Storm Over Asia

(Potomok Chingis-Khana)

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Details At A Glance

General
Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio and Animation
Menu Audio
Introduction
Rating
Year Released 1928
Running Time 125:27 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Vsevolod Pudovkin
Studio
Distributor
Force Video
Starring Valeri Inkizhinov
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $34.95 Music Timothy Brock

 
Video
Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio No
16x9 Enhancement No
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Miscellaneous
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Whoa, Force Video (or at least Eureka Video) sure manage to drag the rarities out for release! On this occasion they return to the classics of Russian cinema, albeit for a change not for a film from Sergei Eisenstein. This one comes from Vsevolod Pudovkin and is something of a rarity inasmuch as it is one of the very first films to be shot in Mongolia - the cover claims it to be the first such film. That in itself provides plenty of reason to indulge in this DVD, for even today Mongolia is hardly on the beaten track as far as tourism is concerned.

    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?

Transfer Quality

Video

    To enjoy the film, you are going to have to make allowances. Whilst we are talking about a seventy-three year old film here, and therefore some allowances are to be expected to be made in regards to the transfer, if this is fully restored then the source print must have been in abysmal condition. The transfer is of course presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced.

    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.
 
 

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, which is of course a bit of a misnomer since it is a silent film. The soundtrack actually provides the music score for the film.

    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.
 
 

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

Extras

    Not a whole bunch of stuff here to enjoy, but due to its length the film would itself take up most of the available space on this single layer DVD.

Menu

    A quite reasonable looking main menu, being a short piece of film from the feature looped continuously. The audio is not exactly awe-inspiring but the whole effect is reasonable enough.

Introduction

    Basically just some notes about the making of the film presented in scrolling fashion that is a tad too slow for my taste and liking.

Censorship

    As far as we have been able to ascertain, there are no censorship issues with this title.

R4 vs R1

    It would appear that this is fairly similar to the Region 1 DVD, although definitive reviews are a little difficult to come by. There is no real preference either way it would seem.

Summary

    Serious film historians will probably rejoice that Storm Over Asia is available for purchase on DVD, but there are some serious impediments to the enjoyment of the film from a transfer point of view. It is a little worse for wear but I suppose it still looks quite respectable for a seventy three year old. Of the classic Russian films released by Force Video though, I would have to say that this is the marginally least impressive of them, and I will not be offering a wholehearted recommendation of it. However, if you want something a little bit different, and a chance to see a part of the world that most will never see, then this may well be worth a rental.
 
 

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
29th May, 2001.

Review Equipment
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