Baraka (1992)

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Released 8-Aug-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Interviews-Crew
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:35)
Featurette-Making Of-(8:08)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(5:52)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 92:34 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ron Fricke
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring None Given
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Michael Stearns


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Do you know those environmental-sounding, background music CDs that are played in public places? Well, this is the film to the soundtrack!

    Okay, that is being a little unkind to the film, but this really does on occasion fall into the category of background film: images being played as a backdrop to other activities that you may be indulging in. But to call the film the equivalent of Muzak is definitely being unkind, as there is far more to this film than just providing some occasionally nice background images.

    Balancing the nice images are some mildly disturbing images that are clearly intended to teach us that things are not altogether rosy on this planet of ours, and that the journey from one extreme to the other is not that far. What you make of this film will no doubt differ to what I made of it, as I would doubt that a more subjective film has yet been released in Region 4. At its best, it is a celebration of all that makes our little speck of rock in the outer reaches of an arm of the Milky Way galaxy so special. Some wonderfully impressive scenery is brought to life by some great filmed images. At its worst, it demonstrates with absolute clarity the inhumanity of man.

    Obviously there is no plot here, other than the one you want to make up yourself. Still, the images that have been collected together in this film are consistently striking, and the way in which they have been blended together with the aid of some most unusual music scoring makes this at the very least an interesting experience. Quite how often you would want to watch this I would not like to suggest, but I have no doubt that having seen it once you may well be reaching for it again.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Astute observers will note that the non-anamorphic logo gets a run here. What is so unusual about that you say? Well, this is the first Columbia TriStar widescreen DVD to appear in Region 4 that is not 16x9 enhanced. This is a slightly disappointing state of affairs after being such a staunch supporter of 16x9 enhancement in its DVD releases. No doubt there are some good reasons as to why Columbia TriStar have been unable to provide a 16x9 enhanced transfer in this instance, but it nonetheless remains a disappointment. Apart from that, this is not a bad transfer at all from the usually reliable Columbia TriStar stable.

    This is a dual formatted transfer, providing both a widescreen version presented in an aspect ratio of 2.12:1 (measured - the packaging refers to a ratio of 2.20:1) and a Pan and Scan version of the film. Personally, I do not see the point of the Pan and Scan version of the film, since the film was obviously intended for widescreen display and looks vastly more balanced when viewed that way.

    Filmed over a period of thirteen months at locations across the globe, there are obviously some variances in the transfer. I would seriously doubt that this could have been avoided. At times this is a gorgeously sharp transfer. At other times, it is just a little on the softish side, and much the same could be said for the detail in the images. This is perhaps not quite as detailed and sharp as I would have expected, but it never descends into anything unwatchable by any stretch of the imagination. This is quite a clear transfer, although again not quite as clear as perhaps I was expecting. There did not appear to be any significant problems with grain in the transfer at all. Low level noise was also not a problem here, although it does have to be said that there is a fair degree of random movement in the image as a result of shimmering that almost borders on being low level noise.

    Generally the colours have come up well here, although there is a degree of inconsistency due to the fact that there is such a wide variety of locations on display. Some of the cityscapes, such as New York and Tokyo (at least I think they are New York and Tokyo), are a little flatter-looking than say the rather gorgeous views of Victoria Falls. This is again only to be expected in my view. Obviously there is something of a divergence in the vibrancy on display as well, although nothing ever really descends into an indistinct colourscape. There was one brief point at around 18:50 where the image seemed to be a little oversaturated, but that was about the extent of the problems in that regard. There did not seem to be any colour bleed problems in the transfer as far as I could see.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were however some rather noticeable problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, predominantly a lot of aliasing (shimmer). None of it was ever really ugly, but the sheer consistency of the problem ensured that it became something of a distraction from the film. In this instance, I also subjected the DVD to sampling on a Phillips 68cm widescreen television set to 16x9 mode: the result makes me suggest that owners of widescreen televisions preview this DVD prior to any purchase. It would appear that the lack of 16x9 enhancement for such televisions will be missed. Film artefacts were not a significant problem in the transfer.

    This is a Dual Layer formatted DVD with the the two versions of the film mastered on separate layers. Whilst one could argue about why a Pan and Scan version of the film is needed since the film was obviously filmed with widescreen firmly in mind, this is an eminently sensible solution to having two versions of the film on the one DVD.

    Since there is no narration to the film, there are obviously no subtitles required here.

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to both soundtracks, and have to say that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack well and truly outshone the 2.0 soundtrack in this instance.

    The soundtracks comprise purely original music that comes from Michael Stearns, as there is no narration or dialogue at all in the feature. The score is very much an example of that background, environmental-sounding Muzak, but does blend some rather interesting mixes of sounds. It would seem that many find the music accompanying the oil fires in Kuwait the high point here, and I have to confess that the blend of Japanese kodo drums, Tibetan water music and bagpipes is indeed highly unusual and very effective. However, the strength of the soundtrack is clearly in the fact that it does help sustain the ninety minutes of the film very well indeed.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack outshines the 2.0 soundtrack by virtue of the rather wonderful surround stage created and sustained by the 5.1 track. Whilst there were a couple of times where I felt the bass channel was given just a tad too much reign, resulting in a somewhat unnatural-sounding balance, the overall surround and bass channel use was very good. Despite tending to be just a little too prevalent out of the rear channels, one certainly has to respect the vividness and immediacy of such soundscapes as Victoria Falls. If you want background music, use the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. If you want to experience the full effect of the Earth, then turn that Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack up just a little and hear it roar.

Extras

    I suppose that anything on top of a dual layer disc with two versions of a ninety minute film would have to be considered a bonus here. Overall, however, the extras were just a little disappointing. Aside from the lack of 16x9 enhancement of the main feature, the most obvious difference on this release is the first appearance that I have seen of the new, Dolby Digital 5.1 Columbia TriStar DVD logo. It makes a nice change! A less obvious difference is the rather unusual framing of the extras, which sees them located very much towards the bottom left corner of the screen. This results in a large black bar at the top of the screen, a small black bar on the bottom of the screen and a black bar to the right of the screen: the latter is hidden by overscan on my television, but others may not be so lucky. No big deal, but a little unusual to see framing like this.

Menu

    Whilst having some audio enhancement, this is really not a menu that really grabs the interest.

Dolby Digital City trailer

Interviews - Crew

    These rather disjointed interview snippets total just short of nine minutes in length, including some rather lengthy inserts that pose the question being answered. Since they would seem to come from a longer interview, it would have to be considered a bit disappointing that we do not have a more coherent, fuller interview. Presented in a Full Frame format, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Not the most enlightening efforts around, especially as some of them seem to duplicate snippets out of the featurette.

Featurette - The Making Of (8:08)

    Whilst being quite interesting, this suffers somewhat from poor technical quality: it demonstrates some healthy doses of wobble, as well as shimmering, low-level noise and some moiré effects. Perhaps it would have been better if this were combined with the interview material to make a longer but more coherent and interesting featurette. Presented in Full Frame format with film excerpts in what appears to be a 2.12:1 aspect ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (5:52)

    This is somewhat disappointing as it is broadly unaccompanied by anything approaching narration, and leaves context a bit up in the air. Quite why film of people shooting through the curtained windows of a van would be deemed interesting enough to commit to a featurette, I do not really know. Also presented in Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Theatrical Trailer

    This is basically just a shortened version of the film - and let's face it, this film is something of a publicist's nightmare! It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is not 16x9 enhanced, and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

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

    It would appear that the only difference between the Region 4 release and the Region 1 release is the Pan and Scan version of the film on the Region 1 DVD being on the second side of a dual sided DVD. Not much difference, but I suppose PAL formatting and dual layered formatting is sufficient to say that Region 4 is the region of choice.

    Update: The Region 1 release has been replaced by a brand new 16x9 enhanced transfer that by all accounts is a vast improvement over the original release in the video department. The Pan and Scan version of the film has been lost but that is not great issue in my book. Accordingly, the Region 1 release is probably now the preferred choice simply due to the improved video transfer.

Summary

    Baraka is not your typical film release, but is an interesting addition to the catalogue. The lack of 16x9 enhancement is a serious detriment, as this sort of image-based effort would shine with such enhancement. Widescreen display owners are urged to rent first before buying this DVD as the shimmer problem is quite problematic on such televisions - at least from my sampling. The extras package is a little disappointing, and could have been improved by combining everything into a more coherent half-hour featurette.

    A decent video transfer with caveats.

    A good audio transfer.

    A reasonable extras package.

There is an Official Distributor Comment available for this review.
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Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, August 11, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
newly restored version is much better -