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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Large Frame Formats > Existentialism > Baraka (Anamorphic DVD-Video Special Edition)

Baraka (DVD-Video Special Collector’s Edition/Anamorphic)


Picture: A-     Sound: B+     Extras: B     Film: A



Voted one of the most-well photographed films ever made by American Cinematographer Magazine, the powerful, non-narrative film Baraka, from director/cinematographer Ron Fricke, was first released in 1992 theatrically.  Not only would it prove to be a journey through various landscapes, countries, but also through sound and images it would connect some sort of message.  This is especially effective, as the film was shot in 70mm.  Many will see a few connections to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1983) or that series in general.  Of course the main connection is that both films involve non-narratives, but also the fact that Rob Fricke did the camera-work for Reggio and then decided to take over the directing reigns for Baraka, but also supplies the cinematography for his film as well. 


The common mistake for this type of film is to label it as a documentary, which I tend to feel different about.  The film contains no dialogue and never attempt to document anything other than the subjects in their natural surroundings.  Nothing here is staged, so therefore it qualifies as a documentary on that level, but at the same time it tells a story in a non-conventional way by using images and sound to formulate a response from the viewer.  We are transformed into the world it creates and captures.  Therefore, we become the characters and play the role in this film.  The theme though in this case is the environment, which was also the subject in Koyaanisqatsi, but unlike the ‘qatsi’ series Baraka stands behind the environment.  At first the qatsi series seems to do the same, but with the recently released Naqoyqatsi that technology is inevitable and that the environment does not stand a chance.  The verdict is that environment loses because with technology we have created a monster that cannot go away because we rely on it to much.  In fact, The Matrix Reloaded attempted to figure this out, but became lost in its own philosophy and poorly shot fight sequences. 


Baraka was shot in 70mm, actually it was done using the Todd-AO process, which is 65mm using the remainder of the film stock for sound information.  There have been a handful of films not too long before Baraka’s release that were shot in Todd-AO, but they were mostly the 35mm version (Todd AO 35) using their fine lenses on productions like Flash Gordon (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Dune (1984).  As far as 70mm goes though only Oklahoma! (1955), Around the World in 80 Days, South Pacific (1957), Cleopatra (1963), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) would be of an equal weight.  Needless to say that Baraka was shot very well, but the question at hand is whether or not the DVD recreates some of the astonishment.  Well, Baraka was initially issued as a non-anamorphic DVD release, which was good considering some of the detail issues that it had at times.  The DVD still looked better than most of what was on the marker, but this re-issue clearly makes that previous DVD obsolete!  Here we are given a better approximation of what the potential for this large format film is.  Detail is sharp, colors look very solid, and whites are naturally bright when appropriate.  Blacks are deep, dark, but at times not nearly as dark as they could be, but nothing major.  The 2.20 X 1 anamorphic image is near-reference quality giving all the fine details their value on screen.  Notice early on in the film there is a monkey in a small pond that has icicles hanging off its fur.  The fur is super sharp while every tiny crystal of the ice is noticed. 


There are some slight disappointing elements to the transfer from time to time.  Some scenes appear to have some edge-enhancement problems, such as the waterfall sequences and other scenes have some haloing occurring from time to time.  Still this is a very noble purchase to simply show off its 70mm glory on a format like DVD.  It might be fair to say that this is one of the better reproductions of 70mm on DVD standing next to the Superbit Edition of Lawrence of Arabia released from Columbia TriStar.  These both look much better than the re-released Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, another 70mm production from 1968, which has detail issues, color problems, and does not hold up well despite being issued onto DVD for a second time. 


Baraka’s soundtrack is another standout feature with all original music provided by Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard, Brendan Perry, and Michael Stearns.  Gerrard’s name sticks out the most especially with the success of the Gladiator score by Hans Zimmer featuring Gerrard.  The soundtrack for this DVD is a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that is quite nice.  This is actually one of Dolby’s better efforts of delivering the type of power and fidelity that should be on this format.  While the exclusion of DTS audio is certainly a bummer, the Dolby at least gives a nice surround feel that does some justice for the film.  Again this is a music-only film, so all channels are constantly active with enriching musical overtures. 


For this re-release MPI added a few bonuses along with a better transfer.  There is a very thorough and interesting “making of” that chronicles the production team as the go from location to location in order to capture this material.  This gives a better understanding of the difficult task and why it took a solid year to come up with these images for this film.  Moving around the world is not cheap or efficient in order to capture landscapes from high mountains to low valleys.  However, this film works because certain individuals were able to make the vision for this film a reality.  There are interviews included as well, which is also fantastic making this edition far superior to that previous disc.


You can read about Fricke’s previous film Chronos on HD-DVD at the following link:





-   Nate Goss


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