Joan of Arc-TV Mini Series (Magna) (1999)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Executive Director's 'Genesis' on
Notes-Significant Dates In History
|Year Of Production||1999|
|Running Time||181:42 (Case: 185)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (108:28)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Christian Duguay|
Magna Home Entertainment
Neil Patrick Harris
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||Unknown||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The story of Joan Of Arc has been told, or rather people have attempted to tell the story of Joan Of Arc, many different times and ways, an effort that has been hampered a great deal by the fact that historical records of her contain as much fiction as they do fact. While one can prove that Joan was born in France during the sixteenth century, or more specifically during the so-called Hundred Years War, much of the rest of her life is recorded in supposition and religious fanaticism rather than good, solid facts. This is hardly a unique thing, however, as obituaries from as recently as the 1950s have been found to be erroneous, but it makes criticism of a film based on its attention to detail a little tricky.
The immortal question is not so much whether Joan was the big heroine that the history books make her out to be, but exactly what led her to become this figure of legend. Was Joan D'Arc, as she is called in this film, a divine messenger whose destiny was to lead her people to victory against the British invaders and forge their identity as a nation? Well, given that nobody knew what neurochemical messengers were in the 1400s, much less what they did or what could go awry with them, it seems much more likely to me that Joan was a mad peasant who somehow managed to infect the French royalty, and France as a whole, with her insanity. The end result is still that France became a nation with its own identity, separate from England, and its people were free to cut one another's heads off in the name of a good cause like class equality.
Anyway, the film begins with the basic facts: Joan D'Arc is born in France, beginning life as the daughter of a lowly serf during the year 1412, near the end of the period of time we call the Middle Ages, in spite of the credits stating the era to be the Dark Ages. At the age of ten, Joan (Chandra Engstrom) begins hearing voices and seeing visions of Saint Catherine, who apparently explains Joan's purpose and destiny to her over the course of the next seven years. Of course, this is where fact takes a back seat to supposition and legend, even more so than in the aforementioned opening titles. Seventeen-year-old Joan (Leelee Sobieski) believes that she is to unite the people of France, cast out the British, and bring the rightful ruler of France, King
Doogie Howser Charles VII (Neil Patrick Harris), to the throne. She succeeds in this aim, but her fanaticism and her way with people soon alienate the ruling class in France, who seek a means to rid themselves of Joan as well as her hold over their subjects.
Frankly, I didn't have very high expectations for Joan Of Arc when it began, although the production did get slightly better as it progressed. In spite of some poor casting, a very obvious made-for-analogue-television feel, and some rather insipid score music, this is more than worthy of viewing once, or even multiple times for those with a keen interest in the history of Western Europe.
This mini-series is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is therefore not 16x9 Enhanced. I am not entirely sure this is actually the correct ratio, as the Region 1 version of the disc is in the ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 Enhanced. If you can enlighten me as to which is the correct ratio, please feel free to drop me a line.
The sharpness of this transfer is mostly excellent, with plenty of subtle detail keeping the French hamlets, which were actually either filmed in the Czech Republic or California, alive and well. The shadow detail is generally good, although not as great as you'd expect for material of this vintage, and there is no low-level noise. Film grain occasionally makes itself known, usually in the backgrounds of outdoor shots such as at 9:21 or 17:21.
The colour saturation is generally well balanced, and gives the Medieval France being depicted a certain look of authenticity. The only real problems are that sometimes the skin tones get a little too red, and there are occasional instances where colours smear past their natural boundaries. The most obvious instance of this is in the candles within churches, such as at 12:27, where the usual haze from photographed candles is accented by a slight smearing of red around the edges.
MPEG artefacts are not immediately obvious in the transfer, at least not at normal speed, but some slight motion blur and slight posterization can be seen if you cycle through the transfer frame by frame, especially during crowd scenes. Since this is not normally how we watch films, I'm willing to overlook this, although I think there is definitely some pixelization adding to the graininess of the aforementioned outdoor shots. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some subtle aliasing, such as during a panning shot with a brick wall in the background at 66:11, or on similar walls that Joan and her party pass at 78:39. These artefacts were quite subtle and very tolerable in the overall scheme of things. Film artefacts consisted of spots, scratches, and hairs on the picture, with a hair visible in the top right corner of several frames at 46:33.
This disc makes use of the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 108:28. This might seem a little late in the programme, considering the episode break takes place about eighteen minutes earlier, but since this is during a natural fade to black, the only reason I noticed it was because of my amplifier's tendency to change from Pro Logic decoding to Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo decoding and back again during such changes when they are encoded a certain way. Those with amplifiers that don't do this will not be bothered by the layer change at all.
There is only one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. The lack of a French dub or a 5.1 remix aside, I listened to this particular soundtrack, which is not a bad effort considering the production values.
The dialogue is always very clear and easy to understand, although the lack of attempts on the actors' parts at French or British accents is somewhat disconcerting. There are no problems with audio sync.
The music is credited to Tony Kosinec and Asher Ettinger, although the IMDB also lists John Herberman and Philip Stanger, while omitting Charlotte Church's name. Frankly, the score music did very little for me or this programme, giving the proceedings a rather insipid and uninspired feel. Considering the scores provided by the likes of Hans Zimmer or James Horner for Gladiator and Braveheart respectively, I have to say that this film received a dull and mismatched effort, no doubt compounded by the Too Many Cooks And Not Enough Kitchens effect. Charlotte Church's dull and uninspiring voice does little to help matters, either.
The surround channels are used sparingly to support the music, but they are otherwise barely present in the mix, with the dialogue and sound effects mostly being restricted to the front and centre. This is really not very surprising when the rest of the programme's production values are taken into account, but still a little disappointing. Thankfully, the separation between the front and centre channels is enough to justify the surround-encoding. The subwoofer, although not specifically encoded into this soundtrack, occasionally took some redirected signal to support the sounds of battle and did so without being overly conspicuous.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menus are static, accompanied by brief, introductory Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and they are not 16x9 Enhanced.
Brief biographies for Leelee Sobieski, Peter O'Toole, Maximilian Schell, Olympia Dukakis, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Loggia, Powers Boothe, Peter Scrauss, Neil Patrick Harris, Chad Willett, and Shirley MacLaine are displayed under this heading. The biographies for each actor cannot be accessed separately, merely scrolled through using the left and right buttons on the remote.
Biographies for Leelee Sobieski, Jacqueline Bisset, executive producer Peter Sussman, writer/executive producer Ed Gernon, and director Christian Duguay are provided under this menu. They are rather brief, but an interesting enough read.
This interview with executive producer Ed Gernon about the making of Joan Of Arc, like the biographies, is an interesting read.
A rather lengthy description of the plot, one that is divided into two parts, and gets to be a bit of a chore to read.
A list of dates in the history of the Hundred Years War between England and France, Joan's birth, trial, execution, and her canonisation. This will be of interest to those studying history, but few others.
The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;
Although I had some difficulty believing that this programme was intended to be shown in a wider aspect ratio until I discovered that the Region 1 version of this title is in the ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 Enhanced, it appears we have been short-changed in the video department. Widescreen Review have rated the Region 1 transfer as being worthy of three and a half stars, which puts said transfer in pretty much the same league as that found on the local disc. Region 1 is the winner in this case.
Joan Of Arc is a fanciful version of a story that has been drowned to death in supposition, legend, and myth. At the end of the day, Luc Besson's version of this story is the better production, although neither version is going to withstand the test of time.
Both the video and audio transfers are of much better quality than I was expecting, although it is a shame we appear to miss out on 25% of the picture compared to the Region 1 version of this disc.
The extras will be of some interest to film and history buffs, but they are otherwise unremarkable.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|