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|Category||Drama||Main Menu Audio and Animation
|Running Time||125:27 minutes|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||No|
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||
|Subtitles||None||Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Set on the steppes of Mongolia in 1918, this is the story of Bair (Valeri Inkizhinov), the son of a gravely ill fur hunter. In their isolated yurt (a sort of framed tent), the local Lama is praying for the old man's recovery when fellow fur hunters arrive for the annual trip to the fur traders. Since his father cannot go, he sends Bair in his place - along with his prize, a silver fox pelt of great worth and for which Bair is to accept no less than 500 silvers. Arriving at the fur traders, Westerners under the protection of the British Army, things do not quite go according to plan and when Bair does not get the requisite sum of money for the valuable pelt, a fight ensues during which a Westerner is injured. Forced to flee rather than face capture, Bair heads to the mountains where he eventually discovers, and joins, the partisans who are waging a war against the British. Several years later Bair is captured by the British, and when he reacts to the name Moscow during the brief interrogation, he is summarily taken out to be shot. However, a piece of writing in a talisman that was given to him for luck suggests that the owner of the writing is a direct descendent of the mighty Genghis Khan - a name still revered in the region. The British commandant realizes this is a great opportunity to place a puppet ruler in charge of Mongolia and demands that Bair be brought back. Unfortunately he has already been shot, but when the soldiers return to him, he is found to be alive, albeit seriously injured.
Unfortunately, in a rather canny commentary upon British colonial and empire policy, the elevation of Bair as ruler of Mongolia does not quite work out in reality. As he slowly recovers, Bair comes to realize the depth of the subjugation of his people and, with the aid of the support offered by local chiefs, he becomes the revolutionary he never really was and leads the forces promised by the chiefs and overthrows the imperialistic invaders and the exploitative Westerners that they protect.
Whilst the description of masterpiece is once again added to the description of the DVD, in this instance it is perhaps not quite so warranted. Whilst there is no denying that the quality of the cinematography is excellent, and really provides a look at Mongolia that many will never have the chance to see, the actual story itself is just a little disappointing - most especially the ending which almost gives the feel that they were running out of time and just cobbled something together to finish the film as best they could. The basic film seems to take 120 minutes to make a deliberate journey and get to a point at which it is all finished off in 5 minutes. The authenticity within the film however seems to be very high, as Valeri Inkizhinov is a Mongol, and his father in the film is apparently his real-life father and the yurt is actually where they lived. As is typical for a film of this era though, the actual acting on offer is not of the highest standard. But all the cons of that aspect of the film can be well-and-truly overlooked for the terrific cinematography that superbly captures in its opening hour the breadth of the steppes of Mongolia and the mood of the time.
Whilst I am extremely glad to have seen the film, and enjoyed to some extent the vision of Vsevolod Pudovkin within the slightly disappointing story, it is not a film that I would return to often. This deeply contrasts with the earlier DVD releases of the work of Sergei Eisenstein in particular. It is nonetheless an important film within the context of Soviet film history for it is perhaps the least overt piece of Soviet propaganda that has yet been released onto DVD. That is not to say that there is no propaganda here, for there is indeed enough imagery here to noticeably support anti-Western fervour. An interesting film, but not in my view a absolute masterpiece. Perhaps more a minor masterpiece?
The actual transfer itself is not too bad at all. There are naturally the lapses into slightly soft definition but in general the image remains reasonably sharp throughout (for a film of this age), which certainly aids some of the internal scenes no end. It should be noted that there are two places where the transfer seems to be noticeably out of focus (64:08 and 108:50) and the image tends towards some ghosting. It is difficult to know whether these are actual focus issues in the source material or some problem introduced in the mastering process. Detail is obviously not magnificent, nor would we expect it to be for a film of this age. Often the background tends toward a slight murkiness with the result that detail gets just a little washed out. However, shadow detail is quite reasonable and thankfully this helps the transfer avoid those annoying periods of darkness with little indication of what is going on. There is not much of an issue here with grain, with nothing that really stands out and grabs you as being obvious. Obviously it is occasionally present, but equally it is not distracting to the film. There did not seem to be any significant instances of low level noise in the transfer.
There is nothing here in the way of distinct black and white, and the whole transfer has a nice display in the very grey midpoints in the range of the palette. At times it does get a little murky, but rarely does this even approach anything that is hard to watch. Sure a lot more depth to the tones would have been nice, but we simply have to put up with the grey scales. There seemed to be some instances where the "colours" were less than solidly rendered and bleed across others resulting in a slightly indistinct gradation of the grey tones. Certainly not the best display ever seen but nothing that even remotely approaches the depth of disgust found in certain films in the Hall Of Shame.
There were just a few odd hints at blockiness in
the backgrounds but that would be the extent of the indication of significant
MPEG artefacts in the transfer. I would suggest that the occasional loss
of resolution on a pan shot is inherent in the source material and not
a transfer problem. There was little indication of problems with film-to-video
artefacts in the transfer, other than some mild aliasing at a couple of
points that really hardly raised an eyebrow. The big problem here is the
degradation of the source material and the transfer, especially early on,
is riddled with all sorts of film artefacts that really make watching the
film very hard going. It may even be that some frames have been chopped
because of degradation, as there were a couple of hiccoughs in the transfer
early on. The main problem are the very hard to ignore blemishes where
film emulsion has been damaged beyond repair and some rather obvious scratches
and dirt marks. There are also the obligatory jumps around the screen as
the tracking of the source print seems to go a tad wonky.
Since it is a silent film, there is not much point making any comment upon non-existent audible dialogue and the resultant constant audio sync issues.
The musical score is credited to Timothy Brock, and is claimed to be the original score. I pass no comment upon those claims, and my only comment is that there is nothing much truly memorable about the score other than its rather Eastern sounding nature.
The soundtrack does its job of providing the musical
accompaniment without much issue whatsoever. A couple of times there sounded
like some hiss just escaping into the audio picture, but otherwise an adequate
if slightly unfulfilling soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
© Ian Morris (have
a laugh, check out the bio)
29th May, 2001.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|