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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

A Brief History of Time [Blu-ray]

 

(Errol Morris, 1991)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Anglia Television

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #699

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:24:02.996

Disc Size: 37,159,851,760 bytes

Feature Size: 24,729,047,040 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.02 Mbps

Chapters: 13

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 18th, 2014

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3191 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3191 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• New interview with Errol Morris (34:19)
New interview with John Bailey (11:42)
PLUS: An essay by critic David Sterritt, a chapter from Stephen Hawking’s 2013 memoir My Brief History, and an excerpt from Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Errol Morris turns his camera on one of the most fascinating men in the world: the pioneering astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, afflicted by a debilitating motor neuron disease that has left him without a voice or the use of his limbs. An adroitly crafted tale of personal adversity, professional triumph, and cosmological inquiry, Morris’s documentary examines the way the collapse of Hawking’s body has been accompanied by the untrammeled broadening of his imagination. Telling the man’s incredible story through the voices of his colleagues and loved ones, while making dynamically accessible some of the theories in Hawking’s best-selling book of the same name, A Brief History of Time is at once as small as a single life and as big as the ever-expanding universe.

 

 

The Film:

A Brief History of Time is based on cosmologist Stephen Hawking's 1988 bestseller of the same name. This anecdotal film concerns itself as much with Hawking's day-to-day life as it does with his unorthodox theories about the universe. Only the most close-minded viewer will be bothered by the ALS-suffering Hawking's physical appearance and his inability to move and speak without assistance (as narrator of the film, he utilizes a voice synthesizer, which he capriciously refers to as "my American accent"). Director Errol Morris inventively adopts a semi-dramatized approach to his interviews with Hawking's friends and relatives: they all appear in fabricated sets, and are lovingly photographed and lit as if they were starring in a film. Though of necessity a "talking heads" effort, A Brief History of Time is also cunningly and subtly cinematic.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

This "Brief History of Time" has its impenetrable moments, but it is also something of a delight. It functions both as an introduction to the work by Mr. Hawking and his associates in their search for a unified theory of physics, and as a most engaging portrait of him, the members of his family, his friends and colleagues. They are variously serious, funny, brilliant, caustic and, from time to time, eccentric in a way that evokes memories of more than one novel about England's academe.

Excerpt from Vincent Canby the NY Times located HERE

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

A Brief History of Time arrives as as bit of an oddity on Blu-ray from Criterion who don't usually venture to documentaries. They've chosen a great one. The image quality, in this genre, is always seen as less important to the content. Still this looks pretty solid.  It's dual-layered with a max'ed bitrate n the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It is clean and very tight - even the vintage static photography looks super in 1080P. The few close-ups are also impressive. Admittedly, I am less concerned with critiquing the visuals. Mostly I was pleased with how this looks. Great contrast and the variety of images holds up well as does Bailey's interesting angles in his cinematography. There is no noise. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and provided a pleasing presentation supporting the film to the best of the new format's capabilities.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

The audio is transferred via a DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 3191 kbps. While the film's robust-ness isn't tested - the documentary has more than just narration - in fact Philip Glass (Kundun, Home, The Illusionist) did the score that is filled with subtle intent sounding superb. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.

 

Extras :

Criterion offer a half-hour interview with Errol Morris conducted in Cambridge, Massachusetts in November 2013. It is great to hear the director talk about documentaries - what they strive for etc. There is also a 11-minute interview, conducted by Criterion, in September 2013, with cinematographer John Bailey talking about the unique visual challenges in shooting A Brief History of Time and his experiences working with director Errol Morris. There are also liner notes with an essay by critic David Sterritt, a chapter from Stephen Hawking’s 2013 memoir My Brief History, and an excerpt from Hawking’s 1988 book A Brief History of Time.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Like many, I purchased A Brief History of Time, but submitted to my own, obvious, lack of understanding and inability to complete reading beyond the first 2 chapters. Errol Morris' documentary is far more... accessible.  It makes me want to attempt the book... again! I think this was a great choice to expose in a Criterion Blu-ray release. The presentation is more than educational - it harkens to the whole puzzle of our existence and how insignificant we are in the big picture - as well as the lack of limitations of human thought. If you haven't seen this - I strongly recommend it. It may help you see the world in a different, and better, light. 

Gary Tooze

February 18th, 2014


 

About the Reviewer: 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 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 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.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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