British Steam-Best of: Northern England (1994)

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Released 1-Jul-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-The Best Of British Steam (3), British Steam (6)
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 58:12
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
RV Television
MRA Entertainment
Starring Robert Symes
Mary Jean Hasler
Case Brackley-Opaque-No Lip
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    If the names The Middleton Railway, The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, The Bowes Railway, The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, The Ravenglass And Eskdale Railway, Steamtown Carnforth and the Settle & Carlisle mean nothing to you, then you are definitely reading the wrong review. However, if those names do mean something to you and get your pulse racing just a little bit more than normal, then rejoice: steam is at hand.

    One of the great contributions of Great Britain to the Industrial Revolution was the steam locomotive and consequently the railway. Arguably the Industrial Revolution would not have taken place without the former and the latter was the transportation system that resulted and which to this day is the premier method for moving freight of all shapes and sizes. As the originator of the railway, Great Britain built them in great abundance and at one time they virtually covered the length and breadth of the country. Sooner rather than later, though, the axe fell upon both the steam engine and the railways. The steam engines were replaced by the diesel locomotives, more powerful, faster, easier to maintain and cheaper to operate. The steam engines disappeared from the railways of Great Britain in the 1960's in huge numbers. Almost at the same time, a bloke by the name of Beeching wielded his axe and vast numbers of branch lines were closed in the name of efficiency.

    Thus was born the standard gauge steam preservation railway - to preserve not just the branch lines but the great contribution of the steam engine to the railways of the world. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is the steam preservation movement as strong as it is in Great Britain, where there are quite literally hundreds of operating lines, as well as museums, dedicated to the preservation of the industrial heritage of the steam engine.

    In 1804, Richard Trevithick produced what is generally considered to be the first steam locomotive, which successfully pulled a load of over 10 tonnes on a railed track from Penydarren to Abercynon, a distance of nearly sixteen kilometres, in just over four hours. It settled a substantial bet made by Samuel Homfray of Penydarren Ironworks. Whilst the railed track suffered badly under the weight of the locomotive and the ironworks went back to using horse-drawn wagons for some further years, it was the start of something very, very big. The world's first public railway opened in September, 1825 between Stockton and Darlington in England using locomotives designed by Robert Stephenson. So in the bicentenary of the steam locomotive as we know it, we get a chance to revisit some of the preserved railways of Great Britain in a series of four DVDs called The Best Of British Steam. Each DVD is dedicated to a specific area of Great Britain and we start with Northern England - very much the home of the steam locomotive. The series is also complemented by a series called British Steam, of which there are six titles specifically dedicated to six of the greatest steam railways of Great Britain.

    This first journey takes us to the Middleton Railway in Leeds, one of the very first railways established by an act of parliament, and continues on through some of the famous - and not so famous - preserved railways of the Northern England region. Thus we get to visit not just the Middleton Railway and the others mentioned above but also the South Tynesdale Railway, the National Railway Museum, the Beverley Museum of Army Transport and the East Lancashire Railway.

    Since this sort of material has a very small market overall, I never expected to see any of the railway orientated DVDs from England (or from anywhere else for that matter) gaining a local release in Australia. At best I would have expected this sort of material to be available on import only at specialist retailers, so in this regard the arrival of these DVDs is very, very welcome to a rail buff like me. If you are into trains, then this sort of stuff will be right up your alley. If you are familiar with this sort of material though, you will also know that it is closer to enthusiastic amateur rather than professional presentation.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. Most likely the material making up this programme was shot on video rather than film, and in many ways this transfer has the appearance of decent home video material rather than professionally shot film.

    If we take the point that this is home video rather than professional film, then you will probably have a good idea of what we have here. The transfer is rather variable in appearance, with some stuff being reasonably decent in sharpness and detail but other stuff being a little "off" in both respects. Shadow detail is not really an issue but coping with sunlight is and often the video is overbright to the extent of washing out detail almost completely.

    Colours are generally very weak, lacking saturation most of the time and occasionally painfully so. I have seen some of the locomotives featured in the video and believe me when I say that they look miles better in real life than they do here. Certainly this is not a natural looking transfer with a decidedly flat, anaemic, digital look to it at times. In just about every way possible, the colours are a disappointment.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. In common with many such "specialist market" DVDs I have seen, the major issue is with aliasing and at times this is a real problem here - almost distractingly so. Just about any straight line in the programme exhibits the problem so it is rather hard to ignore it. Since the source material is video, there is some evidence of streaking at times (such as at 45:04) but nothing that bothersome. There are no film artefacts to worry about in the transfer.

    This is a single layered, single sided DVD so there is no layer change to worry about.

    There are no subtitle options on the DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort.

    The narration comes up well in the transfer, being easy to understand, but some of the sound recording of the trains themselves is a little underwhelming. There do not appear to be any audio sync issues with the transfer.

    The original music accompaniment is stock stuff that really could have been left off without creating too many dramas - after all, all we need and want to hear is those engines working.

    The soundtrack itself is a reflection of the nature of the programming and does enough to carry the narration but exposes the lack of quality in the original sound recordings of the engines and trains themselves. There are a few obvious blemishes in the original recordings that are simply part of the nature of the beast with these sorts of live recordings using less than stellar recording equipment and techniques.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

Previews (10)

    Since they are all pretty much the same in presentation (each one of them uses the exact same music and effects track playing over the video), the ten trailers are more easily dealt with in one paragraph rather than ten! All are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and are not 16x9 enhanced and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is very much the same as the main feature with most of the same issues with colour and aliasing noted. The ten trailers are:

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is the same DVD as is available in Region 2 and I seriously doubt that anything different would be made available anywhere else so if you want the programme, this is your choice.

Summary

    If this programme is of great interest to you, like me, and you are familiar with the general quality of such special interest DVDs, then you will know well that this simply cannot be held to the same objective tests as a feature film DVD. Sure the overall quality is pretty average, but the sheer enjoyment of the material contained on the DVD simply outweighs those purely objective considerations. Rail buffs will enjoy this for the content, not the technical quality. The rest? Well, I don't think they need worry about the technical quality as I doubt that they will be bothering to buy the DVD anyway. On a purely objective basis, yes the transfers should be a lot better and I know that there are a lot better rail DVDs out there. Those, however, tend to be of more recent derivation and have been filmed specifically with DVD in mind. This material was shot with VHS in mind and DVD simply exposes the limitations in the material and the processing all too readily.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, March 06, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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