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Old 06-06-2020, 01:44 AM   #993
Geoff D Geoff D is offline
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Star Wars (1977) 4K HDR10 review, US Disney UHD disc. HDR metadata: BT.2020 colour primaries. Mastering display levels: 1000/0.0001 max/min nits. Maximum Content Light Level: N/A. Maximum Frame Average Light Level: N/A.

There's so much to talk about I almost don't know where to begin. The movie was restored in 4K by Prime Focus in 2012 using the Lowry process and the reconformed SE 35mm negative for transfer. The original conformed negative (comprising of four different stocks: 5247 camera negative (shot anamorphic), 5253 intermediate, 5243 intermediate and 5249 CRI) was broken up for cleaning in 1996/1997 and reconstituted as the Special Edition version, inclusive of brand-new opticals and new film-outs for the CG scenes. Further adjustments to the movie's content were made in the digital space in 2004, 2011 and then 2012 using originally shot elements (including 8-perf VistaVision plates) where necessary, though the original negative for the Jabba the Hutt docking bay scene was lost after being sent off to make a 16mm reduction for the From Star Wars to Jedi documentary. A 35mm interpositive is the best surviving element of that scene.

Okay, but what does that mean? It means that there's still a big chunk of original camera negative contained in that bastardised SE conform, though as the movie also has a lot of opticals then naturally the quality will drop in those scenes. I was surprised by how good some of the regular dissolves and fades to/from black looked though, indicating an A/B neg cut which actually made it far easier to disassemble as per the mid '90s restoration without being too destructive to the existing material, as the negative is cut into two strands, not one. And when these two strands are alternately printed onto new receiving stock to create a new IP or print, or scanned directly for home video transfer, then the dissolves and fades are done 'on the fly' in the printer using this first generation material or recreated in the computer respectively, they're not a part of the negative itself (which was the cause of the infamous missing fade in 2001: A Space Odyssey's 4K restoration, someone forgot to program it in). This means no optical degradation on those shots whatsoever.

Unfortunately this does not apply to the more 'creative' wipes that occur throughout the movie (Lucas riffing on Kurosawa) as those actions are too complicated for simple contact printing to achieve, hence them being opticals (where, in very simple terms, the transitional effect has been animated and then rephotographed onto another piece of film) with the typical quality loss as mentioned. In 1997 Pacific Title recomposited all the wipes using original material wherever possible, but as the goal was to output back to film rather than do it all in the digital space then most were still finished photochemically. So in the shot immediately preceding/following any one of these wipes then the image will lose some lustre; detail will soften and grain can become coarser. As these are now the newer opticals redone on 1997 intermediate stock then they suffer less than most, but they still lose some 'snap'. A common feature of modern restorations is their intent to 'level out' the quality of such opticals to make them match better with the main feature, usually by degraining them and adding some sharpening - which is exactly what Lowry did for those shots in the 2004 HD restoration and they did it again in 2012 for the 4K.

Another issue I've seen mentioned is the quality of the 1997 CG that was inserted into the movie, and while some shots do look horrendous, almost SD quality, I have to say that I was surprised at how well most of it held up. The Jabba scene (which was redone in 2004 with a more expressive CG Jabba, for the better IMO as far as this contentious scene is concerned) used an interpositive as I mentioned at the top, so it will always look a bit rougher in terms of overall quality, but as most of the other live-action CG additions used the original negative as the 'plate' then they can look rather good, even in 4K.

As said, some do look terrible, the entirely new shots in the approach to Mos Eisley in particular have a very low-rez appearance - and yet in that same Mos Eisley sequence the bits where they've composited new CG into an existing shot look fine to me in terms of resolution and overall quality. Same goes for the digital Dewbacks when the Stormtroopers are combing the desert near the beginning of the film. And as for the all-CG replacements of various shots during the climactic Death Star battle, people love to compare the quality of that CG to a crappy PS2 cut scene but I never thought that before and I certainly don't now, the CG TIEs and X-Wings blend so well with the existing models and most of the shots are so quick anyway you just don't have any time to pixel peep (apart from the CG X-Wings all having the same call sign, lol). The remaining model shots are themselves optical composites so any apparent lack of sharpness in the CG spaceships doesn't matter, the two cut together perfectly IMO.

That's most of the main issues of contention covered, so what of the Bantha in the room: the overall Lowry pass to the movie itself, where they apply their patented degrain-enhance-regrain process. I can't lie and say that it looks like film, or certainly not the 1976 vintage of 35mm colour negative it was shot on (for which Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind on 4K would be the nearest equivalent, also having been shot on 5247). What does it look like then? It looks like Star Wars but shot on brand new modern stock with sharp modern lenses, if that makes sense. There's still a dose of texture, very very fine but definitely there, and just enough to stop it from looking too waxy and false to my eyes. That's why I get a 'it looks like it was shot yesterday' vibe from it, it literally does look like it was shot yesterday as it's so 'clean' but it doesn't look entirely divorced from film, more like a trial separation.

The ultra-fine grain doesn't really move however, if you stare at any given background it's almost like a still frame and the effect can look very odd in certain scenes where there's little background movement to begin with, like that shot of Threepio emerging from the sand dunes after he splits from Artoo. He's moving but all the sand and sky around him is frozen in place! And yet....why am I not tearing this transfer a new one? Because when people and objects move through these static backgrounds they don't carry a forcefield of gloopy frozen grain lagging behind them, that was the #1 effect that distracted me about the previous Lowry transfer (and others that they've done besides SW) but it was virtually a non-issue on the 4K. Vader emerging through the smoke at the beginning still looks terrible, very smudgy, but it's such a tricky shot to compress anyway I'm not sure I've ever seen it properly resolved on any digital encode of the film (not any official ones, anyway).

As for the detail, holy hell it's phenomenal. We talk about the 'used future' that Lucas wanted for Star Wars, that parts of this galaxy were supposed to look grimy and gritty and beat-up compared to the sleek, stylish Empire, and I have never - EVER - seen that contrast of styles come through as well as it does on this 4K. I could just stare at Artoo and Threepio for days on this transfer, the way that it picks up every little nick, smear and scorch-mark on their plating is amazing, it's like you're there in the room with them. You can even see imperfections in the casting of Threepio's plating, it's almost too much to take in. Do the hooman beans look as sharp as the droids? Not always, but that's not a bad thing. At Lucas' insistence Star Wars was shot with quite a bit of diffusion in the Tatooine scenes, using a star filter or even a stocking stretched over the lens, and this helps to soften those scenes slightly and cast those beautiful four-pointed 'stars' from tiny points of light. The Lowry processing extracts all the detail it can but doesn't overdo it too much, we still get that ethereal look to the light while faces resolve nicely without looking as aggressively sharp as they did on the previous 2004 Lowry restoration (which was repurposed for the 2011 Blu-ray so forgive me if I interchange those two when talking about the older Lowry effort).

And even the 'massaging' of the opticals and dupes is pleasant enough, some bits definitely look way more blurry and smeary than they should do (a couple of shots when Artoo and Threepio are about to go their separate ways on Tatooine have been hit hard) but you forget how many opticals are in this movie. Not just the space VFX but all the laser blasts, lightsabers, optical wipes, bluescreen shots inside the Falcon's cockpit, there's loads of this stuff and it would've been very easy to turn this whole thing into a wax-faced disaster but most of them look fine. Those shots tend to have some thin edge halos to sharpen them back up a little bit, and this sharpening is also visible on most areas of hard contrast in general, but it's of a high enough frequency that it didn't trouble me.

Colour-wise, I love it. I've been moaning about the hyper-saturated contrast-boosted mess of the previous restoration for years and years and it's my genuine pleasure to see Star Wars look normal again. Skin tones don't veer to extremes like they did before, looking warm and buttery on Tatooine while the likes of Leia and Tarkin are a bit paler. You don't get that bizarre purple blotching and nor is there a pervasive blue wash, instead we get a comparatively creamier balance and it's far more natural than the try-hard grading of before. Vader's lightsaber looks red rather than pink and the blue ones look blue rather than green or purple. Tatooine now looks every bit as harsh and unforgiving as it's meant to be, and not like they've taken a trip to the Cote d'Azur with lush blue skies and golden sands that the previous remaster pegged it as. Greens no longer have that radioactive zing and red/magenta are also toned down, those ridiculous flashes of pink that pervaded the blaster hits in the previous have been dealt with. The blue accents on Artoo were absurdly vibrant before, skewing almost to a purple but here they've got a much darker, denser hue. Threepio isn't as yellowy-golden as he was (though this saves him from turning green at certain points on his plating, such was the excess of blue in the previous transfer), looking a deeper golden hue, and this all fits the grubby aesthetic so perfectly.

Could we have done with more saturation? Possibly, but the thing about Star Wars' photography is that the skin tones are already very well shot, people looking nicely pinky or orangey or pale as circumstances permit on the UHD, even with the slightly denuded colour in the rest of the scene. So if you bring up saturation to make the backgrounds "pop" you then overcook the skin tones, which is EXACTLY what happened with the previous Lowry transfer. Are there grading tools available that would spare the flesh tones from over-saturation by masking them? Of coursh, but then how deep into the rabbit hole do we go when regrading a film that was never, ever intended to be graded to such a precise level? I'm happy with a more 'global' approach to the colour correction and if that means having it look way more natural like this then so be it. The new 1080p SDR Blu is perhaps a bit too pale at times, but it's still a revelation compared to the 2011 Blu.

Okay then...what about all this "fake HDR" business we kept hearing so much about? It's pretty much bullshit. This grade does the typical Disnee thing of bringing down the average brightness on the lower side which is hell for some TVs to tone map, and it's not the brightest piece of HDR you're ever going to see even when viewed in optimal conditions, so if people judge HDR solely on that basis then of course it's going to come up short of what is a "reference" level. That may well sound like damning it with faint praise, and people can read that into it if they like, but the fact remains that this HDR grade is pulling down more highlight information than any other version I've seen, which I'll demonstrate later on. There are some aesthetic considerations at play here too, as most of the Tatooine skies now have a harsher, blown-out look and not even the HDR is intended to get around that, but things like laser blasts, sparks and other bright speculars have a distinct boost in HDR. Perhaps not ultra-bright in themselves, but still far brighter than any previous SDR iteration. And the lightsabers just look like lightsabers, though when Luke's training with the remote aboard the Falcon the HDR shows the original effect of the revolving 'blade' covered in scotchlite like never before, you can actually see it rotating and it's kinda distracting. Even the reflection of the backlighting in Hamill's eyes seems to show up like never before. Black levels are superb, very deep and dense but they can also yield more shadow detail than the comically crushed black of the previous Lowry remaster. So you still get a good sense of contrast out of this HDR grade, while the new SDR Blu looks brighter but flatter.

Compression is excellent, but then as the source has been extensively 'grain managed' then that goes a LOT easier on the encoding, and I spotted no chroma nastiness whatsoever, no banding, nothing. The source is spotless too, no sign of any dirt, damage or scratches. It's funny that I mentioned in my Rogue One review that the intent there was to make it feel like it's in the same universe as the diffuse 35mm anamorphic look of the original Star Wars, because that look has been jettisoned out of the nearest airlock for this 4K restoration. Dare I say it that Rogue One now looks more 'film like' than Star Wars does! But the blisteringly sharp detail is a revelation nonetheless, I've watched the Star Wars UHD twice now and I'm still stunned by it. It retains just enough texture to avoid offending my eyes but people's tolerances for this will of course vary. 4K77 demonstrates how gloriously grainy it could and should have been, and yet because that version exists it makes me feel more sanguine about the UHD having the grain stripped out and being the latest SE revision. We've got a fan version that brilliantly replicates the original, warts and all, and we've got an official version of George's 'final cut' that goes in a very different direction to provide some of the sharpest, most detailed imagery I've yet seen on 4K.

I'm gonna do my usual photo thing now but, as it's Star Wars, I've compared up to five different versions at a time. I'm using the 2004 DVD for the prior Lowry HD transfer of the Special Edition as it's so similar to the 2011 BD, unless noted. 4K77 is the original 4K v1.0 84GB 10-bit version with no DNR. It's been regraded since then but I actually like the colour of v1.0 anyway. '2006 theatrical DVD" refers to the non-anamorphic theatrical version (which was just a reheated Laserdisc transfer riddled with DNR) released on DVD two years after the 2004 SE DVD. These comparisons are mostly from the first couple of reels of the movie but they aptly demonstrate most of what I do/don't like about the respective versions.

DISCLAIMER: THESE IMAGES ARE NOT INTENDED TO CONVEY THE ENTIRETY OF EITHER SDR OR HDR WITH 100% ACCURACY BUT ONLY SPECIFIC ASPECTS. THEY CAN ALSO BE MUCH DARKER THAN THE CONTENT ACTUALLY APPEARS OWING TO THE EXPOSURE NECESSARY TO CAPTURE THE DYNAMIC RANGE. THE FRAMING IS NOT AN EXACT REPRESENTATION OF ANY PARTICULAR VERSION.

Artoo and Threepio on the Tantive. 4K77 looking good here, theatrical DVD is a tiny bit pinkier (to be expected), 2004 DVD is horrendously overcooked with the blue tint (making Threepio look green), and the new Blu and UHD share a similar appearance to each other, more neutral with a deeper golden tone to Threepio. UHD is a bit darker, natch.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Closer in on Threepio. These photos don't do justice to the 4K detail at all so don't use them (or any of the other comparisons, for that matter) to gauge that aspect, but again you can see how much bluer the previous Lowry transfer was. UHD is best for highlight retention on his plating.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Close-up of one of the rebels, before the shooting starts. 4K77 is naice again, theatrical DVD is a bit too pink, 2004 DVD is a bit too dense in the blacks, new Blu is a bit too pale while the UHD brings back a bit more colour.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Sparks flying. As expected, 4K77 and the theatrical DVD both blow out a ton of highlight detail. The 2004 DVD brings some of it back but has that horrid pink tint, same as the Fox 2011 BD. The new Disney BD loses the tint and does as good a job with the highlights as any of those previous editions, but look at the UHD: it resolves far more information and maintains greater intensity in those highlights at the same time. That's pretty much what HDR is all about. Fake? Nah.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Another set of comparisons from a few frames later, just to show it ain't no fluke!

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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This is one of those ridiculous 'pink' shots. Yes, the older editions have a reddy/pinky hue and even the new Blu and UHD still have a mild tint, but that 2004/2011 edition is just absurd. Notice a theme developing here about which version is the outlier when it comes to the colour grading?

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Vader confronting Leia. Again the 2004 is the odd one out with the steelier tint and the overly saturated 'raggy doll' appearance of Leia's face. The new Blu is a bit paler again compared to the UHD, which brings back just enough colour to her face.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Droids on Tatooine. 4K77 and theatrical DVD are very washed out, 2004 is the most saturated of the lot (surprise surprise) while the new Blu and the UHD do the same dance as the other caps, the UHD looking more colourful without overdoing it.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Threepio turning his back on Artoo. I picked this to get a closer look at the revised versions more than anything. Obviously 4K77 and the theatrical DVD are unaltered, the 2004/2011 changed pretty much everything in the shot apart from Threepio as even the dunes are different, not just the sky, while the new Blu and UHD restore the original sand (well, the foreground anyway as the background has been smoothed over) but change the sky again, of which the UHD resolves it slightly better in HDR. This scene is terrible for the forcefield of frozen grain around Threepio on the 2004/2011 but the new Blu and UHD are far better.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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These are the stop motion chess pieces aboard the Falcon. The photos were very difficult to get a decent exposure of the beasties and the board so take these with a bigger pinch of salt than the rest, they're too bright or too dark accordingly, but the colour of the pieces is broadly correct across all the shots. Again, the previous transfer is the major outlier here with its pumped up colour.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Obi-Wan confronting Vader. They all do something a bit different but Alec Guinness' skin tone is wonky throughout this sequence on the 2004/2011 Lowry transfer, his lips are bright orange for ****'s sake. The lightsabers are all over the place in this scene too, Obi's looking almost purple while Vader's veers towards pink. Note how the successive versions each bring down more highlight detail than the previous one, in fact the HDR resolves even more than what's shown there as I couldn't get it in the photo.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Obi about to sacrifice himself. In 4K77 the lightsabers are very washed out while the theatrical DVD has a distinct green tinge to Obi's laser sword. In the 2004/2011 Lowry transfer they're almost purple and pink, with a very overcooked hue to Guinness' face, while the new Blu and UHD actually have red and green lightsabers. Amazing, eh? The UHD also resolves more information on the lightsabers themselves, though I couldn't get it in the photo.

And you see all that other crap in the 2006 theatrical DVD, like lines on Guinness' face and what looks like more detail on the wall on the left? That's junk left over from the DNR they did for the Laserdisc transfer, the scene changes too quickly for the noise reduction algorithm to keep up so we get these ghostly outlines from the previous shot for a few frames. As I've said a fair bit in these SW threads, it's like Lucasfilm are intent on always applying some form of processing to these movies and the latest usage of it ain't got a thing to do with Disney.

4K77 v1.0

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2006 Theatrical DVD

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2004 SE DVD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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Last one, this is of the SE version of the Death Star blowing up so there are no 4K77 and theatrical DVD shots to compare. 2004 DVD is first up, showing that outrageous blue fringing around the explosion which was a direct result of all the blue that was pumped into the transfer (it's also visible in other shots too). How that ever got past anyone in QC with working eyeballs remains a mystery. It retains a little bit of colour inside the explosion and shockwave, more than what the photo suggests, but it's still almost monochromatic. So you know what they did for the 2011 Fox Blu? They just made the whole shot black and white anyway to remove the blue fringing, which is beyond moronic. The new Disney Blu finally brings back some of the intended orangey colour and the UHD retains even more of it.

2004 SE DVD

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2011 Fox BD

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2020 Disney BD

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UHD

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