Rocky Mountain Express is the story of the Canadian transcontinental railroad and the challenges presented by some of the most difficult terrain on earth for creating a rail line. The story is told by narration, vintage photos, graphics, and a steam train ride through the challenging terrain. (Gary Reber)
Special features include Railroaders, a documentary by Guy Cote about the stretch of railroad featured in the film (HD 21:20), the Academy Award®-nominated animated short film from 1952 The Romance Of Transportation In Canada (HD 10:56), trailers, and a digital copy.
The documentary feature was photographed in the 65mm horizontal film format. No information is available on the resolution of the digital intermediate. There is some variability in the images. Images shot with stationary cameras on the ground, mounted to the outside of the steam locomotive, inside the locomotive cab, or inside one of the luxury rail cars are absolutely incredible—so lifelike it seems like you are standing right there in real life. Most of the scenes of the steam train traveling along various parts of the transcontinental route were photographed with an aerial steady-cam, likely mounted to a helicopter. There isn’t quite the breathtaking amount of detail in those shots that you see in the “on-board” camera shots, though, the aerial shots are excellent otherwise. Perhaps one of the surprising things about this feature are how good the vintage black-and-white photos look. Presumably, they were restored for this documentary (or previously). But some of them have so much detail they almost appear to have UHD resolution.
There are a few times some mild banding/contouring in the images are apparent. It happens a couple of times in steam clouds leaving the locomotive and also in the first image you see when the feature starts, a black-and-white portrait with the gray background fading to black. There is visible contouring/banding in that fade. But it isn’t something that is distracting or too frequent. It is difficult to know if that contouring is encoded on the disc or is produced by the video display. The graphics showing how the route had to travel through some of the more challenging terrain is a bit “soft” looking, probably from trying to make them look vintage. There is a fixed “texture screen” on top of the graphics with the graphics moving under that “texture screen,” which doesn’t look natural. Also, some of the images taken from one of the cameras attached to the locomotive shows a thin halo of blurred pixels around the edge of the catwalk on the sides of the locomotive. Had all the images in this documentary looked as good as the best “on board” images and some of the images taken from the ground, this feature could have scored the full “5” picture quality rating. (Doug Blackburn)
The sound does a very good job of keeping the narrator’s voice clear and precise. Sounds of the steam locomotive idling, starting to move, and chattering along at high speed are excellent. The height channels have only occasional ambient sound. Quite a few opportunities to put appropriate ambient sounds in the height channels were missed. In at least one section of the movie, you can hear ambient locomotive sounds cutting in and out of the height channels, as if the squelch control on a CB radio was set so that only the strongest parts of an incoming signal got through while the weaker parts of the signal were silence. But most of the soundtrack is relatively flawless. The subwoofer gets some work at times when the steam locomotive is working its hardest, but this isn’t a sonic demo where the locomotive sound shakes the whole room. The UHD disc package has two discs, one with UHD resolution and SDR plus UHD resolution with HDR. The second disc contains the HD Blu-ray version and the Blu-ray 3D version. (Doug Blackburn)