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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Home [Blu-ray]


(Yann Arthus-Bertrand, 2009)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Europa Corp.

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 118 min

Chapters: 24

Size: 25 GB

Case: standard Blu-ray case

Release date: June 9th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 1080p

Resolution: 1.78:1

Video codec: 1080p



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; French 5.1 Dolby Digital



English SDH



• (none)



The Film: 4
Last week, quite by chance, I queued up two documentary films about our planet. And they couldn't be more different in subject, tone, point of view and their ability to communicate their message. Both films are beautifully photographed. Home keeps the camera about as far as possible from the subject and never interacts with it; Chamakoda moves in so close that we can feel the texture of breath. Each is scored with original music that brings depth to the experience.

The narration in both cases is spoken by a venerable actor who knows how to read. Choi Bul-Am is one of Korea’s most respected actors with appearances in films as far back as 1968. Glenn Close is a multi-talented actress with a voice that speaks elegance and authority. But whereas the one shares and invites; the other warns and scolds. Much of the responsibility for this latter effect – intentional, I am quite sure – comes with the script that, right from the opening sentences declare a finger-wagging cautionary instruction to her audience. The text is riddled with faux-haiku declarations that I, for one, found very off-putting.

The aerial photography of the opening chapter or so is generally pretty spectacular stuff, but I failed to understand the connection between what amounts to a series of stunning graphic designs and the narration. At times, even when the image content is clear enough, the point of the commentary and the images don’t line up.

As omniscient as the narrator is, she (or he, on the French track) doesn't identify herself. She is a concerned visitor, like Klaatu, but, unlike Klaatu, doesn't involve herself with us. She remains hovered above our planet's surface at a safe distance. There are no conversations with the inhabitants. But neither is she God. Except for her opening admonition to listen up, she speaks about humans, not to us. She does not say: "Look what I gave you. Understand what it took for life to evolve. I put you here as wards of this planet, of its resources and its life forms – and look what you've done with it. Look." Certainly that's the message, but she doesn't have the courage of her convictions to say so.

But neither is she one of us, as was Al Gore, inviting us to join him in taking responsibility for what we who have the power to change things have done here. I like to think of myself as environmentally sensitive, and so I found the tone of the narration insulting. If, on the other hand, I were insensitive, I probably would have been simply bored.



Image: 4/7
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The entire movie appears to have been shot from helicopters or jets, mostly the former. I'm guessing that for that reason, and despite current technology to reduce vibration, it doesn't entirely eliminate it. As with parts of Planet Earth there is a lack of sharpness that pervades this high-definition movie that fatigues both eye and mind. While some frames are sharper than others, there remains a vagueness that works against the point of the narration. We look at the Earth from high above, but do not see – or, rather, we do not make sense of. Patterns are clear, but not the texture. Color and contrast is right on the mark. If there were artifacts I was unable to tell, since I was distracted by its lack of clarity. The narration doesn't help much. To be fair, the degree of squinting required only occurs in these high altitude shots; most of the movie is understandable, and all of it is, or would be, stunning.














Audio & Music:

The audio consists largely of the narration, written by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Isabelle Delannoy and others, and an original music score by Armand Amar. There are occasional moments of planet sounds: birds, waterfalls, city noises and the like. But by and large we are not concerned with accuracy of lining up the one with the other. The narrator remains front-directed (and much smaller in the French) but the music and effects are mixed into the surrounds. The overall effect is pleasant enough, but unremarkable. The uncompressed DTS HD-MA audio mix is considerably dynamic and more substantial. It's too bad, really, that no one thought seriously of giving the same treatment to the French which, unlike March of the Penguins, is much the same except for its being in French. On the other hand, in place of what's here you might want to try cuing up Philip Glass's music for Koyaanisqatsi – which Amar bows to anyhow when the camera settles over the big city.




Operations: 7
There are no extra features, so the menu is simplicity itself. I like the large pop-ups for each thumbnail.

Extras: 0
None. Like Planet Earth, it would appear that the producers of this video feel that the feature content speaks for itself. I am inclined to agree.



Bottom line: 3
Home is like Koyaanisqatsi, only with narration. Instead of our being shown a world where "life is out of balance" we are told about it in a kind of geo-history lesson. The movie ends with a series of frightening statistics that arrive like a plea for donations for war orphans. I fully expected addresses for UNESCO and my congressman to pop up at any moment. The aerial photography means well, and the shots are graphically fascinating, and would be much more effective if they were rendered more sharply.

Leonard Norwitz
June 22nd, 2009






About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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