‘Chernobyl’ Blu-Ray Review: A Brilliant and Extremely Powerful Miniseries

Chernobyl

I don’t have HBO, so I never got a chance to see this series but had heard a lot about it. I was excited to get a chance to check out the new 4K Blu-Ray release just from all of the talk I had heard. 

Chernobyl is a 5-part limited series from HBO that follows the 1986 disaster that started on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. An explosion triggered a massive fire and nuclear meltdown that spread high doses of deadly radiation across Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and reached as far as Scandinavia and Western Europe. 

The series focuses on a few aspects in a narrow window. It looks at the people that were ultimately responsible for the event happening, and it takes a look at people accountable for the international response after the events. 

Although there are a number of characters in the series, the main “stars” are the stories of Soviet nuclear scientist Valery Legasov, nuclear scientist Ulana Khomyuk, and Soviet Deputy prime Minister Boris Shcherbina. All three of these individuals must work together to contain the disaster and save lives while staying loyal to the Soviet Communist Party and toeing the line.

One thing I can say about this series is it is gritty, realistic, and dark. This event was a real event that happened, and real people did die. It’s important not to forget that when watching a series like this. The first episode’s tone is that of horror (real horror, not “scary movie” horror) and a sense of doom. Being based on real events, we know what things will happen, and you can just feel it building up to something awful. 

The series isn’t shy about taking on the real-life effects of radiation. The things it does to people is made quite clear. In one intense scene, we see a group of miners digging under the core as part of the rescue mission who, for all intents and purposes, appear to be cooking in the tunnels underground and just want some relief from the intense heat. The series follows an investigation of sorts of events, so we learn exactly how and why this happened.

The production of this series is incredibly well-done. The sets, the costumes, everything lends realism to the era in which they happened. The series was largely filmed in Lithuania, which was part of the Soviet block and still has the authentic soviet era apartments and architecture to this day. And the Ignalina Power Plant (now decommissioned and sometimes called Chernobyl’s Sister”) was used for the nuclear reactor itself. These things add a level of realism because they are real. They are not fake set-pieces – They are the real deal from that era. 

The acting is also top-notch. With stars like Jared Harris (The Crown), Stellan Skarsgard (The Painted Bird), Emily Watson (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), and Paul Ritter (Belgravia), you get some fine performances that add yet another level of realism to the series.

What I find most interesting about the series is the parallels it has to today. Filmed and released a year before the COVID-19 outbreak, it speaks to the things going on today. The themes of trying to stop more people from getting hurt in a disaster and (depending on your political leanings) the actions or inactions taken/not taken to prevent it from becoming a bigger disaster really come through. It is not just for the United States but on an international scale where everybody is trying to figure out what happened and what to do. It’s eerie in a way.

Chernobyl was originally shot digitally 3.2K resolution, and a 4K DI (upgrade) was used in the final mastering stage. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray comes framed at the original 2.00:1 format with HEVC 2160p (4K) Dolby Vision. With that, the colors and images come through clear and clean. Skins colors look natural, and being a brand-new digital recording, there is virtually no issue that needs cleaning up. That said, this film doesn’t get the fullest out of 4K, but that is by design. It is a very muted film with greys and browns, and so not a lot of it is intended to pop. There are moments when light comes out of the darkness and you can really see the contrast and brightness of the format. It does heighten the intensity of the scenes. 

The audio is in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, and there is absolutely no loss of quality. This series is mostly dialogue, and it comes through loud and clear, but the musical scoring also sounds brilliant without ever trampling over the dialog. 

Bonus Materials

There is an “Inside the Episodes” for each episode, which dives into how each episode was made and some featurettes that delve into the Chernobyl disaster and the making of the series.

Disc 1

  •     Inside the Episodes (1080p; 00:07:19)
  •     What is Chernobyl? (1080p; 00:01:38)
  •     Meet the Key Players (1080p; 00:05:39):
    •    Jared Harris as Valery Legasov: The Professor
    •    Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Shcherbina: The Apparatchik
    •    Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk: The Scientist

Disc 2

  •     Inside the Episodes (1080p; 00:06:55)
  •     Behind the Curtain: Director Johan Renck (1080p; 00:01:37)
  •     Script to Screen: The Divers (1080p; 00:01:22)
  •     Pivotal Moment: The Trial (1080p; 00:02:12)

Overall, this series is extremely powerful, with an A-list cast worth of any awards it receives. Driven by both visuals and strong dialog, it’s a definite must-see for serious film fans.

Chernobyl is available from Warner Bros. 4K Blu-ray and Steelbook editions on December 1

 

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