The Airships (2004)

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Released 7-Jan-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 156:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (28:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Rob McAuley & Peter Butt

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Robyn Williams (Narration)
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Guy Gross

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, archive footage.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     At the start of 2005 you may have seen this compelling documentary series on ABC but if like me you have trouble remembering when these one-off TV programs are showing from week to week you'll no doubt be pleased to hear about this DVD. The DVD contains all three episodes from the series - Lift Off 1890-1922, Ship Of Dreams 1923-1930 and Forced Landing 1931-Present And Beyond with a total running time of more than 150 minutes.

     The Air Ships is a top shelf documentary series that has had much love, research & effort invested in it. Extending far beyond the likes of the Hindenburg & Zeppelin this documentary accounts the airship's rise and fall as a military weapon to the present day, where the airships service a booming tourism market and into the future where the 100+ year old technology is still being experimented with for cutting edge scientific research and warfare.

     The documentary imparts much fascinating information including how the United States, at least in the first half of the 20th century, was the only source of inert helium gas which gave the United States military a tactical advantage over other countries. This explains why the Germans persisted with the flammable hydrogen gas for as long as they did in spite of disasters like Hindenburg. Even today the United States is still researching into the air ship's 100+ year old technology for military uses. One current proposal calls for a high altitude air ship to be used for early warning and signal relay purposes in the controversial missile defense system.

     Finally there is some quite spectacular use of CGI to, among other things, illustrate in detail how the air ships including the Hindenburg were built. While certainly not up to Hollywood standards, the CGI does the job and adds a considerable amount to the documentary as a whole. The Airships is well worth a look at.

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Transfer Quality


     The transfer is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The series has been produced with DVB broadcasting in mind - it is 16x9 all the way. This is perhaps a good and a bad thing. While the newly shot footage (i.e. the interviews and CGI) has obviously been shot and produced in native 16x9 it would be fair to assume the archival footage was probably originally shot 1.33:1 - this means that the archival footage we are seeing here has been cropped at the top or bottom or both to achieve a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I am confident that the producers haven't merely done an even crop of the top and bottom of frame but rather have taken the sweet spot of the footage which naturally varies from shot to shot. Personally this doesn't bother me as more often than not the critical visual information is usually on the horizontal plane, therefore is nowhere nearly as degrading as regular pan & scan.

     From a technical standpoint this transfer is difficult to review as it consists of more than 90% archival film footage, some over 100 years old. This footage varies in quality immensely, but generally it is above par for what it is - there doesn't appear to have been any restoration done. The new footage on the other hand has been shot on broadcast digital cameras and tape so as you would expect there is a huge difference between the two.

     The transfer is very detailed and pleasing to watch - the newly shot footage in particular is as sharp as a tack and crystal clear. Shadow detail varies with the archival footage but is generally good. Shadow detail of the new footage is excellent.

     Colour reproduction...well, almost all of the archival film footage is black and white, but during the moments of colour, particularly the newly shot footage is quite vibrant.

     Artefacts again depend on the footage. With the exception of the archival footage there are little or no artefacts present in the transfer. There are no noticeable MPEG artefacts and aliasing is pretty much a non-event also. Film artefacts are about as prevalent as sand on a beach but these are obviously due to the quality of the source material so you'll have to forgive me if I'm a little lenient with the star ratings below.

     The disc is RSDL formatted with the layer change occurring at 28:11 during the second program. Interestingly this is one of the few DVDs where the layer change pause is visible on my Pioneer DV-676A.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and while it won't challenge your surround sound setup it is perfectly acceptable given the program. I listened to the track with Dolby Pro Logic II enabled.

     Dialogue is perfectly clear - little more needs to be said. With Dolby Pro Logic II the narration is evenly placed in the centre channel as it should be.

     The music is by Guy Gross and delivers quite an impact to the series, particularly the opening titles theme. Guy has scored the music to suit the various topics and time periods which the documentary deals with so the music varies throughout the entire program. This would have been fun to score I'm sure as there would have been a lot of room to play and experiment.

     Surprisingly, the surround channels are quite active during the program although not for direct sound effects as such. The rears, including the centre rear, are frequently used for ambience and music reverberation which I found opened up the sound stage immensely compared to plain old stereo. It's nothing spectacular but I've heard 5.1 mixes far worse than this - Silence Of The Lambs immediately comes to mind.

     The subwoofer is seldom called upon during the program - there's enough there to keep it from falling asleep but that's about it.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras on this DVD but this is not the sort of program that needs them. That said a commentary from the Producer/Director Rob McAuley or Director/Writer/Editor Peter Butt might well have been quite interesting as they would have been able to shed some light on how some of the archival footage was found.


     A very simple menu with a still background photo and audio with direct selection to each of the three episodes.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Airships doesn't appear to be available overseas.


     The Airships is a fascinating look at the largest aircraft to ever grace the skies.

     The video transfer is generally excellent although the quality of the archival material varies a lot.

     For a stereo track the audio transfer is excellent.

     There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ben Hooft (My biography. Go on have a read...)
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-676A, SACD & DVD-A, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe CT-1170 (66cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D1011, THX Select, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS 96/24 & DD 5.1 EX
SpeakersFront & Centre: Monitor Audio Bronze 2, Surrounds: Sony SS-SRX7S, Surround Back: Paramount Pictures Bookshelf Speakers

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