Balibo (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 2-Dec-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Director Robert Connolly
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(36.25)
Featurette-Greg Shackletons Original Reportage Oct 75 (18.45)
Deleted Scenes-x 9 (10.57)
Featurette-Making Of-6 Contextual Documentaries (49.30)
Theatrical Trailer-(2.25)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 115:10 (Case: 111)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Connolly

Madman Entertainment
Starring Robert Connolly
Jill Jolliffe
David Williamson
Oscar Isaac
Anthony LaPaglia
Nathan Phillips
Damon Gameau
Gyton Grantley
Simon Stone
Paul Sonkkila
Case ?
RPI ? Music Marcello De Francisci
Lisa Gerrard

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Linear PCM 96/24 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   In one of the best years, critically speaking, for Australian cinema in years Robert Connolly's Balibo picked up a swag of 2009 AFI Award nominations losing out in the Best Film and Best Direction category to the barnstorming Samson and Delilah. Where it did win was for the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories - rewarding two great performances from Anthony La Paglia and Oscar Isaac.

The film is a telling of the story of the Balibo Five, as they are remembered, a group of journalists from rival Australian Networks who disappeared in 1975 whilst investigating plans hatched by the Indonesian military to invade East Timor. Knowing as little as possible about the "true" story of these men, and fellow reporter Roger East, is perhaps the best introduction to the film guaranteeing maximum impact. Director Connolly strives for this effect by dumping us in the middle of the story with as little backstory as possible. Fellow scribe DanielB has reviewed the standard definition release and his review goes deep into the political background to the film and its importance.

La Paglia plays East who is courted by a young Jose Ramos-Horta (Isaac) to come to the fledgling nation of East Timor and run their news agency. East is disinterested until Horta lets out that a troupe of journalists from Australia have gone missing in East Timor whilst investigating the plans of the neighbouring Indonesians to take control of the country. East arrives in East Timor ready to get to the bottom of the story, naive as to the extent to which the Indonesian military will go to protect their interests.

Making a film of the Balibo Five is commendable in itself but it does beg the question - why so long? Hollywood has churned out a stream of Gulf War and 9/11 films yet our political "conspiracy" films seem like ancient history. Breaker Morant (1800s) Gallipoli (1915) and now Balibo (1975) are designed to fill the viewer with righteous anger. They do, but where to now?

Balibo is beautifully acted and La Paglia has never been better. His East is bravery and human frailty in equal, understandable measures, as he falters on occasions on the way to the truth. La Paglia has bulked up for the role and his huge frame sweats and struggles as East is taken deep into the jungle and into the Heart of Darkness.

Isaacs crafts an interesting portrait of Horta as a man learning the skills of political machinations trying his best to involve a disinterested East in his nation's problems.

Balibo tells three stories at once - the story of the Balibo Five, the hunt by East for the Five and a bookend set in the modern day as an investigator tries to get to the truth. The split story-line is understandable as each story is compelling but at times the two 1975 stories work against each other. For example, Connolly shows us what, according to research, happened to the Five but then has East go through the same realisation as the audience. Co-scripter David Williamson is sure no slouch at dialogue and the film's weakness lies in plot structure rather than dialogue. To my mind the most telling accusation in the film is the suggestion that the Australian government has been complicit in the affair but this key element is given only a moments comment.

Still, the complaints seem churlish in comparison to the merits of this strong, important story.

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Transfer Quality


   Balibo was shot on a combination of 16mm and 35mm film and projected cinematically at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

That ratio has been preserved for the Blu-ray release which is 16x9 native.

The image quality is very solid. There are no defects in the print. The colours are solid and accurate with deep blacks. Grain is natural and filmlike. Inevitably, given those scenes' 16mm origins, there is more of it in the Balibo Five flashbacks. According to the cinematographer Tristan Milani actual lenses from the period were used in the Balibo Five scenes to recreate the 1970s "look".

The question for purchasers is whether they should buy the standard definition version or the Blu-ray version. For those with Blu-ray the question always seems to have an obvious answer. In terms of picture quality I have not seen the standard definition but have to say that this is not one of those films that is designed to show off your home theatre system. The use of 16mm film will always give a film a certain rough look which suits the subject matter but is not normally associated with visual splendour.

Here the picture is reasonably sharp without being exemplary. The flesh tones and detail are good though and the worry lines etched in La Paglia's face speak volumes.

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


    Balibo carries as its flagship an 5.1 Uncompressed PCM track running at 4608 Kb/s. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track for the commentary and a Tetun (the East Timorese dialect) dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448 Kb/s.

So rare is the Tetun soundtrack that we at MichaelDVD don't have a language flag for it in our DVD information section! English speakers will, of course, go for the PCM track but the Tetun dub is worth watching if only to see Anthony La Paglia "speaking" this rare and beautiful language.

As it is the film is mostly in English with some sequences in the Tetun language, all subtitled.

Dialogue predominates in this film and it is nicely rendered, easy to hear and understand. There is an impressive ambience to the mix particularly in the jungle which comes alive with insect noises and soldiers creeping through the undergrowth. Gunfire is well spaced across the surround scape and the sub-woofer gets the occasional work-out when mortar shells land and the full might of the Indonesian army is exposed.

The talented Lisa Gerrard provides the score for Balibo. Her career in music stretches back into the early 80s (my vinyl of the first Dead Can Dance album was recently given to a plastic passion fiend). The score is moving and melodic and a perfect accompaniment to the film. Also interspersed are a series of traditional East Timorese songs.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


The Blu-ray of Balibo contains a bundle of really interesting extras. Unfortunately, the extras appear to be identical to the standard definition 2 DVD edition.

Audio Commentary : Robert Connolly

Connolly is a passionate and intelligent filmmaker. Little wonder then that his commentary track is full of information about the history of the Balibo Five, his research and interest in the film and the process of getting it from the page to the screen.

An engaging commentary track.

Deleted Scenes (10.57)

There are nine deleted scenes. These are:

All are worth a watch though none are essential. The first gives a greater insight into East's position as a journalist in Australia, when he is offered a job telling "happy stories". The East Timor News Agency scenes gives a bit more background into the story of Jose Ramos Horta under the Portuguese rule. Finally, there are two scenes set at the jungle school/mission, one explaining the fate of the Padre and the other showing East escaping into the jungle when the troops arrive.

Behind the Scenes (36.25)

This featurette is an extensive look at the process of developing and filming Balibo. Cast and crew get a look in and we are taken on set for the filming. An excellent featurette.

Six Contextual Documentaries (49.30)

These short featurettes are all worth a watch. They are :

Each is well worth a watch although the material doubles up somewhat from the longer Making of featurette. Each contains interviews with cast and crew, and segments with the family members of the Balibo Five.

Greg Shackleton's original reportage from Timor, October 1975(18.45)

This footage shows the commendable degree of fidelity the filmmakers observed when recreating the Balibo Five. The recreations are note perfect to this footage right down to the very short shorts - this was the 70s after all!

Theatrical Trailer (2.25)

A powerful trailer for the film.

Finally, there is a link to a study guide for those who want to take a deeper look into the film.

R4 vs R1

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

   This Blu-ray is encoded for play in Regions A,B and C


   Balibo is an important film representing a key part of Australian history and one that resonates with shame. All fans of good drama, Australian or otherwise, should pick it up.

The Blu-ray is good looking, bearing in mind the directorial intentions and use of 16mm film and has an immersive soundtrack.

The extras are extensive and interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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