Fires of Kuwait (1992)

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Released 9-Jul-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category IMAX Main Menu Audio
Featurette
Trailer-IMAX Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 34:55 (Case: 37)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Douglas
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Michael Brook


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.44:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Spanish
French
German
Dutch
Swedish
Polish
Turkish
Greek
Hungarian
Portuguese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Most people never get to see a big fire up close. Hopefully, most don't want to and won't have to in real life. Areas affected by big fires in Australia are generally evacuated before the fire arrives and even the press are generally kept at a safe distance. This disc will take you right up close to some very large and hot fires - oil well fires - which are one of the most dangerous types of fire in the world to fight. It is amazing to see just how close they managed to get the large camera required to shoot IMAX films.

    On Christmas Day 2001, my pager went off. I was told to be at the local rural fire station at 4:00am Boxing Day, as the fires that we had been dreading had started. Arriving at the Blue Mountains the next day, we could see the fire approaching the small town of Yellow Rock. Fire trucks were deployed along the predicted path and we sat down to wait. In this type of fire-fighting, you are downwind from the fire, not the best place to be, but the necessary place if you are to protect people's houses. As the fire approaches, the noise starts to get louder, the smoke from the fire is heading directly your way and slowly the sun disappears. You can judge just how bad things are going to get by how dark it gets. On this occasion, the sun disappeared and it looked like the middle of the night. Next, a wall of flame 150 foot high comes roaring through the bush and the heat and smoke intensify. The noise cannot be described. You cannot fight this kind of fire but you can hopefully keep the house you are protecting from catching fire from either the embers that are dropping or from pure radiated heat. Once the fire front has passed you pack up your hoses, get back on the truck and race around to the next block, back in front of the fire and do it all again... it is going to be a very long day!

    The NSW fires lasted for just over two weeks. The operation to put out the fires in Kuwait took months. There were over 700 wells alight - a true vision of hell. The pall of darkness that fell over the oil fields from the smoke brought about a permanent midnight, broken only by these incredible flares. Huge pillars of fire, one after the other stretching to the horizon. It is really hard to describe the scenes that are captured by this film, as they beggar the imagination.

    Oil fires are a little different to bush fires. For one thing, they don't move. For another, they are a great deal hotter. Oil fires burn at over 2000 degrees Celsius! The men that fight these fires are a very special breed. If you have seen the John Wayne film based on the life of Red Adair, then you will have some idea of the type of footage that you are going to see on this disc. While I had always enjoyed the John Wayne film, I was amazed to find that the equipment portrayed in the film was 100% accurate, right down to the corrugated iron heat shields.

    The film starts by showing us just how big the job of putting these fires out was going to be with panorama shots and helicopter fly-overs of the oilfield. The problem was exacerbated by the total destruction of the roads and other infrastructure and the fact that they are in the middle of a desert. Fighting these fires is going to take an ocean of water just to cool things down enough to start getting close enough to fight the actual fire.

    We then move on to close-ups of the wells and the teams fighting the fires. Teams were brought in from around the globe, and each had their own method of fighting these monsters. The basic problem of getting close enough is solved by waiting for the right wind conditions to push some of the heat away, followed by planting heat shield sheds within hose range of the well. From here, it is fascinating to see how each team actually puts the fire out. One team used a 'stinger' - a huge metal spike on the end of a massive crane that is forced down the throat of the well blocking the oil. Another very inventive team took a Russian tank, removed the turret and fixed two jet engines from MIG fighters to the top along with a mechanism to inject a huge amount of water into the jet stream. From here, they simply fire everything up and literally blow out the fire. The team from Texas uses the traditional high explosives that rob the fire of oxygen.

    Incredibly, the job does not stop there, and this is what differentiates these fire fighters from the ordinary. After the fire is out you are left with a broken, twisted and melted pipe that is gushing oil into the air. These guys move in, cut off the old well head and fit a new one. While they are doing this, they, the ground, and everything else becomes soaked in highly flammable oil. Just one little spark and they would all be killed. These guys moved from well fire to well fire for months, eventually putting out over 700 fires.

    The IMAX film captures the feel of these fires very well. The images are frightening and the accompanying audio is excellent. The only thing missing is the heat and it is not too hard to imagine the feeling of the heat, particularly if you have a good subwoofer. Overall, this is an excellent documentary on these fires, although they do eventually run out of material and there is a certain amount of padding towards the end. I assume that there was a limitation on just how close and how often they could get the large camera right into the action.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     While the subject matter of the film is excellent and the audio is superb, the video transfer is quite disappointing and is marred by quite a few MPEG artefacts.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    I believe that the sharpness of the original material was very good, but it has been affected by pixelization and some scenes are quite soft. Shadow detail is good. A lot of the footage is shot under the artificial night created by the smoke, contrasted to the incredible reds, oranges and yellows of the fires. There is constant low level noise present which is particularly noticeable in any scene with mid to low level brightness. An example is the shot of the sky at 3:42.

    Some of the colours are amazing, but again there is some level of posterization present. A close look at the sunrise footage, also at 3:42, shows that the colour transitions are not entirely smooth.

    There is constant evidence of over-compression on this disc, which was a real surprise as there is only 40-odd minutes of material on the entire disc. Examples of the compression problems can be seen at 3:42 on the left arm of the fire-fighter in the centre of the screen and on the edge of the fire. At 18:36, the horizon is broken up with a series of vertical artefacts. At the start of the film there is a shot of a map with some inserts. On this there is aliasing on the white borders and some camera shake. The transfer is relatively free of film artefacts.

    The English subtitles are easy to read and accurate.

    This is a single layered disc.

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

Audio

     While the video may have been a disappointment, the audio is everything that I had hoped for. I have a new audio demonstration disc in my collection.

    There is a single English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack present.

    The dialogue quality is excellent and there are no problems with audio sync.

    The music is very well done, giving an eerier feeling to the nightmarish landscape that we are seeing.

    The surrounds are put to great use with excellent split effects giving a real feeling of 'being there'

    The subwoofer simply rocks! If you have a capable system your neighbours several houses away will be wondering if there is an oil well fire at your house. A great effort at capturing a truly frightening sound.

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

Extras

Menu

    A static picture accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The audio loop runs for 1:56.

Documentary

    A short (5:12) look at the making of the film. Interesting at times but padded with footage from the film. An interesting comment made during the documentary is that they were not out to make a political statement. I am not sure they fully achieved their aim. Presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

Trailer (1:02)

    A short trailer that covers a whole range of the IMAX films that have been transferred to DVD, ranging from the shuttle launch to dinosaurs. Fires of Kuwait also gets a mention. Also presented at 1.33:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

R4 vs R1

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

     The R1 and R4 versions appear to be identical as far as content goes. The audio also appears to be the same. The small number of reviews of this disc that have been published in R1 seem to indicate that the R1 video transfer also has some problems but I cannot say to what extent. Due to this, I will call this one a draw.

Summary

    This film gives you an opportunity to come pretty close to a 2,000 degree oil fire in the safety of your own lounge. Those with a large screen and a good audio system will be up for a pretty exciting trip to Kuwait.

    The video is disappointing.

    The audio is of demonstration quality.

    The extras barely rate a mention.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Saturday, June 29, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252Q CRT Projector, 254cm custom built 1.0 gain screen. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationSony STR-DB1070
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Magalie S

Comments (Add)
No IMAX widescreen - David (multi-cellular biological lifeform)
IMAX widescreen - Terry M (read my bio)