The Miracle Maker (2000)

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Released 27-Mar-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Claymation Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Small Miracles
DVD Credits-Madman Interactive
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 87:03
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Stanislav Sokolov
Derek Hayes
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Julie Christie
Richard E. Grant
William Hurt
Miranda Richardson
Ian Holm
Case DV-7
RPI $34.95 Music Anne Dudley


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

"A visually stunning animation of the greatest story ever told"

    This is a telling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, but not quite from the angle from which you may have expected it to be told. It is told partly from the point of view of a little twelve year old girl named Tamar (voiced by Rebecca Callard) who is suffering from an undiagnosed and so far untreatable disease. At a loss as to how to treat the disease, Tamar's father, a local synagogue ruler named Jairus (voiced by William Hurt) has travelled to see a well respected doctor in Galilee whom Jairus hopes will shed some light on his daughter's illness. When the doctor tells Jairus that there is little hope and all that can be done is to treat young Tamar's symptoms and wait for the inevitable, he is heartbroken. But all is not lost as at the same time as Jairus is visiting the doctor, another man in Galilee has decided to leave his career as a carpenter and begin a ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God throughout the area. Despite Jesus' employer offering twice the normal pay for him to stay on, Jesus (voiced by Ralph Fiennes: Shindler's List: 1994) is determined to follow his calling. Soon Jesus has collected a rag-tag group of disciples consisting of fishermen and a tax collector and he continues travelling throughout the land proclaiming that "The Kingdom of God is at hand" and also performing great miracles and healings.

    With Jesus' popularity growing quickly, many of the mainstream Jewish rulers begin to grow wary of the new teacher. The leaders have struck up a convenient agreement with the Roman rulers and Jews are allowed to practice their religion and lifestyle so long as peace and order are kept (and taxes are paid). The new upstart teacher Jesus is seen to be a threat with his teaching of a "New" kingdom and he further upsets the Jewish leaders with his claiming to be the Son of God. Fearing that this Jesus character will bring undue attentions from Rome on the land of Israel, the Jewish leaders plot to take the teacher captive and have him tried for blasphemy. The Roman rulers are not overly enthusiastic about the constant protestations of the Jewish leaders and the captive Jesus is shuffled between different Roman leaders. In the end, it becomes the fate of Pontius Pilate (voiced by Sir Ian Holm) to decide Jesus' fate. Ultimately, even Pilate cannot decide what to do with Jesus and so he asks a rowdy crowd of Jews whether he should free (as is custom at the time of Passover) one prisoner: Jesus or Barrabas the murderer. Prompted by the jealous and scheming Jewish leaders, the crowd asks for Barrabas to be freed and Jesus to be crucified. Pilate washes his hands of the matter and Jesus faces execution at the Hill of the Skull. But as was the case with Jairus' daughter Tamar, death is not final where Jesus is concerned and three days after his execution, people begin to see the great teacher back from the dead and more alive than ever.

    This film is a real treat with some fantastic advancements in the almost forgotten area of cinematic stop motion animation. While there is still some children's programming being done in this classic animation style (Bob the Builder is a very popular example) it is fairly rare to see it in the cinematic realm these days with the advent of complex CG images. Here we have presented what is quite possibly the most complex stop motion film of all time. This is really the Final Fantasy of stop motion animation with production taking over five years and work being done in both the UK (Wales) and Moscow. The characters are rendered as lifelike as possible with little caricature style being used. Instead, a pervading sense of realism is attempted and to this reviewer's mind achieved with the meticulous craft of all the artists connected with this motion picture. The Russian puppet masters do a wonderful job with their painstaking attention to detail with even individual hairs on the characters' heads being manipulated. Most of the voices come from well-known UK actors such as Richard E. Grant as John the Baptist, Miranda Richardson as Mary Magdalene and David Thewlis as Judas Iscariot with lone American William Hurt as Jairus.

    Care and respect are given to the telling of this story of Jesus with his portrayal being quite realistic and reverent while not being overly traditional and inaccessible. One common failing of many tellings of this great story is that Jesus is sometimes played as superhuman or aloof almost to the point of being pompous. Not so the case here as Jesus is seen as a true human; compassionate, caring, and potentially frail. We witness his various temptations by Satan in which Jesus is asked to assert his will over God the Father's. These are animated in the traditional drawn style in a unique attempt to take the viewer into the mind of the character. These drawn and painted animation interludes sometimes take on a nightmarish quality and believe it or not blend very well with the stop motion animation of the film. People wondering if this film is a watered-down telling of the story of Jesus will also not be disappointed as it is quite faithful to the biblical version and Jesus is presented as being truly the Son of God, more than just a teacher, prophet and healer.

    Hats off to the Russian and UK filmmakers and artists that have brought this film to fruition as this film stands as a milestone technical achievement in animation. Recommended for both young and old alike, this is a film like no other and something everyone can enjoy.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    While the film is a real stand-out, the transfer here to DVD is not perfect, but it is watchable.

    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, which from all accounts is the original theatrical aspect ratio.

    This transfer seems to suffer for some reason in the sharpness area. The two most likely culprits are the ubiquitous edge enhancement (a major bane with this reviewer) and aliasing. Shadow detail is lacking in some scenes (see 33:54) with blacks being a navy blue and little detail within the black/blue areas. Low level noise seems to have been kept at bay.

    While this is an animated feature, colours at most times seem fairly natural. Exceptions are the painted animated scenes that are exaggerated with their use of colour and some scenes where the colour seems to be "washed out" for some reason (see 5:32 with everything taking on a yellow tinge).

    MPEG artefacts are not a problem with this title as is reported with some copies of the Region 2 disc. As stated before, there seems to be a fair amount of the all-too-common edge enhancement (see 1:54 and 2:41 as examples). When will studios learn that this type of "enhancement" in fact degrades the quality of an image, especially on a format such as DVD? Aliasing is also a problem (see 17:53 and 28:16). Anything with fine lines, and there is a lot with this title, shimmer away throughout the movie and the ever-present edge enhancement makes things worse. Long distance shots suffer as a result. The print used for this transfer is quite reasonable with grain visible throughout but not to a distracting extent. Film artefacts are seen from time to time, but are not a real problem.

    There are no subtitles on offer with this title.

    This disc is RSDL formatted with the layer change at 69:59 in Chapter 17.

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

Audio

    There is only one audio track on this disc, that being English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded. A comment in the making-of featurette reveals the many language versions recorded for this title. Given their availability, inclusion of some on this disc would have been an added bonus.

    Dialogue quality is fine with this title with all characters' spoken words being easily understood, despite the pervading UK accents.

    Audio sync is fine, with the sound matching the happenings on-screen. As much is possible with a stop motion film, the dialogue matches each character as required and is in fact much better than most physically animated programs due to the use of various mouth pieces for each character that give them the appropriate shape in regards to what is being said; a first for stop motion animation.

    The music for this film was composed by Anna Dudley who won an Oscar for her original score for the 1997 worldwide hit film The Full Monty. This score is perfect for this feature with a full and enveloping sound that gives justice to the majesty of the story.

    As this is a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded audio track, the surrounds take on a supporting role and help create an encompassing atmospheric soundstage. As such, they rarely draw attention to themselves.

    The subwoofer also plays an appropriate supporting role, backing up some of the action on-screen and also underscoring some of the music for the film.

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

Extras

Menu

    After the distributors logos and copyright warnings, we are presented with the main menu which has Jesus, his arms open offering us the wares available with this title. Listed as our options are:     The Main Menu is static and silent.

    The Select Scenes menu offers 4 images from a block of 4 chapters selected with the title of each chapter listed underneath the static image. These are quite small, but readable. There are 5 blocks of 4 chapters that are selectable at the bottom of the page. These pages are static and silent.

Theatrical Trailer

    On offer is the original theatrical trailer that promotes the film as a landmark achievement in animation (which it is). This trailer is presented panned & scanned with audio being Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded. Running time is 1:25.

Featurette - "Small Miracles"

    This is a fascinating look at the production of this feature from pre-production in 1995 to the original recordings of the dialogue in 1996 to the development of the characters to the musical score. In the absence of an audio commentary, this serves as quite an informative behind the scenes look at the making of this cutting edge motion picture. While not overly important, there are some audio sync issues with this featurette with the dialogue being out sync several times. This featurette is presented full frame and is not 16x9 enhanced. Audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded. Running time is 29:12.

DVD Credits

    This static page details the DVD's authors, they being Madman Interactive. This page is displayed static, silent and is 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version misses out on:

    The Region 1 version misses out on:     The main drawback for the Region 4 version is of course the missing Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but given the merely atmospheric role of the rears, this may not be as bad as it seems. Still, if it is available, it is a shame not to have included it. The missing cast and crew information would have been nice, too. Given the R1 version has the better sound options and background information, it would have to be the disc of choice if it were available, however affordability could be an issue. The R4 disc will probably be easier to obtain and despite its transfer flaws and missing 5.1 soundtrack is quite watchable. This is a fine film. Don't miss it because you can't get hold of the R1 disc.

Summary

    This is a fascinating film with some never-before-seen quality stop motion animation. The attention to detail is quite staggering with the film taking almost 5 years to complete. Most certainly the Final Fantasy of stop motion animation. A great story told with the right mix of reverence, passion and wonder. You have seen this story before, but not quite like this. Recommended.

    The video is watchable although too much edge enhancement and aliasing is present.

    The audio works fine although we miss the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix available in R1.

    The extras are fairly minimal with a trailer and featurette on offer. The featurette is very interesting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Bradford (There is no bio.)
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A300-MU, using S-Video output
DisplayHitachi CP-L750W LCD Projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V2090
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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