Lionsgate has entered the 4K UHD fray with a quartet of titles, and Sicario's HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p transfer in 2.40:1 offers some subtle but noticeable upgrades in detail, contrast and especially color gradation levels which are advertised as the hallmarks of this new format. Sicario was captured at 3.4K which was then utilized to create a 4K DI, from which I'm assuming this UHD disc was sourced, and with a 4K DI we may really seeing what this format has to offer (many other releases in the first wave of 4K UHD releases were sourced from 2K digital intermediates). Sicario may not have the eye popping grandeur of some of the SFX laden films that are part of this first wave of 4K UHD releases (i.e., Exodus: Gods and Kings 4K, Mad Max: Fury Road 4K, The Martian 4K), but within the relatively more realistic confines of this film, there are some striking differences on display in this version.
The film's dusty yellow ambience features more slight gradations within the beige-tan-ochre spectrum that is being exploited, especially in several early opening scenes, and facial features in the first SWAT sequence are better resolved, even in the moment after Kate (Emily Blunt) is almost shot and her face is bathed in red light. Fine detail, as in some natty patterns on things like Victor Garber's shirt, feature more pronounced precision without any resolution issues. Textures on elements like the woven curtains in Kate's apartment are also more palpable looking and generally speaking elements like fabrics tend to offer more substantial detail in this version.
Several relatively dark scenes, including the interstitials featuring the Mexican policeman or the long sequence with Kate in the bar, have improved contrast and better accounting of tones (the backgrounds in the bar scenes look more vibrant in this new UHD iteration). Perhaps surprisingly, though, the very dark final act, including the night vision POV shots, don't really pop with much increased immediacy, and in fact tend to tip toward the "cartoonish" look that has tended to crop up in some SFX or CGI moments in this first wave of UHD releases.
As I've mentioned in some of my other 4K UHD reviews, I'm experiencing pretty pronounced and recurrent judder, especially in pans (and for the helpful members who have PMd me about this, yes, my display is already set for increased judder control, but the phenomenon is pretty uniform no matter what settings I utilize). It's evident on Sicario as well, beginning with the tracking across the landscape as the SWAT team descends upon the cartel house in the film's opening moment, and it tends to recur whenever the camera moves laterally.
As with all of our initial 4K UHD reviews, scores may be a bit fluid, and the lack of eye popping visual effects in Sicario may lead some to wonder how I could rate this film a 4.5 while giving Exodus: Gods and Kings "only" a 4.0. But while Sicario's visual presentation doesn't offer the same level of visual "wow" that big historical epics or SFX laden sci-fi films might, there's an appealingly sharp and extremely well defined visual presentation here that offers some noticeable increases in detail, color and contrast levels when compared to the 1080p Blu-ray release.
Note: The "HDMI handshake" issue that we reviewers have been experiencing regularly with our new gear and these discs was somewhat less pronounced on this first Lionsgate release than on the Fox releases I've reviewed. While it did still happen, it was faster and I only missed the first couple of notes of the Lionsgate opening theme of their boot logo before image and sound were restored.
Finally! One of the kind of odd things about at least some of the first wave of 4K UHD releases has been the absence of the newer audio codecs like Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X, but now Lionsgate has stepped up with a blisteringly effective Dolby Atmos track for this 4K UHD version of Sicario. I'm running a 7.1.2 setup (i.e., two Atmos speakers in addition to a standard 7.1 surround setup), and my home theater helpfully has a pre-built shelf where I could set my Atmos speakers close to the ceiling where the reflective proclivities are quite pronounced at times. Probably the single biggest effect in Sicario for Atmos aficionados is the huge explosion that caps the opening SWAT sequence, and the Atmos configuration offers a spill of sound that clearly pans overhead and then seems to "sprinkle" (audio) debris down around the listener. It's quite an effective moment, but one which is perhaps not repeated with quite as much force again in the film. What also tends to be more pronounced now, though, is the pulsing proclivities of Jóhann Jóhannsson's Oscar nominated score, and in fact the "heartbeat" sound that recurs also reverberates overhead quite a bit of the time. I gave a 5.0 for the Blu-ray Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core track (I hadn't yet acquired a receiver capable of decoding the newer audio formats), but the addition of the Atmos element offers at least a few spectacular new effects, while the track's overall clarity and well prioritized dialogue makes this a great listening experience.
4K Bluray details
Codec: HEVC / H.265 (56.49Mbps)
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.40:1
English: Dolby Atmos
English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
English, English SDH, Spanish
4K Ultra HD
Two-disc set (1 BD-66, 1 BD-50)
4K Blu-ray: Region free
2K Blu-ray: Region A (locked)