Senna (Blu-ray) (2010)

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Released 8-Dec-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Director Kapadia with James Gay-Rees and Manish Pandey
Featurette-The Greatest Victory Of All
Interviews-Cast-"Lost" Radio Interview With Gerald Donaldson
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 206:11 (Case: 106)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Asif Kapadia

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Ayrton Senna
Alain Prost
Frank Williams
Ron Dennis
Viviane Senna
Milton da Silva
Neide Senna
Jackie Stewart
Sid Watkins
Galvão Bueno
Reginaldo Leme
Gerhard Berger
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Antonio Pinto

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (3254Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis


"No Fear. No Limits. No Equal."


    Before commencing this review I must confess that Formula One is my least favourite motorsport. To me most F1 races are just a procession of overpaid drivers in over engineered advertising props. Having said that I had certainly heard of the reputation of Brazilian Ayrton Senna, and remembered his impact on the Formula One scene during the 1980s and early 1990s. I also recall his unfortunate death and the subsequent outpourings of grief amongst the motor racing fraternity. To many he was the greatest driver of all time. In Brazil he was a national hero and an inspiration to the poor and oppressed. To some he is revered as a Saint.

    In Asif Kapadia's first documentary film Senna, we see the progression of Ayrton Senna from a Formula One rookie, to becoming arguably the best driver in the world. The documentary shown theatrically by Kapadia is completely comprised of race footage, news reports from the time, and short interviews. Director Kapadia has deliberately avoided what he terms as "talking heads" from interrupting his story, and instead primarily uses archival footage commencing from go-cart races as a youth and then the Monaco Grand Prix in 1984. It was this race in Monaco that defined the Senna characteristics of brilliant driving, and a fierce will to win despite adversity. Although he did not win that race which was stopped in controversial circumstances, he had made his mark on the Grand Prix circuit, and had shown the other drivers that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. Driving a less than competitive car from the Toleman team in torrential rain, Senna was on the verge of an unlikely victory at Monaco when the race marshals stopped the race for safety reasons. Senna had been attacking Frenchman Alain Prost's position as race leader at the time and had actually passed him when the red flag was shown, however because of a technicality Prost was awarded the win with Senna second. The fierce rivalry between these two drivers establishes the recurring theme in the Senna story, as does the assumption of Senna's recklessness and win at all cost attitude. Whereas Prost was known as "the professor" of racing because of his calculated way of driving, Senna had a reputation for chasing a win even if the odds were stacked against him – regardless of the possible consequences. Prost would happily settle for a minor placing if it suited his championship tactics, whereas Senna would always go for the win and look-out any driver who gets in his way. It was this attitude and subsequent allegations of "dangerous driving" that made him sometimes unpopular with his fellow drivers, although Senna himself would say that it was just "sour grapes".

    The change of racing teams to Lotus and then joining Prost at McLaren sees Senna establish himself as one of the two best drivers in Formula One. This period also cements the intense rivalry between Senna and his McLaren teammate. Prost had already won two world championships driving for McLaren, and Senna's arrival meant that Prost no longer had a team advantage over him. With both at McLaren and with very similar cars the racing would be strictly driver against driver. The rivalry reached its peak at the Suzuka grand prix in 1989 which was vital for both drivers because the winner would secure the world championship. After a collision between Prost and Senna during an attempted pass by Senna, Prost abandoned the race only to see Senna return and apparently win. Senna however was disqualified after it was ruled that he had illegally bypassed the chicane. Many were of the belief that it was a political decision to disqualify Senna, especially since head of the governing body FISA was Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre who was suspected of favouring Prost. This suspension handed the Frenchman the 1989 championship and was the final straw in his relationship with Senna. Controversy seem to follow Senna throughout his career with two world championships being decided by collisions, one in Prost's favour and one in Senna's favour. Ironically in the second instance which was again in Suzuka with Prost this time driving for Ferrari, Balestre did not intervene to disqualify Senna.

    In 1993 with the season dominated by Prost in a Williams-Renault, Senna sought to move from McLaren to Ferrari. As fate would have it however he ended up signing with the Williams team for the 1994 season. Prost reluctantly retired from racing rather than again becoming a teammate of Senna. Unfortunately for Senna the Williams team were racing with a car that was no longer competitive after rule changes which disallowed certain technologies. Senna therefore had to drive harder to stay in touch with the leaders, especially Michael Schmacher in his Benetton. Senna, amongst others, believed that the Benetton was using illegal traction control but a complaint was never lodged with the FIA. The third race of the 1994 season was the San Marino Grand Prix held at Imola in Italy. During the afternoon qualifying session of that Grand Prix Senna witnessed his compatriot Rubens Barrichello lose control of his Jordan and slam into the fence. Fortunately Barrichello escaped relatively unscathed. The next day at qualifying however Austrian rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger lost control of his Simtek-Ford and slammed into a concrete wall. Senna was visibly distraught on learning that Ratzenberger had died from a fractured skull. Senna's friend and team doctor Professor Sid Watkins had suggested to Senna that now was a good time to retire, however Senna confirmed that he could not stop racing. During the championship race on the following day Senna was in the lead and being pressed by Schumacher when his car left the track and crashed into the wall at the high-speed Tamburello corner on lap seven. The race was stopped and Senna was extracted from his race car and rushed to Bologna's Maggiore hospital where he was declared dead from skull fractures and brain injury. Although he had no other broken bones it seems that part of the suspension frame had been knocked back into the cockpit striking Senna on the helmet and forcing his head violently against the headrest. His doctor Sid Watkins suggested that if the piece of metal had been six inches higher or lower than where it struck, Senna would have walked away from the crash. In a final twist it was found that Senna was carrying an Austrian flag in his car which was intended as an honour to Ratzenberger if he'd won the race.

    On the news of his death the entire country of Brazil went into mourning. To them he was a national hero who had done more for the national pride of Brazil than any other person of his time. It is suggested that as many as three million people thronged the streets of Sao Paulo for his funeral where notably Alain Prost was one of the pallbearers. Also notably Prost remains a patron of the Instituto Ayrton Senna, which is a foundation established by Senna's sister Viviane to help Brazil's children and youth realise their potential through education and social programs. Ayrton had discussed setting up this charitable program with Viviane shortly before his death. Senna's devout Catholicism left some with the impression that he drove without fear because of a belief that God would protect him. He disputed that idea however in 1989 when he said "Just because I believe in God, just because I have faith in God, it doesn't mean that I'm immune. It doesn't mean that I'm immortal". Senna was proved right. His gravestone translated from Portuguese reads "Nothing can separate me from the love of God".

    The film Senna is probably the finest example of a sporting documentary that I have seen. The way his story is woven together through the use of archival film, race cameras and minimal interviews is a brilliant example of making the subject matter speak for itself. Although the technology of the time was comparatively unsophisticated, the race footage is truly remarkable in portraying the driving skills and sheer adrenalin rush that is Formula One racing. The view from the cockpit at 300 plus kph is both terrifying and awe inspiring at the same time. Director Kapadia seems to have found an incredible amount of archival footage which includes home movies and behind the scenes events such as pre-race briefings and driver meetings which most people would not have seen before. Holding it all together is the masterful musical score by Antonio Pinto which complements the on screen events perfectly building up to an awful climax which we can unfortunately anticipate. Even though we know this story ends in tears the final thump into the concrete wall still results in a lump to the throat. Whether Senna was reckless or not is up for conjecture. Whether Senna is the hero to Prost's villain is a matter of opinion. What we do know however is that Senna left a legacy that was far greater than the sum of its parts.


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Transfer Quality


      This Blu-ray is presented in the cinematic aspect of 1.85:1 using the VC-1 codec at 1080p. Given that the raw material is comprised from a selection of sources of varying age and quality we obviously don't expect a stellar presentation. Nevertheless what we see is probably the best we can get without significant post-production enhancements. For example the go-cart footage and some of the home movies are replete with positive and negative artefacts. To try and clean them up would, I think, detract from the historical impact of showing them as they are. In the interview extras which are also included as part of the extended version the quality ranges from quite poor to very good, although oddly enough the fairly recent interview with Richard Williams had fluctuating brightness throughout which I found annoying. Subtitles were easy to read and appear correct.

    This is a dual layer 50gb disc but I could not see the layer change using my equipment.


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


        The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included is serviceable with no issues to complain about. The racing scenes are presented very well with aggressive use of surrounds and subwoofer. The shriek of the cars is quite incredible and is a marked contrast to the melodic score from Antonio Pinto. Pinto really ups the dramatics towards the film climax, using the LFR channel to create a throbbing tension. Dialogue is always easy to understand and in perfect synchronisation with the video. The extras interview footage with Alain Prost was very soft and low definition which presumably was due to the source. I'd have thought however that it could have been improved for this release.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu featured looping audio with background scenes.

Audio Commentary on the Theatrical version

    Audio commentary with director Kapadia, producer James Gay-Rees and executive producer and writer Manish Pandey. Some interesting background on how the material was put together including information on what they had to leave out. It's quite clear that there was a wealth of information not included for brevity that provides a lot of additional context to what is happening. Well worth a listen if you want to expand your understanding of Formula One racing at the time and the drivers in particular.

The Greatest Victory Of All (4:45)

    SD 1.33:1 video aspect with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio at 192 Kb/s. Portuguese language featurette about the Instituto Ayrton Senna founded by Senna's sister Viviane.

Interviews (56:53)

    HD 1.78:1 video aspect with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio at 192 Kb/s. A number of interviews with Richard Williams, John Bisignano, Pierre van Vliet, Reginaldo Leme, Wagner Gonzalez, Alain Prost, and Ron Dennis,

"Lost" Radio Interview With Gerald Donaldson (38:50)

    No video. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 audio at 192 Kb/s. There is no background or history to this radio interview and the audio itself is quite noisy and indistinct. Donaldson was Senna's biographer and the insights from Senna about his beginnings and inspirations are quite fascinating.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Blu-ray under review appears identical to the UK version apart from the omission of trailers for the movie. This is only a single disc version although in the UK there is a two disc, triple play (Blu-ray, DVD, digital copy) version available. Also available is a UK edition box set including the 2 discs, booklet, and miniature replica Senna's Lotus car. There does not seem to be a US edition of Senna in Blu-ray at this time although the DVD is available. If you are an extreme Senna fan then the UK box set is a must (but it's pricey).


    As a documentary Senna is outstanding as an example of how to make a subject come to life through skillful editing, great subject matter and material, and a real feel for how to present it in an interesting and moving way. Fans of Alain Prost might feel it lessens him somewhat - although reference is made at the end to Senna and Prost having come to a grudging admiration for each other at the end. Whether Senna was the greatest driver ever as this film suggests is up for debate. I for one have no idea - but I do know he made an enormous impact on motor racing and was an idol for untold millions. All Senna wanted to do was race and win. He had no interest in the politics and backroom machinations of Formula One - an aspect of racing at the time (and probably still today) which is succinctly exposed in the film. The fact that this non-fan of Formula One was riveted to the screen for a hundred-odd minutes speaks volumes for the quality of the subject matter and the skillfulness of the presentation.

     I'd suggest you watch the theatrical version of the movie to get the true impact of Kapadia's presentation. The extended version contains the sixty minutes of interview extras throughout which I think breaks up the flow of the story unnecessarily.

    The video quality is satisfactory.

    The audio quality is very good.

    Extras are interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mike B (read my bio)
Monday, April 30, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910 and Panasonic BD-35, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-58PZ850A. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
Amplificationdenon AVR-4311 pre-out to Elektra Theatron 7 channel amp
SpeakersB&W LCR600 centre and 603s3 mains, Niles in ceiling surrounds, SVS PC-Ultra Sub, Definitive Technology Supercube II Sub

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