It’s old news that the COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc on Hollywood release schedules, but as things appear to be returning to some semblance of normal—the Bond No Time to Die and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune remake have both shown signs of life returning to the box office—I can’t think of another high-profile actor who had as many films disrupted during that period as Tom Hanks.
First, he had his World War II film Greyhound, about a Navy commander leading a convoy through dangerous waters hunted by the German submarine wolf pack, optioned out of theaters for an exclusive release on Apple TV+. Then his western News of the World, about a traveling entertainer who ends up taking on the responsibility of returning a young girl to her family, was released theatrically for just two weeks prior to moving to PVOD. And now, after numerous delays—and a change of title from
its intended BIOS—his latest film, Finch, has once again been purchased by Apple TV+ as an exclusive to that service, with a November 5 release.
Finch is the fourth pairing of Hanks and executive producer Robert Zemeckis, dating back to Forest Gump and including Cast Away and Polar Express (along with an upcoming live-action Pinocchio remake for Disney), and shows just how fluid and competitive the distribution landscape is with major players like Amazon, Netflix, Disney, and Apple ready to snap up titles to help shore up their exclusive offerings.
As I mentioned in my News of the World review, Hanks’ track record of choosing excellent roles in major films has placed him on the short list of movies I’m interested in watching just because he’s attached. And being able to watch it for free in the comfort of my home on my 7.1.6 system made it a no-brainer.
FINCH AT A GLANCE
This one-man-traversing-a-post-apocalyptic-landscape Tom Hanks vehicle is oddly similar to George Clooney’s Midnight Sky.
The images in the Apple TV+ stream, encoded in Dolby Vision, have tons of pop.
The Dolby Digital+ Atmos mix is quite entertaining, subtly establishing the acoustic space of a room one minute then transforming your space into a swirling, immersive cacophony of sound from every speaker the next.
It’s easy to draw a lot of comparisons between Finch and other films. There are definitely the heavy robot-becoming-self-aware elements of iRobot and Chappie, as well as some parts—and even a bot—that felt very Wall-E. Hanks holding his own on screen and surviving essentially alone, basically carrying the entirety of the two-hour runtime feels a bit like his own Cast Away. And the apocalyptic road trip gives off vibes of George Clooney’s role in the Netflix original The Midnight Sky. (Of course, Finch completely flips the environment, with Sky’s danger coming from freezing arctic conditions and Finch’s coming from scorching hot temps due to a mostly non-existent ozone layer.)
It’s a real turnoff when I feel a movie is dumbing itself down to force explanations on me. Sure, some exposition is OK, and often necessary, but I don’t like it when filmmakers virtually grab me by the hand and feel the need to connect all the dots. Finch certainly doesn’t waste any time on backstory, and what we learn about the population-decimating event is through notes on maps, books scattered around Finch Weinberg’s (Hanks) lab/shelter, and some bits of conversation with his custom-built helper-bot, Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones). During one bit of dialogue, Jeff asks, “Where is everybody?” to which Finch replies, “That’s a long story.”
What we manage to glean is that some 15 years ago, a massive solar flare essentially fried the ozone layer and turned it into Swiss cheese, and then an EMP came and wiped out the rest, turning most of the earth into a largely uninhabitable wasteland with scorching UV radiation, blistering temps, and frequent extreme and violent weather events.
Through luck and happenstance, robotics engineer Finch was protected in his underground lab in St. Louis when the flare hit and now he lives with a dog, Goodyear, he rescued. He survives by scavenging for food and supplies while wearing a protective suit with the help of a robot he built.
We learn pretty early on that Finch is sick, and he builds a humanoid robot—Jeff—that can take care of Goodyear when he’s gone. Due to a massive approaching storm, Finch packs up a heavily modified RV and leaves for San Francisco before he can fully transfer all the programming data to Jeff, so Jeff is a bit childlike while he attempts to fit in with the group, while learning and figuring out what he is supposed to do.
Other than a brief flashback, Finch is the only human character shown on screen—the end cast credits are likely among the sparsest in history—and a lot of Finch is essentially a travelogue with man, dog, and robot. The film throws in some drama in the form of some massive storms, as well as one chase from unseen people who may or may not be hostile, but it is really a movie held mostly together by Hanks’ charisma and Jeff’s developing personality. (Fortunately, his voice and diction changes as he “matures,” as his Borat-like cadence ad intonation is a little distracting at first.)
There isn’t a lot of information about the technical specs of how Finch was shot or the home transfer, but it certainly has all the razor-sharp detail and ultra-clean look of a true 4K transfer. Edges are always crisp and defined, there’s no noise or grain, and this “modern” digital look certainly benefits the film’s future, post-apocalyptic vibe.
Closeups are always the most revealing with a good transfer, and we get tons of detail to appreciate here, whether it is the dirt-smeared lines and pores on Hanks’ face and hands, or the fine pebbled texture visible in a Panama Jack hat he wears, or the little bumps and imperfections in Jeff’s painted head. There are also lots of little things, like being able to see the fine, individual cables in some twisted-pair Category-rated wiring Finch connects to Jeff, or the crispness of lines and edges defining objects.
Of course, your quality will vary with streaming performance, and I noticed on a second viewing that if I had any bandwidth drops that resulted in resolution changes, the fine grid/mesh detail in the center of Jeff’s face would turn to mush and lose its sharp, defined edges. Also, in one scene when Finch went out to repair a piece of machinery, there was a bit of banding in the murky silver/grey/black sky.
The Apple TV+ stream is encoded in Dolby Vision, and images had tons of pop on my Sony OLED display. There are lots of bright fluorescent lights in the otherwise darkened interior of Finch’s lab, along with searing-bright outdoor scenes, and piercing lances of sunlight that stream into darkly lit interiors. Another scene, during a firelight chat with the green/blue/purple colors of the Northern lights, has some wonderful low-light shadow detail along with lots of bright highlights.
I’m usually not impressed with the audio from streaming titles, but the Dolby Digital+ Atmos mix here is quite entertaining. It can subtly establish the acoustic space of a room one minute and then transform your space into a swirling, immersive cacophony of sound from every speaker the next.
For the subtle, pay attention to the little sounds that make up the lab where Finch lives. You’ll start to notice a low-frequency hum from motors running, then little clicks of sounds happening in the space, along with the buzzes of machinery. While in a market, we hear Hanks’ voice echoing off walls to help define the space, or we get the gentle rustle of wind blowing around while Finch, Jeff, and Goodyear sit around outside. It all helps to just put you into the space and shows how a good mix can subtly enhance the experience.
For viewers looking to show off their audio system, Finch offers plenty of demo-worthy moments. Literally before the film’s opening images hit the screen, the room is filled with the roaring sounds of wind rustling all around as well as the heavy engine of Finch’s vehicle. There are a couple of big storm scenes, which fill your room with swirling winds and debris whipping, crashing, and hitting all around, or the clanging of metal. Another scene has a car passing overhead, with the speakers clearly placing the action above you.
The soundtrack also has a surprising amount of deep bass for a streaming track, with some downright tactile bass you’ll feel deep in your chest. (Take note of the subsonic note when Hanks gets the shelter door open early in the film.)
While Finch doesn’t tread a lot of new ground and can be a bit slow to develop, it is still an entertaining, mostly family-friendly, journey with a lot of heart primarily carried on the back of Hanks’ charm. For Apple TV+ subscribers, Finch provides some fresh content that makes for a fun, great-sounding night at the movies.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.