Yes, there’s now a tier of home video fidelity higher than the Blu-ray. Well, it’s actually still a Blu-ray, but a fancy 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray instead of the plain old original, and it requires both a 4K Ultra HD TV and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. (And I am now 4K Ultra HD tired of typing that whole term out.)
I was a little reluctant to upgrade to this new level , because it’s not like the classic movies, cartoons and Southern wrestling that make up the bulk of my Blu-ray time really need the 4K boost. I almost came around to it inadvertently—a drop in TV prices makes a 4K TV relatively affordable, and the Xbox One X I acquired for my day job as Paste’s games editor gave me the ability to play these new-fangled discs without having to track down a dedicated player. (Sorry, PlayStation 4 Pro owners: Sony’s most recent console doesn’t play 4K Blu-rays.)
I couldn’t have made the jump at a better time, as the last year or so has seen an unusually high number of genuinely good movies whose dependency on special effects and CGI make them perfect for a 4K set-up. Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman were good icebreakers (along with the 4K Blu-ray of David Attenborough’s entirely CGI-free Planet Earth 2 that came with my Xbox One X), and Disney just jumped into the format last year, meaning the Marvel and Star Wars films that reliably get me out on opening night will now be hitting homes in the best current quality. This is as good a time as ever to head down the Ultra HD path.
The newest Marvel movie to come out on 4K Ultra HD is last year’s excellent Thor: Ragnarok, available for purchase today. I won’t talk about the actual film itself too much, other than to say that it still packs the same buzzy pop thrills as it did in the theater, splicing up bits of stories from three decades of Marvel comics and stitching them together like Christian Marclay does with vinyl records, and all with the casual and hilarious humor you expect from director Taika Waititi. (You can read our original review from November here. ) As a movie, it’s perfectly fine; as a superhero extravaganza, it’s almost in a class by itself.
The most notable thing about this Ultra HD release is how much the colors in this very colorful movie pop in HDR. (That stands for high dynamic range, and it’s a feature that’s basically standard at this point with newer 4K TVs. The Xbox One X outputs in HDR when possible.) HDR increases the “color gamut” of a TV, which means it can broadcast a wider number of colors, and doesn’t have to take some of the shortcuts that older TVs had to take when reproducing colors. The bright colors are brighter and the blacks are darker. This is all an unnecessarily technical way of saying that Thor: Ragnarok, in 4K Ultra HD with HDR color, is about as vibrant as it was when digitally projected on the big screen at my local theater, and significantly more so than the standard Blu-ray version.
The Xbox One X doesn’t have the best reputation as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, though. I tried out Ragnarok in a second set-up, using a Samsung 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player plugged into a Samsung QZF QLED 4K TV. Guess what: it looked pretty darn good. And, yes, a little bit better than the Xbox One X plugged into my Vizio 4K TV. Colors popped more and the shadier regions were even shadier.
So yes: Thor: Ragnarok, a movie acclaimed for its bright, comic book aesthetic, looks really good in a high-end audio-visual setup. Good job, 4K wizards.
Of course there’s more to a comprehensive home video release than just the quality of the film transfer itself. Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t skimp on the extras, with a handful of deleted and extended scenes, over a half-hour of various behind-the-scenes and making-of shorts, and a commentary track from Waititi. Fans of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster character and of Waititi’s sense of humor will probably love the Team Darryl short, where the Grandmaster winds up living with Darryl, the humble everyman from Waititi’s Team Thor shorts. Between this six-minute video and a few extra minutes of the Grandmaster in the extended scenes, anybody who thought Ragnarok needed more Goldblum (which, uh, is hopefully everybody) will be slightly satiated. Most of this material is available on every home version of Ragnarok, from the DVD to the standard Blu-ray to the digital version.
If you’re looking for the most beautiful home version of Thor: Ragnarok, this is the only option. Of course it’ll require over a thousand dollars of new equipment to be able to enjoy it. If you already have such a setup, and wanted to add this movie to your collection, you don’t have to worry about the quality of this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The transfer doesn’t seem quite as glorious as others that I’ve sampled—Blade Runner 2049 just came out and seems like an especially great recent release to show off what these fancy setups are capable of—but it’s more than glorious enough. Thor: Ragnarok shines on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as much as it did in theaters, and with enough bonus features to make it worth owning for any diehard fan.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.