The Power of One (1992) (NTSC)

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Released 30-Jul-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 127:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By John G. Avildsen

Warner Home Video
Starring Stephen Dorff
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Morgan Freeman
John Gielgud
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Hans Zimmer

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Most people will be very familiar with this title, having either read the internationally best-selling novel of 1989, or seen the screen adaptation of the story released in 1992, or both. In my case I did it backwards - ie. I saw the movie first and was so moved by the story of overcoming one's own adversities in life that I immediately sought out and devoured the book.

    In case you happen to have been absent from both the cinema circuit and the video stores over the early nineties, as well as being absent from all book stands internationally for the last decade (away holidaying on another planet perhaps?), then this movie is the adaptation of Bryce Courtenay's first novel, an epic piece of fiction with semi-autobiographical undertones. It is the story of a seemingly insignificant life; of the need to find the inner strength to overcome all of life's adversities and to make a difference - a discovery of the power of one.

    Both the novel and the movie are the story of PK, an English boy born and raised in South Africa in the 1930s and 40s. PK did not have an easy start in life. His father died before he was born and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown when he was only five, forcing PK to be separated from his loving Zulu nanny and sent to boarding school. When PK's mother dies soon after, he is left an orphan and completely alone in the cruel world of turmoil and inequality that was South Africa in the 1940s. To make matters even worse, the only boarding school that could be afforded for PK is an Afrikaans school. Being the only English descendent in the school, the 7 year old PK (played initially by Guy Wutcher) becomes an immediate target. He is set upon and bullied by all of the other students, who find him a convenient target to bear the brunt of all the Afrikaans' hatred of the English "Rooineks", for all of the bloodshed and wrong-doings committed against the Afrikaans during the Boer War. The biggest bully in the school is a boy named Jappie Botha (Robbie Bulloch), who is to become PK's life-long nemesis. PK somehow manages to survive this extremely harsh childhood environment. He meets Doc (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a learned and kindly German man who is to become an inspirational influence, instilling in the young teenager (now played by Simon Fenton) the value of education, the beauty of nature and music, the wisdom of tolerance for others and, above all, the value of friendship and love. But then World War II breaks out, and in the paranoia Doc is hauled off to prison for fear of being a German spy. In prison, PK (now played for the rest of the movie by Stephen Dorff) meets the kindly Geel Piet (Morgan Freeman), who is to become another big influencial figure in his life, teaching PK boxing and, more importantly, the strength of self-dignity.

    Unfortunately though, this is where the movie starts to depart rather radically, and rather disappointingly, from the novel. Whilst it remains essentially the epic story of PK overcoming his adversities and making a difference in the world, it takes the story off on a completely different tangent. In the process, the movie completely omits some very important and memorable characters from the novel, as well as glossing-over or amalgamating other characters, introducing completely new characters, bringing a rather contrite love-story to the fore and, worst of all, completely re-writing the end of the book.

    Of course, it is a common complaint with adaptations of best-selling novels that the story has to be changed or truncated in some fashion in the interests of theatrical impact. It is acknowledged that there will always be a compromise to the depth of detail in a successful novel in adapting it to the screen. However, this movie adaptation seems to miss the point of the novel completely. By glossing over important characters and large chunks of the book, and by spending way too much time dwelling on a melodramatic (and boring) teenage love story, the film tends to trivialise the overall story, to the point of irritation to many who have read and loved the book. In my opinion, this movie would have been very much better served by it being billed as "loosely based on" - rather than "based on" - Bryce Courtenay's novel.

    As a final comment, I was also very surprised to find how much (in my opinion) this movie had dated since I last saw it nearly ten years ago. In the cold hard light of day, I now find most of the action sequences rather obviously choreographed and lacking impact, and many plot pieces just way too convenient as to stretch believability. Take for example the way in which the major protagonists are brought together rather too quickly and conveniently alone at the end, setting up the final fight sequence, right in the midst of all the chaos of the burning township. Of course, I should hasten to add that many other redeeming features of this film remain after all these years, like Dean Semler's breathtaking cinematography, some great acting performances, including Morgan Freeman's (an actor who never disappoints), and the brilliant use of some hauntingly beautiful Zulu music. The Power of One definitely is worthwhile revisiting, but it remains very much a flawed film for me.

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Transfer Quality


    This is not an inspirational film transfer at all. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced, and is another in the growing trend of Region 4 NTSC transfers. Be warned, if your equipment is not NTSC-compatible then you will not be able to watch this DVD.

    The quality of the video is marred by a general lack of effort in the transfer process. For starters, it would appear that only an average quality film print was used, with no particular effort made to clean it up before mastering to DVD. Film artefacts are prevalent, ranging from relatively innocuous but numerous film flecks and negative (white) film artefacts, through to the more persistent and noticeable ones, like a black hair-line running right down the centre of the frame throughout most of Chapter 10.

    The transfer is also a rather grainy offering - exacerbated by being served up in non-enhanced NTSC format - and so luminance is not great. The image is clear enough, but sharpness is not strong, rarely rising above what for the most part would be described as "average to OK". Background resolution also suffers from the granularity.

    Colours in the transfer are somewhat washed-out. A fairly brown colour palette has been used by the cinematographer for many scenes to accentuate South Africa's barren, dusty landscapes. However these scenes are also intended to be juxtaposed to great impact with scenery involving some beautiful lush green landscapes and striking sunsets, and it is here where the colours in this transfer are not nearly as vibrant as I would have liked. I also found the skin tones to be very washed-out.

    Some minor MPEG artefacts are noted (Gibb effect during the credits) as well as film-to-video artefacts, mainly concerned with aliasing (items such as piano edges, building roofs and the headmaster's desk) and telecine wobble (end credits).

   There are no subtitles on this disc - strange for a DVD release of such a high-profile film. I would have found subtitles very handy to turn to, as the thick accents made some of the dialogue hard to discern.

    This disc is single-layered.

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


    A none-too-outstanding audio transfer accompanies the none-too-outstanding video transfer. Only one audio track is included, being a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack.

    Dialogue quality is OK, although as mentioned above, I did have a bit of trouble deciphering some of the strongly-accented dialogue delivery, particularly where there were thick Zulu accents involved in scenes where there is also a lot of background action and competing soundtrack (see Chapters 23 and 32 for examples). I did not have any issues with the audio sync.

    This soundtrack tended to be a bit hissy on occasion. This could easily have been cleaned up in the mastering process.

    The music score is by Hans Zimmer, and very evocative and complementary to the film it is, too. The native South African tribal voices are employed and recorded to powerful and spellbinding effect in some scenes, like the prison concert (Chapter 13) - great stuff.

    There is a fair amount of surround encoding in this audio track, however it must be said that the effectiveness of the surrounds is very inconsistent and somewhat disappointing. Whilst there is indeed surround activity present throughout most of the feature to complement the main audio channels, it is for the majority of the time very subtle, at a fairly low volume (indeed, probably too subtle!). Then there is the odd occasion where the surrounds tend to blast into action momentarily for a particular scene, before dying down again disconcertingly. The variability in surround volume is most prominent around the more stirring parts of the music score (listen to 91:33) and also during and after the boxing matches. This movie would have definitely benefited from a 5.1 re-mix.

    The subwoofer is used to healthy effect for both LFE and bass extension. Some of the best examples of LFE use are in the sounds of the approaching elephant at 12:30 and the waterfall at 92:30, whilst the use of sub for bass extension of the Zulu music may be heard at 35:45.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras on this disc at all. Not a sausage.

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 release is exactly the same as the Region 1 release, being simply a re-badge of the R1 product. Note that I did find one US-based DVD site which indicated the R1 release contains one additional audio track, being French Dolby Digital Stereo, however this is unconfirmed and even if so would be the only difference between regions.


    The Power of One is undoubtedly a flawed adaptation of Bryce Courtenay's best-seller, but still is an important film release and arguably a moderately successful one if viewed as a standalone movie only "loosely based on" the original story. Unfortunately, there has been no real effort made with this DVD release; only average video, average audio and no extras at all. Disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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