is one of the few vignettes to have any sort of overt moral, but it echoes the more covert ideology that permeates the series so far: Life may suck sometimes, but it’s a lot more bearable if we choose to actively rebel against the darkness and embrace the goodness and joy and goofiness in the world.

 

That may not be profound but it’s true to Schulz’s creation, and it gives The Snoopy Show a timeless quality that’s rare, even in this new golden age of children’s animated programming. It also means that the series isn’t insufferable when viewed through adult eyes. This is one of those rare shows parents might actually enjoy just as much as their little ones.

 

And that’s not purely a function of nostalgia. Part of it is the fact that the show never panders to anyone. There’s some stuff here that will fly straight over the heads of anyone under 10, but that’s okay. There’s certainly nothing inappropriate for such young eyes and ears. I just can’t imagine our young niece laughing at the same things that made my wife and me chortle.

 

Will you enjoy it as much as we did? I can’t say for sure. The missus and I are both overgrown kids and weirdos to boot. But I hope you do. Because as fanciful (and mischievous!) as it is, the world needs more cartoons like The Snoopy Show.

 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Review: Wolfwalkers

Wolfwalkers (2020)

A few readers have pointed out to me recently that I tend to like things. And although I halfheartedly defend myself against such accusations by pointing out that I’m inclined to simply ignore films and TV series I dislike rather than excoriate them, there’s simply no denying that if I’m going to dedicate any amount of my precious time to a nugget of video entertainment, I’m far more likely to focus my attention and energies on the things I appreciate about it than the things that don’t resonate with me. Every so often, though, a film like Wolfwalkers comes along and forces me to look at everything else with a more critical 

eye. So if my expectations seem to be calibrated a little higher than normal for the next little while, don’t blame it on a lack of caffeine or a generally cantankerous mood—blame it instead on this near-perfect work of art and the impact it had on me.

 

Wolfwalkers, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is the latest effort from Irish filmmakers Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, the third in a series of films based loosely on Irish folklore. Narratively, it bears only the most tangential connection to the previous two films in the cycle—2009’s The Secret of Kells and 2014’s Song of the Sea—but there’s enough shared DNA between the three, both thematically and stylistically, to make their common heritage undeniable.

 

The most obvious thing that sets Wolfwalkers apart is its maturity, not only in the story itself but also in the way it’s told. And by that I don’t necessarily mean that it’s a “grownup” animated film, à la Pixar’s Soul. This is

WOLFWALKERS AT A GLANCE

Tucked away on Apple TV+, this decidedly un-Disney but still family-friendly take on Irish legend is a visual feast.

 

PICTURE     

An incredible home cinema experience from beginning to end, with the rich color palette and nuanced tonal scale beautifully presented.

 

SOUND     

The highly kinetic Dolby Atmos mix works wonderfully with the visuals to enhance the film’s hypnotic effect, but does get a bit too busy from time to time.

undeniably a family film, made for the young as well as the young at heart. Unlike Kells and Sea, though—which, as wonderful as they are, occasionally resort to the sort of pandering for which Disney is known—Wolfwalkers is perhaps the most un-Disney family-friendly animated film I’ve seen since The Red Turtle.

 

As such, even when the film flirts with predictability—which it only occasionally does—there’s still a sense that you’re not quite sure where it’s headed. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen in recent years I could truly give myself over to fully and experience from moment to moment. I have to admit, though, I’m not sure if that’s wholly due to the story itself or if it’s the animation that encourages such ever-present mindfulness.

 

Whatever the case, Wolfwalkers is a sight to behold, with literally every frame looking like a fully realized painting intended for framing and public exhibition. That’s rare for animation—especially 2D, hand-drawn animation. As a big fan of cartoons, especially Looney Tunes, my brain is almost programmed to appreciate background and character animation as two completely distinct disciplines. Think of the work legendary background artist Maurice Noble did at his peak on shorts like “Robin Hood Daffy” and later Road Runner shorts. Those backgrounds are rife with funky abstractions and purely stylistic elements, and only really work together with the character animation when everything is in motion.

 

Funky abstractions and purely stylistic elements abound in Wolfwalkers, but by contrast it’s really difficult to separate background from foreground. There’s never that sense that the characters are being drawn atop a static stage. Every single image in the film creates the illusion that everything from the main characters to the background crowds to the architecture and set dressing sprang from the same pen as one composition. And the effect is simply hypnotizing.

 

There’s also the fact that Wolfwalkers relies on two very different styles of animation—one a blocky, inky, linocut aesthetic heavily influenced by Romanesque wall paintings; the other a very sketchy and organic mix of chaotic pencil sketching and watercolors. Those disparate looks are used most obviously to draw a very clear distinction between the town of Kilkenny and its people on the one hand, and the inhabitants of the surrounding woods on the other. The contrasting style are used somewhat less obviously, though, to convey the moods and inclinations of the characters—especially those whose motivations change throughout the film and whose allegiances shift more toward the natural world.

Wolfwalkers (2020)

If it weren’t obvious from the preceding paragraph, there’s an overt emphasis on environmentalist themes in Wolfwalkers, drawn both from the folklore that inspired the film as well as the filmmakers’ proclivities. There’s also a strong anti-authoritarian bent to the story, a sense of genuine rebelliousness and individualism rarely seen in American animated films. I’d be lying if I said both themes weren’t way up my own personal alley. But I don’t settle down to watch a cartoon with the intention of being proselytized to, even when (especially when) I’m already a full-fledged member of the choir. So perhaps my favorite thing about Wolfwalkers is that it balances these themes without ever feeling preachy.

 

Really, my only hesitation when it comes to Wolfwalkers is the vehicle by which it’s being delivered, at least here in the U.S. The film is an Apple TV+ exclusive, which certainly limits its audience. Worse than that, though, it means it’s presented with no supplemental material—no making-of documentaries, no director’s commentary, nothing of the like. And more so than any film I’ve seen recently, this one positively begs for supplemental material. I want to see the behind-the-scenes process of the animators at work. I want to hear from the writers and directors about their inspiration, their motivation, and more importantly the justifications for so many of the unorthodox choices they made. I’m starving for more information, and aside from a few random clips on YouTube, there’s little to be found.

 

One thing I absolutely cannot complain about, though, is the quality of the presentation. Viewed via the Apple TV+ app on my Roku Ultra in Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio, Wolfwalkers is an incredible home cinema experience from beginning to end. Any imperfections to be seen in the video are all consequences of the hand-drawn animation and not a result of streaming. And though it may be true that the contrasting blocky and sketchy animation styles don’t really lend themselves to the sort of fine detail that pixel-counters look for, the rich color palette shines through beautifully here, as does the nuanced tonal scale.

 

The Dolby Atmos mix does get a bit too busy from time to time, but that’s probably just me. And even I have to admit that the highly kinetic mix works wonderfully in conjunction with the visuals to enhance the film’s hypnotic effect.

 

More than anything else, I’m just sad that so few people will have easy access to this beautifully made but poorly marketed gem. If you’re among the 90 percent of Apple customers who haven’t bothered to sign up for a free year of Apple TV+, Wolfwalkers is absolutely reason enough to do so. It’s just a shame that even those potential numbers wouldn’t be enough to give Wolfwalkers the audience it deserves.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Good Grief—The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn’t the End of the World

Good Grief--The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn't the End of the World

If Disney’s restructuring of its media and entertainment divisions to prepare for the streaming future of cinema wasn’t enough to convince you that the media landscape has forever changed, perhaps this will: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is now an Apple TV+ exclusive.

 

The move has been described as an “indignity” and “a disservice to American traditions and the common good” by commentators who probably haven’t watched the special in years. To be frank, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Peanuts special—which has aired on ABC for the past 20 years and was broadcast by CBS before that every year since its 1966 debut—is such a cultural touchstone that removing it from the airwaves and putting it entirely in the streaming domain 

does seem almost sacrilegious. (Note that I said “almost.”) On the other hand, would we even be talking about The Great Pumpkin right now if not for this development? I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched it on broadcast TV, and I wouldn’t be able to now if I wanted to, since I’m a full-fledged cord-cutter.

 

Before you get up in arms about this (or, depending on your perspective, before you start cheering), there are a few relevant details about the development worth considering. Firstly, The Great Pumpkin will seemingly now be a permanent part of the Apple TV+ lineup, viewable any time of the year for those who subscribe to the service. 

Interestingly, though, Apple is also making the special free-to-stream for non-subscribers during a three-day window from October 30 through November 1. So, if the Peanuts gang is part of your annual Halloween tradition, you’ll still be able to tune in without shelling out $4.99 a month, assuming you own a smart TV or a streaming device such as a Roku or, of course, an Apple TV.

 

The same is true of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving—which will hit Apple TV+ on November 18 and stream free from November 25 to November 27—and A Charlie Brown Christmas, which joins the permanent Apple TV+ lineup on December 4, with a free-to-view period running December 11 through December 13. Will these three-day free windows become an annual tradition? One can assume so. And Apple has also announced the development of a glut of new Peanuts holiday specials, including ones for Mother’s Day, New Year’s, and Earth Day.

 

It’s a big win for the streaming service, which hasn’t enjoyed the same success as competitors like Netflix and Disney+. But will it be a similar win for viewers? That’s a tougher question to answer. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has been available on home video for years now, and I’m pretty sure I recently saw the special-edition DVD in the $5 bin at Walmart, so it’s not as if this is some sacred artifact that loses its luster if audiences can view it more than once a year in this specific release window.

 

And as I said, as someone who doesn’t own the DVD, and who no longer subscribes to cable or satellite (and who also, not incidentally, lives in a neighborhood full of 100- and 200-foot-tall trees, making antenna reception all but impossible), this free Apple TV+ release means I’ll be able to watch The Great Pumpkin for the first time in years. And I plan to do so.

 

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that something about all of this just feels a little wrong. Not an affront to the soul of America, as some would have you believe, but still . . . just a little wrong.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Greyhound

Greyhound

Apple TV+ snatched up Tom Hanks’ latest, Greyhound, as an exclusive for its relatively new streaming service after the film was moved from its original March 22 theatrical release date to May 8 and then to June 12. Apple has been looking for that “killer app” original programming to bolster and broaden its streaming offerings, and this Sony Pictures-produced World War II thriller is a strong choice. And at an estimated budget of $50.3 million, this is one of the biggest films to get a direct-to-streaming release thus far (unless you count the $75 million Disney paid for the worldwide rights to Hamilton).

Hanks is no stranger to starring in war films (Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Forrest Gump) or movies where water plays an integral role (Cast Away, Captain Phillips, Sully), and here he combines the two, playing Ernest Krause, a captain in the U.S. Navy commanding a World War II-era Fletcher-class destroyer (call sign “Greyhound”) on his first mission, leading a convoy of 37 Allied ships crossing the Atlantic loaded with soldiers and supplies for the front lines.

 

P.T. Barnum is credited with saying, “Always leave them wanting more,” and that is what I thought when Greyhound’s end credits started rolling. The film’s actual run time (less credits) is a brisk 81 minutes, making it feel a bit more like an episode in a series than a standalone feature film. Fortunately, it uses nearly each of those minutes to full potential, zipping by with a very tight story that contains virtually no fat.

GREYHOUND AT A GLANCE

This movie isn’t big on character development, but it does give you a great sense of what it was like to command a ship under siege by U-boats during World War II. 

 

PICTURE     

HDR helps enhance the details in the film’s predominantly grey color palette while making it more vivid.

 

SOUND

The Dolby Atmos mix helps capture the sense of a ship under attack, with sound waves from depth-charge explosions pressurizing your room and hitting you in the chest.

The movie begins by informing us of a treacherous area of the Atlantic beyond the range of Allied air cover known as the “Black Pit,” where German submarines—U-boats—hunt Allied convoys in lethal groups known as a “Wolfpack.” The multi-day crossing during the Battle of the Atlantic saw over 3,500 ships carrying millions of tons of cargo sunk, with over 72,000 souls lost. While the story is based on actual events, Greyhound is not a true story. Hanks actually penned the screenplay—his first feature-film writing credit since That Thing You Do! in 1996—based on C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel The Good Shepherd.

 

What is lost is any sort of character development. We learn nothing about anyone, and just get bits and pieces of information about Krause, who appears religious (he makes a point of praying several times) and whose sole motivation is to get as much of the convoy safely across the Atlantic as possible.

 

The one bit of backstory we do get before Krause ships off is that he wants to propose to his girlfriend Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue) on a beach, but that relationship—or any other—is never developed. In retrospect, this opening scene, in which Evelyn and Krause exchange Christmas presents, seems to be in the film solely as an opportunity for Krause to explain that he has finally been given command of his first destroyer before he heads off to training and then into active duty.

 

Besides that brief scene, the film maintains a laser focus on the Greyhound, and features Hanks in nearly every shot. We see the other ships in the convoy, but they are usually shown in the distance either via Krause’s view through binoculars or from high aerial shots. Krause communicates with other ships over the radios, but we never see crew aboard any other ships. We see the periscope, decks, and conning of the Wolfpack subs that crest and slice through the waters like a hunting shark’s fin—and even hear the “Grey Wolf” sub taunting Krause and the Greyhound over the radio—but the enemy remains faceless.

 

The short running time and focusing nearly entirely on Krause allows you to fully appreciate the absolute weight of command as he is forced to make virtually every decision, skipping meals and sleep during the treacherous crossing, and making life-and-death choices—either for himself or others in the convoy—nearly every minute. In some ways, the tightness and claustrophobic nature of many of the interiors aboard the Greyhound are reminiscent of a submarine film, but here we see the flip side of the coin, hunting the unseen sub, and launching patterns of depth charges and watching them explode the surface of the water instead of being inside the sub as they explode all around.

 

The film delivers an accurate portrayal of operations aboard a warship, with lots of orders being given then repeated back, multiple announcements of bearings and headings, and lots of navigation change orders in the form of left/right full/hard/standard rudder.

 

The CGI effects and attention to detail are impressive throughout, and short of an opening shot where a circling plane just looked a tad off, nothing pulls you out of the film.

 

Filmed in DXL Raw at 8K resolution, Greyhound is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the image quality is sharp and detailed throughout. Closeups reveal tons of detail, whether the pores in actors’ faces, the pebbled texture on helmets, the thick, heavy wool of a peacoat, or the detail on the ship’s instrumentation.

 

Viewers with capable displays can enjoy a Dolby Vision presentation; however, I was limited to HDR10. While much of the film is grey and gloomy—the ships, the ocean, the skies, even the drab olive greens of the sailors’ uniforms—there are still plenty of benefits from the added dynamic range, which generally creates more depth and realism. Whether it is bright light streaming into darkened interiors through port holes, pops of light from the ship’s instruments or interior lighting, emergency distress flares piercing the black night sky, or the bright red flames rolling out of ships on fire, images have plenty of punch when called for.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos mix is fairly active with lots of atmospheric sounds to place you in the scene and aboard the ship. Whether inside the ship or on the deck, you hear waves crashing, the creaks and groans of the ship, the howl of the wind, the pings from the sonar room, PA announcements echoing through the overhead speakers, and off-camera voices.

 

Your subwoofer is also called on frequently to deliver some tactile bass, whether from waves rolling through the room, splashing up high on the front wall and overhead, and then crashing with bassy authority, or the ship’s engines thrumming with appropriate weight, or the deck guns engaging U-boats with a boom that you’ll feel in your seat. The biggest bass moments come from the explosion of depth charges, which will cause a good subwoofer to pressurize the air in the room and let you feel it in your chest.

 

Dialogue is mostly clear and intelligible—however, there are some moments where it’s a tad muffled, but this is usually coming from or in the sonar room with much going on.

 

Greyhound does not require much of a commitment in the way of time, but will definitely be enjoyable for those who like Hanks and/or WWII dramas, and it is streaming now for free on Apple TV+ (subscription required).

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.