The Nutcracker (Kirov Ballet) (1994) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Ballet Booklet
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 101:31 (Case: 104)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:29) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Yvon Gerault
Studio
Distributor
Cameras Continentale
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Larissa Lezhnina
Victor Baranov
Piotr Russanov
Case Super Jewel
RPI $36.95 Music Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

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

Plot Synopsis

    Somewhat inevitably, we get to a DVD recording of the only ballet that I have ever actually seen live. Mind you, this is such a regular on the ballet circuit that I would seriously doubt that too many would not be able to nominate this ballet as one they have actually seen live. And there is good reason for this, as it is arguably the finest piece of music written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and it is very much the traditional Christmas ballet. So if you were dragged out to the ballet as a kid, the chances were that The Nutcracker was it! Mind you, there is every chance that you have not seen a Nutcracker like this one (and I will avoid all the puerile jokes that we used to bandy about as kids here). For this is the famed Kirov Ballet and the version they dance, choreographed by Vasily Vainonen, does not include the equally-famed Sugar Plum Fairy. It does make this Nutcracker somewhat different to the one the Western Australian Ballet danced all those years ago.

    The Nutcracker is of course a fantasy set at Christmas. The story begins on Christmas Eve and the guests of President Stahlbaum (Gennadi Babinin) are gathering for the evenings festivities. As the guests gather in the salon with its tree decorated with presents, including a nutcracker that is put aside for safekeeping after being found on the floor, the children enter and engage in the usual frivolities of children on Christmas Eve, including Masha (Larissa Lezhnina), whose godfather Drosselmeyer (Piotr Russanov) decides to entertain them. After reappearing, and slightly frightening the children in his wizard's garb, he wins the children over with a puppet show that tells a glorious tale of a princess rescued from the evil King Of Mice by her prince charming. He then gives the children some life-size puppets which proceed to dance, but after these have been put away the children slowly disperse to bed. However, the nutcracker remains and only Masha has any interest in it - and takes it to bed with her. As it rests on her pillow beside her, she falls asleep and dreams the puppet show....

    It is arguable as to which of Tchaikovsky's ballets is the best, but The Nutcracker contains a very simple story that is brought to life with some great music and some rather interesting dance. Be it the famous Waltz Of The Flowers or The Chinese Dance or The Arabian Dance, there is plenty that is both well known and enjoyable either from a dance point of view or a music point of view. If you still need to add some ballet to your collection, then you could do worse from any point of view than this effort, and at least you would have a ready made Christmastime classic on hand to entertain the masses with. However, the quality of the ballet is not in question - the quality of the DVD is.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a high definition recording made predominantly for the culturally voracious Japanese television market and as such exhibits the generally fine qualities we would expect of such efforts. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but unbelievably it is not 16x9 enhanced. Not a good move considering the number of widescreen televisions I saw walking out of Hardly Normal this weekend, a trend that I hopefully will be joining before the end of the month. You should also note that this is an NTSC formatted DVD and therefore you will need to have a display device capable of playing this signal in order to see anything.

    The initial reaction to the transfer is extremely favourable, but then the stage lights go on and the main problem with the transfer is highlighted. This is a generally sharp transfer throughout, but there was just a consistent impression of slight diffuseness that I could not dispel. Definition is inherently very good and there is little in the transfer that does not come up well - indeed, some of the effects at the opening of Act 2 highlight the fact there is perhaps a little too much definition in the transfer at times. There is no issue here with clarity and grain is similarly a non-issue here. There are no low level noise issues in the transfer. The stage lighting ensures that there is no issue with shadow detail here at all. The stage lighting also is the root cause of the main issue in the transfer - it is inherently over-bright and this causes most of the area lit to be washed out a little in colour and look a little overexposed. This is a great shame as this would otherwise have been a terrific transfer.

    The opening scenes inside the magnificent Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg set the tone here for a gorgeously saturated and vibrant looking transfer. A pity that the ballet and its over-lit stage had to start! Still, even through the slightly washed-out look that results, the colour is still obvious, the vibrancy is still obvious and the overall impression is still quite good. However, there are still a few problems with oversaturation here and there, most notably at 14:24 in the puppet's red cape and during the King Of The Mice scene, in the king's red cape. It is not really objectionable, but it does tend to draw the eye a little. It is also accompanied by some colour bleed which does not exactly help the situation too much either. The colours have some decent tone to them and the blacks have a real solidity to them that is rather pleasing.

    There does not appear to be any issue with MPEG artefacts in the transfer. I did not recall seeing any film-to-video artefacts in the transfer at all, and film artefacts were similarly noticeable by their absence.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming during the break between Act 1 and Act 2 at 57:29.

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

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack. The concept of English is of course a notional one in an art form that is purely music and dance. I sampled both soundtracks on offer.

    The music comes up well in the transfer, and the marvellous score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky can generally be heard quite clearly in the transfer. However, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is another example of the sound engineers having no idea whatsoever of what classical music is supposed to sound like.

    Unlike rock music, classical music does not have the need for heavy, artificial bass. It gets its bass quite naturally from the instruments, notably the lower register instruments like the double bass (funny that) and the percussion, most especially the kettle drum. In an overall score, these instruments give the bass sound very naturally and completely in proportion to the rest of the instruments. You would not know that from this recording. At times, this gets so much false resonance in the music that it sounds like a Boeing 707 rumbling overhead on take-off. The result is a complete mockery at times of the delightful score composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The problem is especially noticed during the King Of The Mice scene (yes, I know it is a battle, but it does not need to be accompanied by the combined artillery of the Russian Army) and, of all things, during the climatic Dance Of The Flowers. Suffice it to say that at times the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is not a very natural sounding effort at all. Frankly, it would have been preferred if they had forgotten the bass channel altogether.

    Apart from the heavy-handed approach to the bass at times, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a decent if not especially memorable example of the art of surround encoding. Whilst there is clearly plenty of action in the surround channels, the lack of really noteworthy rear channel action is at times a little puzzling. I would have expected a little more encompassing sound than we actually have gotten here. Still, the higher bit rate gives the music plenty of space in which to bloom and I would cheerfully have forgiven all had the bass resonance problem not been an issue. There are no glitches or other noticeable blemishes in the soundtrack.

    The Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack is another wonderful effort and this certainly sounds a mile better overall than the Dolby Digital soundtrack. Wonderfully clear, with not so much as an indication of any sort of blemish, if you want to truly hear the wonderful music you will need to indulge in this soundtrack. It is, by the way, the default soundtrack on the DVD.

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

Extras

    Apart from a reasonably decent booklet, there is nothing else on offer on the DVD. This depressingly seems to be the norm with opera/ballet DVDs from this source.

Menu

    Since the DVD starts straight in to the ballet, it is only when it gets to the end and heads to the menu that you know it is there. And since it has little to do, other than audio selection and direct access to the start of each Act, there really is not much point knowing it is there.

Booklet

    Whilst it provides a track listing and a modest synopsis and brief history of the ballet, the lack of any additional information on either the performers or the composer is disappointing.

R4 vs R1

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

    Since this is an all-Region coded NTSC DVD, it seems reasonable to assume that this is the same as the Region 1 release in every way.

Summary

    Pyotr Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is, like the earlier reviewed Swan Lake, a good "beginner's" ballet. Unlike the earlier effort though, this does not contain extremely well-known dancers. On the flip side of that, this is a much better-looking transfer than the earlier ballet. Still, it remains anything but perfect and the Dolby Digital audio transfer pretty much makes a mockery of Tchaikovsky's delightful music. Overall, I would have to say that this is a disappointment and I would suggest that unless you really need a Nutcracker right now, it might be prudent to see what else might appear over the short term on Region 4 DVD. I would have to think that a better effort than this is available somewhere.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, August 06, 2001
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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