Grey Owl (Tribe) (1998)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Featurette
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Girlfight
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 113:12 (Case: 117)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:36) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Richard Attenborough
Studio
Distributor
Largo Entertainment
Tribe Enterprises
Starring Pierce Brosnan
Annie Galipeau
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music George Fenton


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, end titles over beautiful forested valley

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

Plot Synopsis

    Grey Owl is based on the real-life biography of Archie Grey Owl (played by Mr. 007, Pierce Brosnan) - a member of the Ojibway Indian tribe who worked as a trapper and a guide in the Canadian wilderness. However, Archie eventually gave up killing beavers for fur, became a forest ranger and started writing books and giving lectures on the Canadian north. He talked about the need for balance between civilization and nature and awoke a concern for preserving the environment in an era (1930s) when the word 'conservationist' probably didn't even exist. He gained international recognition through his books and lectures and in his lifetime became the most well-known Red Indian in the world.

    However, there is one small, teensy-weensy, tiny little problem - Archie Grey Owl is a fake. Not only was he not born an Ojibway Indian (or even a part-Apache as he later claimed), he did not have a single drop of Red Indian blood in his veins. He was born Archibald Belaney in Hastings, England in 1888. He emigrated to Canada in 1906 and took the name of Grey Owl.

    Just in case you think I have revealed a massive plot spoiler - relax. Archie's "secret" is revealed in the opening scenes of the film, and the rest of the story is a flashback of Archie talking about his life story to the reporter who uncovered his real past.

    They say that behind a great man is a great woman ... and Archie's story is no exception. The film deals with Archie's relationship with Anahareo (nicknamed "Pony") - an attractive, "town-bred", half-blood Mohawk working as a waitress in Temagami. Pony (played by Annie Galipeau) is intrigued by Archie's clean and simple lifestyle and wants to rediscover her own heritage. Archie at first pretends that he finds her a nuisance but gradually falls in love with her. Pony was responsible for many of the turning points in Archie's life - she convinced him to stop trapping and to write and lecture instead. She also sowed the seed of his conservationist "message".

    The film conveniently glosses over some of the less pleasant aspects of the real Archie - his drinking binges and bigamy. However, there is no denying the soundness of his plea for preservation nor his powerful charisma.

    Directed by Richard Attenborough (director of Gandhi and executive producer of Dances with Wolves), Grey Owl has interesting parallels with both those films. Like Gandhi, Grey Owl is a film based on the true story of a man with a powerful vision. Both films are structured with a circular storyline - an ending that ties back to the opening scene.

    Like the real Archie, the film is somewhat flawed but its strengths overcome its weaknesses. I quite enjoyed the film, especially the part where he visits his aunts (Renée Asherson as Carrie Belaney and Stephanie Cole as Ada Belaney) in his hometown in England and we get to see the genesis of his adult life.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I suppose every DVD reviewer at one stage in his or her life will encounter a pan & scan transfer, even though 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfers are thankfully becoming more and more the norm these days - this is the first DVD I've had to review in a pan & scan format. It's funny - before I started watching DVDs I was perfectly comfortable watching pan & scan movies on broadcast TV. Now that I know what I've been missing all these years, I find pan & scan transfers intensely annoying (to the point that I can no longer watch movies on TV), and this one is no exception.

    The DVD has been released by an independent distributor, and I suspect that they probably lack the resources to commission a new widescreen telecine transfer, so the video has probably been sourced from a transfer intended for use on broadcast TV.

    The film starts off 2.35:1 letterboxed to accommodate the opening credits, then reverts to 1.33:1 pan & scan for the rest of the film, before ending with the closing credits displayed in 2.35:1 letterboxed again. This is pretty standard practice for pan & scan movies shown on TV, and I encountered the usual issues with pan & scan - including characters shown with half their faces cropped off (notably around 11:45-12:26) and characters coming alternately into and out of frame.

    Apart from the annoyance of pan & scan, the transfer is actually not too bad. It is just a little bit soft, but features reasonable colour saturation.

    The film source is reasonably clean of marks, apart from a black mark at 17:01. Medium level grain is present occasionally in some scenes, particularly in low-light conditions but otherwise grain is not an issue. The transfer is relatively devoid of artefacts (apart from a minor video glitch at 15:41).

    The film is mastered somewhat unusually on this single sided double layered disc (RSDL) - instead of mastering the feature as a single title spanning two layers (with a layer change inserted at some point in the title) the DVD is mastered as two titles of exactly the same length (56:36) - one on each layer - and joined together using seamless branching. Instead of a freeze frame during a layer change, we get a completely blank screen. Fortunately, this happens in between scenes, but it left me with a sneaking suspicion that part of a scene has been cut off. The fact that the two titles are exactly the same length is just too much of a coincidence.

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

Audio

    Given that the DVD has been released by an independent distributor, I would have expected the audio transfer to be somewhat substandard, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is only one audio track, in Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 Kb/s (not "5.1 and 2.0 sound" as stated on the packaging).

    This is pretty much a near reference quality audio track, and sounds very full bodied, yet crisp and detailed. There is a minor audio dropout in Title 6 (the second half of the film) Chapter 5 at 24:46 (or around 81:17 into the film) - there is a brief period (roughly 1 second) where the background hiss disappears. Fortunately this dropout occurs during a silent part of the film so we're not missing any dialogue or sound effects.

    The dialogue was pretty easy to understand most of the time, which is good since the disc does not contain any subtitle tracks. There were no audio sync problems.

    The original music score by George Fenton sounds rather lush and symphonic, with a hint of ethnicism in the melody carried by the flutes, and seems to be well spread across the five main channels at all times. I think the "epic soundtrack" nature of the music suits the film rather well and the music played over the closing titles is suitably grand and moving.

    The surround speakers are engaged mostly for music, but I did get a nice, satisfying enveloping ambience for most of the film.

    As there are not much low frequency content in the soundtrack (limited to plane engines and the occasional 'thump' from the orchestra), the subwoofer is very rarely engaged.

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

Extras

    For an independently produced DVD, I was surprised to find extras (mainly featurettes and trailers) plus menu animation and audio. However, the featurettes have an "unfinished" feel about them, almost as if they are source material waiting for an editor to put together into a documentary.

Menu

    The main menu features animation and audio, and is presented Full Frame. The sub menus are static but include audio.

Featurette (5:23)

    This is an extremely short promotional featurette featuring excerpts from the film, on-location shots and interviews with:     The featurette is presented in Full Frame format (apart from excerpts from the film which are presented at 1.85:1 letterboxed) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette - Inside Interviews (9:13)

    This features edited excerpts of interviews (bits of these were used in the promotional featurette above) with:     Each interview is in a chapter of its own, and in addition the menu allows direct access to each chapter. Interestingly, we are provided with a synopsis of the topics covered in each interview. The topics for Pierce Brosnan, for example are:
  1. Grey Owl
  2. A Wonderful Role
  3. Meeting Pony
  4. Grey Owl's Popularity
  5. Richard Attenborough
  6. The Pow-wow
  7. The Film's Timeliness
    The featurette is presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes Footage (8:55)

    This is a montage of on-location footage of various scenes, particularly the scene featuring Grey Owl's return from his lecture tour of England, various by-the-river scenes, the pow-wow scene, the first lecture and the wedding scene. It is presented in Full Frame format with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Theatrical Trailer (2:07)

    This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 without 16x9 enhancement and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Compared to the transfer of the film, the video transfer is a bit softer.

Trailer-Girlfight (2:26)

    This is presented in 1.33:1 (pan & scan?) with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

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 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Looks like the clear winner is the R1 version, which I am strongly tempted to buy now that I have seen the R4 version.

Summary

    Grey Owl, for me, was a watchable film based on the true story from director/producer Richard Attenborough, though it is not the masterpiece that Gandhi was. Unfortunately, it is presented with a pan & scan video transfer. The audio quality is excellent. The extras look a bit "unfinished" and fall far short of the features present on the R1 version.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Sunday, April 29, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (203cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront left/right: B&W DM603; centre: B&W CC6S2, rear left/right: B&W DM601

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