H D - S E N S E I

A view on Hi-def discs by Gary W. Tooze


Introduction: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 7500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player (firmware upgraded)

Sony BDP-S300 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player (firmware upgraded)
Sony DVP NS5ODH SD-DVD player (region-free and HDMI)

Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

Gary W. Tooze







El Norte aka 'The North' [Blu-ray]


(Gregory Nava, 1983)



Review by Gary Tooze


Video: Criterion



Region: 'A"

Feature Runtime: 2:20:55.095

Chapters: 26

Disc Size: 49,601,312,700 bytes

Feature Size: 34,279,845,888 bytes

Average Bitrate: 32.43 Mbps

One dual-layered Blu-ray

Case: Custom Fold-Out Blu-ray case inside cardboard slipcase

Release date: January 20th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC


LPCM Audio English 768 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

Feature: English (SDH), and none


New audio commentary featuring director Greg Nava
In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of El Norte: a new video program featuring interviews with Nava, producer and cowriter Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, and set designer David Wasco (58:20 in HD!)
Wall of Silence, a new short documentary by Nava and Barbara Martinez Jitner, concerning the building of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (3:06 in HD!)
The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva, the 1972 award-winning student film by Nava (30:06 in HD!)
Scouting in Chipas -Gallery of location-scouting photographs
Theatrical trailer
Liner notes booklet featuring an essay by novelist Héctor Tobar and Roger Ebert's 1983 review of the film


Bitrate Graph:



Product Description: Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa flee persecution at home in Guatemala and journey north, through Mexico and on to the United States, with the dream of starting a new life. It’s a story that happens every day, but until Gregory Nava’s groundbreaking El Norte (The North), the personal travails of immigrants crossing the border to America had never been shown in the movies with such urgent humanism. A work of social realism imbued with dreamlike imagery, El Norte is a lovingly rendered, heartbreaking story of hope and survival, which critic Roger Ebert called “a Grapes of Wrath for our time.”




The Film:

From the very first moments of "El Norte," we know that we are in the hands of a great movie. It tells a simple story in such a romantic and poetic way that we are touched, deeply and honestly, and we know we will remember the film for a long time. The movie tells the story of two young Guatemalans, a brother and sister named Rosa and Enrique, and of their long trek up through Mexico to el Norte -- the United States. Their journey begins in a small village and ends in Los Angeles, and their dream is the American Dream.



But "El Norte" takes place in the present, when we who are already Americans are not so eager for others to share our dream. Enrique and Rosa are not brave immigrants who could have been our forefathers, but two young people alive now, who look through the tattered pages of an old Good Housekeeping for their images of America...

Excerpt from Robert Ebert's review at the Chicago Sun-Times located HERE


Image : NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Expectantly competent dual-layered 1080P image from Criterion - it shows a healthy amount of good grain. This, definitely, is not a glossy, smooth transfer but maintains a marvellously realistic quality that I feel must be accurate to the filmmakers final intentions (Nava claims in the commentary not to want an overly grainy, artistic, look). Other observations I noted were a bit of shakiness in the camera - more noticeable on some of the more prescient shots of the sunsets of mountain-sides. The transfer does a splendid job of supporting the natural light (indoor candles etc.) - with frequent magic hour cinematography in the first 1/3 of the film. Nava does a great job of relying on, and infusing, Latin American inspirations while sourcing symbolic imagery from ancient Mayan text. It is quite marvelous to behold. It's important to remember that the film is 25-years old now but I thought detail, colors and contrast were quite strong although looking visually accurate but dissimilar to other modern film Blu-ray discs. This isn't 100% flawless with very light smatterings of background noise but generally the image presents a graceful, consistent and highly pleasing appearance. It gains comfort as the film rolls along. El Norte on Blu-ray is damage-free and exhibits occasional depth (see the goat below). The dual-layered disc (taking over 49 Gig!) gives us a warm, detailed representation of the theatrical in every important aspect. The MPEG-4 encode has done a super job of retaining the film's textures. I expect this advances beyond Criterion's, simultaneously released, DVD but perhaps we can compare when it arrives (we have done so HERE)!. I give this Criterion image top marks - very worthy of this masterpiece film.

















Audio & Music:  
Criterion stick to their guns with original mono - and appropriately for hi-def it is in
LPCM. It has some perceived/implied depth that surprised me on more than one occasion. The film's track is fairly passive so Surround devotees won't be missing much regardless. There are English optional subtitles offered.


I really enjoyed the Nava commentary - he talks non-stop explaining many of the motifs that he was attempting and how they related to the onscreen activity. Despite his justified pride, and a bit of ego, I gained a huge amount of appreciation and respect for the film-making process of El Norte and all the, often minute, details that he, and the crew, achieved. In the Service of the Shadows: The Making of El Norte is an hour-long new video program, in HD, featuring interviews with Nava, producer and cowriter Anna Thomas, actors Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando, and set designer David Wasco. Wall of Silence is a new short documentary, also in HD, by Nava and Barbara Martinez Jitner, concerning the building of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Journal of Diego Rodriguez Silva, is the 1972 award-winning student film by Nava running 30 minutes and in HD. Scouting in Chipas is a gallery of location-scouting photographs. The liner notes booklet features an essay by novelist Héctor Tobar and Roger Ebert's 1983 review of the film.



Bottom line:
This is one of my favorite parts of reviewing - finding an absolute gem of a film that I had never seen before in a glorious transfer with detailed supplements including a director commentary. If this had come out last month it would have been in my top 10 of the year. Wow - this
Blu-ray, and this film, is highly recommended.


Gary Tooze

January 6th, 2008





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