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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Large Frame Format > Time > Civilization > Chronos (1985/IMAX/HD-DVD)

Chronos (1985/IMAX/HD-DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C     Film: B-



Ron Fricke is celebrated all over for the amazing achievement that is Baraka (1992), but before that, he made the shorter and still-interesting Chronos back in 1985.  At 43 minutes, it is the length of an average IMAX/OMNIMAX production that the company has been producing since the system’s debut in the 1970s.  Plagued for many years by inferior versions on VHS, 12” LaserDisc and DVD, R&B Films is beginning to right that wrong with the long-delayed HD-DVD version.


The title refers to time and much time-lapse footage is used long before it many imitators to make us look at our world differently and think hard about it.  It has no dialogue and may not be as impressive as Baraka would be, but it is not pretentious like its later (and many) imitators.  That is the primary reason it has held up is because of its length and that the higher the fidelity it is presented in, the more compelling the film is.


The 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image is better than the previous 1.33 X 1 DVDs all the way up to the latest special edition and the cinematography is by director Fricke.  Even when more space was offered on the DTS’ Demo 7 DVD-Video sampler, that full frame image had a phony look to it.  It was not as fuzzy as the earliest DVD, but the idea is to see this large frame format production clearly and this HD-DVD finally gives us an idea of how good this should look.  Not that it is perfect, with some purists always feeling at least a bit uncomfortable with the loss of image at the top and bottom, something Image first did with DTS DVD-Video releases of IMAX product several years ago.  As was the case with those IMAX releases, the irony is that the anamorphic version (standard in all HD formats for widescreen product) gives you better picture definition closer to the original film frame, even if this means loosing some of that frame.


It is not quite as awkward here, but especially important because the higher fidelity image wordlessly tells the story and shows once again why film is superior to HD video.  Still, this could look better and the Blu-ray will be 1080p in a new transfer, so that will make for an interesting comparison.  For what is here, this is good, but there is still a sort of grain and softness that haunts the image that an IMAX film really should not have to begin with.  With that said, it makes for a fine demo more often than not and in an HD-30 dual-layer HD-DVD has extra room to perform in playback without interference that challenges full length films and in interesting ways.  Compare to other HD-DVDs to see what I mean.


The audio is here in three versions, including the DTS 96/24 that actually debuted on DTS’ DVD Demo 7 DVD-Video sampler.  Though composer Michael Stearns supervised the sound mix for this new version, it has some limits and the 96/24 DTS is the lower of the two DTS HD formats in circulation.  Whether it is a choice of stylized production or not, the character of the sound is unusual and not what I had hoped for.  Some of it has a restricted strain at times, but it is superior to the 640-kbps Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix (why was it not 1.5?) and PCM 2.0 48kHz/24bit  Stereo-only track that is more like an upgrade from the oldest DVD.


Extras include full length audio commentary by director Fricke, composer Stearns, and production manager Alton Walpole, plus small new features like “Animations” and “Locations” that tell you about the locations separately with the former and with icons that appear as you watch with the latter.  With all the supposed extra space here, why regular DVD extras like the behind the scenes featurette, Behind The Landscapes look at the locations without DVD-ROM accessibility, the director's shot-by-shot film breakdown & DVD-ROM accessible Columbia Encyclopedia entries with their own hyperlinks were not included is odd.  The HD-DVD case does have a foldout with solid detail about the production, something of a first for this format, where the only pages included have been explanations of the HD technology, the greatness of the given format, more titles arriving in said format and little slips of paper telling you to upgrade your new machine.  I wonder what the Blu-ray will be missing.


Give or take 65mm negative/Super Panavision 70 (Grand Prix), Ultra Panavision 70 (Mutiny On The Bounty), VistaVision (The Searchers) and Technirama 70 (Spartacus), very few large frame format films have arrived in either HD format and all of those have been in HD-DVD (three of the four will be Blu-rays) and Chronos is remarkably the first IMAX production to arrive in either format with a Blu-ray arriving later in an upgraded transfer.  HD-DVD owners should get this disc now because it will hold as a fun demo for a while.


For more about Baraka, read our review at:






-   Nicholas Sheffo


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