The Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin) (1925)

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Released 14-Feb-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Synopsis
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1925
Running Time 73:12
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Sergei Eisenstein
Studio
Distributor

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Grigori Aleksandrov
Aleksandr Antonov
Vladimir Barsky
Sergei Eisenstein
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $32.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Well, if nothing else the Force Video voyage of discovery certainly takes us through the films of a variety of countries. After a brace of German films not so long ago - M, Metropolis, The Blue Angel and Nosferatu - we now embark on a journey through Russian films, of which Bronenosets Potyomkin is the first to appear. And I suppose there is no better place to start than this fabled piece of work from the almost legendary Sergei Eisenstein, given that even though not too successful upon release it nonetheless became a very influential film. Indeed, the fact that even I had heard about the film many years ago would indicate that its stature, at least amongst Russian films, is very high. Now seventy five years old, Bronenosets Potyomkin is securely positioned in the Internet Movie Database Top 250, so obviously one approaches this with a fair degree of expectation of something rather special. Devotees of Russian films will no doubt rejoice to know that further Sergei Eisenstein films are slated for release by Force Video in the coming months, including Alexander Nevski, Ivan The Terrible Part 1 and Ivan The Terrible Part 2.

    It is important to understand that this is essentially a propaganda film. In the early years of the post 1917 Revolution Russia, the Communist government sought every opportunity to advance its cause amongst the wide-flung peoples of Soviet Russia. One of the great tools they had was this relatively new, and powerful, medium known as film. Film became an ideal way to show the folly that was Tsarist Russia and how the people acting for themselves and by themselves were able to overcome the Tsarist regime in a People's Revolution. It was also an ideal medium with which to pay homage to those people who participated in the unsuccessful 1905 Revolution, which ultimately provided the framework upon which the successful 1917 Revolution was built. This particular film obviously is based upon the uprising on the Russian battleship Potemkin off the port of Odessa. For those mildly interested, the ship was named after Grigori Potemkin, a Russian field marshall of note during the Russo-Turkish wars of the late eighteenth century, and a lover of Catherine II - better known as Catherine The Great. A nice piece of irony to have a pivotal ship in the aborted 1905 Revolution named after the lover of one of the greatest Tsarist rulers of Russia.

    The story begins on board the Potemkin as the crew become disenchanted with their conditions - most specifically the fact that the meat they are supposed to eat is riddled with maggots and the cook cannot even break the meat apart with an axe. After the ship's doctor passes the meat acceptable ("just wash the meat in brine") the crew stage a mini hunger strike by refusing to partake of a meal of soup. As the seed of mutiny grows, the crew is assembled on deck by the captain to determine who was responsible for the boycott. As the mutiny continues to grow, the guards are called out to execute some of the unfortunate crew, but they are talked out of it by the leader of the mutiny, Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov). The crew then revolts and overthrows the officers and takes control of the ship - but not before Vakulinchuk is killed by an officer. The crew takes his body to the pier in Odessa where it essentially lays in state with a small sign proclaiming "killed for a plate of soup". As word gets around Odessa, people gather and rise up in support of their comrades on the Potemkin - sailing out to the ship in a flotilla of small boats to give the crew food. On shore however, things are going awry as the Cossacks are called in to put down the growing revolt - which they do in murderous style. The Potemkin also finds itself being hounded by a squadron of the Russian navy, but the crew of the Potemkin convince the squadron to join them in the revolt.

    It may be seventy five years old, but this is still an amazingly powerful film that fully captures exactly what the Soviet government wanted - the oppression of the masses (the sailors) by the uncaring elite (the officers), such that the oppressed rise up and overthrow the oppressors. It is quite a naively simple story, and one can fully believe that it was developed from a one page script by Sergei Eisenstein. However, the story is well brought to life and well captured by Eisenstein and he rings all the right emotional bells for its time. Nowadays it may seem a little clichéd and a little trite, with scenes such as the woman holding her dead son on the steps in Odessa in front of a platoon of Cossacks who are about to unmercifully murder her. But in 1925 this would have gone down an absolute treat. Some of the effects work for its day is quite amazing - especially the ghostly dead bodies hanging from the yard arm of the Potemkin, although it has to be said that some is not so good - the models of the ship are almost Titanic-like in their disbelievability. And if you thought Ben Hur was big, you ought to see the cast here! The entire population of Odessa must have made an appearance in this effort as extras.

    A classic of Russian film it is, and one can see where the film was quite revolutionary (pun intended) in cinematography. Whilst it is unlikely to be the sort of thing one would watch too often for entertainment, as a piece of Russian film history it is priceless.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    We are talking seventy five years old here, so you have to remember that whatever problems there are with the DVD are the result of the inherent problems in the source material. Having said that, I was actually surprised by the quality on offer here. I was sort of expecting something looking like it was remastered from a sixty-fifth generation VHS tape that had been stored in the dust bag of a vacuum cleaner. What we got might not be terrific but it certainly is nothing like the disaster I was expecting.

    The transfer is presented in a full frame format.

    Obviously we are talking about very early black and white here, so we are expecting diffuse, murky images in various shades of grey, right? Well we certainly do get some portions of film looking like that, but overall this is quite a sharp transfer with some quite decent detail at times that belies to some extent the age of the transfer. At its very best - albeit only a few extended sequences - this is a very sharp transfer, with some wonderful detail for its age and with a very nice, sharp black and almost white image that really looks very clear. For the most part we have a sharpish image with better than average colouration that stands out well indeed in comparison with some of the films I have seen from the 1940s. In general this does not descend to the depths of various shades of light grey in a dreadfully diffuse image that holds virtually no detail, as exemplified by the slightly later Metropolis from the same source. Naturally shadow detail is not the best at times, but only rarely does it become unacceptable for a film of its age. At its best, the shadow detail is significantly better than we have any right to expect in such an old transfer. Obviously, we have the usual array of bad edits in the transfer, but you soon ignore them as they are not as bad as other films of this vintage. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems with the transfer.

    The black and white transfer does not really descend into that wishy-washy murky grey look that is quite common in films of the vintage. Overall, I was more than happy with the quality of the "colour" on offer here, if a little disappointed by the relative inconsistency in the "colour" from time to time. Still, for seventy five years old, we do have to expect some problems that simply cannot be overcome.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were also notably absent from the transfer. However, this seventy five year old is showing all the film artefacts you could imagine - dirt, scratches, blotches and so on. Nothing that is really hideous though and no worse than I would expect for a seventy five year old film. Obviously, the opening and closing credits are comparatively recent efforts as they are much cleaner than the feature.

    The one interesting point about the transfer is the fact that the chapter boards (or title boards if you like) are variously in Cyrillic or English, and have a rather off-putting degree of inconsistency in their presentation. Not having seen the film before, despite knowing of it, does this mean that this is not the complete, original version of the film? I am sort of presuming that the original version of the film would have had all the storyboards in Cyrillic and in a consistent font.

    You should also note that whilst English subtitles are noted in the technical specifications for the disc, these are no selectable - they are burned into the picture.

Audio

    Am I the only person around who finds something rather incongruous in having a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for a silent film?

    And unfortunately the problems with their 5.1 soundtracks continue for Force Video, although obviously with a silent film they are not as important as with a "talkie".

    There are two audio tracks on this DVD, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to the 5.1 soundtrack whilst sampling the 2.0 soundtrack.

    Dialogue? Err, its a silent film.

    Audio sync problems? Well, yes, I suppose there are - the actors are saying things but we cannot hear them!

    The accompanying music score is apparently uncredited, but a lot of it sounds familiar and I would suspect that it has been drawn heavily from the ranks of Russian composers of the twentieth century - certainly much of it is reminiscent of the music of Shostakovich, although this is not a genre of music that I am too familiar with so I could be wildly inaccurate in this presumption. It is a nice accompaniment, even if at times the music did not seem to be in step with the on-screen action.

    The problem with the 5.1 soundtrack is that it sounds rather congested and distinctly unlike a 5.1 soundtrack. Indeed if I did not know any better I would have picked this to be a straight two channel mono soundtrack, with most of the sound appearing to come quite stridently from the centre speaker. The 2.0 soundtrack actually sounds somewhat more natural, even though it is apparently mono. However, once you adjust to the sound (with the help of such judicious juggling of the volume level) there is not a whole lot wrong here. It is quite a clean soundtrack and does not display anything like the problems apparent in the last batch of Force Video releases - although not having dialogue certainly helps in that regard. It could have been a lot better with some use actually made of the rear channels especially, but not too bad for a silent film accompaniment. Since I prefer to watch silent films with the volume of the music well down, it really did not bother me too much, so I suppose it depends how you prefer to listen to the silent film musical accompaniment. Whatever else, you will not need a subwoofer here at all.

Extras

    Rather limited indeed here, but then again there is not too much that could be expected, except perhaps an introduction from an expert on Russian film to set out what is so important about this film.

Menu

    Rather unusually for such a featureless package, there is some audio enhancement to the menu to go with the animation, even if it does repeat rather quickly. Unfortunately (or fortunately I suppose) the menu has a rather unusual navigation problem - your remote's arrows will not function in the way you normally expect. The layout of the selections is:
 
Scenes 
Audio 
Synopsis 
Play Movie 

    Normally, with the default being "Play Movie", I would expect to use the up arrow to move to "Audio" from "Play Movie" or the left arrow to move to "Synopsis". Not here - the up arrow takes you to "Synopsis" and the left arrow takes you to "Audio". The whole system seems to work on an anti-clockwise (up arrow or left arrow) cycle or a clockwise (down arrow or right arrow) cycle. Most unusual and rather thankfully one that you won't have to use too often, since the synopsis is not worth worrying about, but really something that should not happen.

Synopsis

    Since this just repeats the blurb off the back cover, it is of quite limited use. It does however present the text in a scrolling fashion: typical I suppose, never see it before then have two discs in a row use it.

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 Region 4 release is pretty much identical to the Region 1 version, at least as far as the package is concerned. Whether the transfer is the same, I would not be able to advise, but assuming a similar transfer then Region 4 is the region of choice.

Summary

    Well Bronenosets Potyomkin starts the Force Video look at Russian film off on a decent enough foot, with a transfer that is probably as good as we could reasonably expect. Whilst it would have been nice to see a lot more in the extras package, especially given the stature and importance of the film, I suppose we should be grateful that we can at least watch seventy five year old films on DVD.

    The video transfer is quite decent for a film of this vintage.

    The audio transfer is adequate.

    The extras are hardly worth bothering with.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, February 16, 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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DVD Net - Paul D (read my bio here or check out my music at MP3.com.)

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