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Image Entertainment presents
"Time and again, New Orleans has been ravaged by flood and fire. Each time the city danced back, to the beat of its musicians."
DVD ReviewThe long series of highly enjoyable MacGillivray Freeman Imax films—an odd mix of travelogue, "message" film and scripted short—have covered nearly every corner of the globe—the Alps, the oceans, Greece, the Nile, the Grand Canyon—as well as subjects such as flight, speed, and dolphins.
These visually-striking films typically run about 45 minutes or so, and via the massive Imax experience provide a thrilling, up-close-and-personal adventure, featuring breathtaking vistas and the kind of cinematography to make even the most jaded viewer go "wow, that looks cool." A few of these had been issued on standard DVD in the past, but with BD the opportunity is here to come about as close as one can get to the stunning Imax clarity and scope.
This entry is Hurricane On The Bayou, a 2006 film originally meant to document the eroding wetlands in and around New Orleans, and how it had served as a natural hurricane buffer in years past. However, during filming the deadly force known as Katrina happened, allowing director Greg MacGillivray to dramatically alter the focus of the film, and somehow, through a great natural disaster came an event that reinforced the original concept more than the filmmakers could have ever imagined. The result is truly impressive, especially at just 42 minutes, as cameras move from beneath a swimming alligator, across bayous, and into the heart of the storm.
As his narrative constant, MacGillivray uses the music of New Orleans, here focusing on a diverse cross-section of talent to be his voice. There's native resident/Cajun musician Tab Benoit, who provides the wetland facts and its importance, while teenage fiddle prodigy Amanda Shaw serves as the face of the future, and music legend Allen Toussaint, who doesn't say much, but represents the living human form of the vast New Orleans musical history.
Like some kind of curious trinity, MacGillivray blends musical performances and personalities together, and gives Hurricane On The Bayou a properly distinctive New Orleans presence. Certainly more so than the voiceover narration by Meryl Streep, who really just bookends the film. Shaw, in particular, is the film's charmer; she's an adorably bubbly and talented performer, and her front porch duet with Benoit is really one of the signature moments here.
There isn't that much of a formal plot other than "wetlands good, hurricane bad." It's more a series of beautiful, dangerous bayou scenes eventually interrupted by the heartbreaking destruction of Katrina. The MacGillivray Freeman team have a knack for capturing these real-life visuals with a kind of panoramic majesty, as cameras often begin close up and then move out to reveal some staggering aerial wide shot of nature.
There are, however, a few "manufactured" moments—scenes either built around fair-to-middling CG (such as a water tower collapse) or some awkwardly staged dialogue—that seem conceptually jarring, despite being an almost regular element of these MacGillivray Freeman films. These artificial bits, small as they are, temporarily distract from all of the real world imagery on display.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Hurricane On The Bayou is presented in a pristine AVC-encoded 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While my 50-inch plasma certainly can't rival the towering majesty of an Imax screen, this is still quite the stunning visual presentation; colors are exceptionally vibrant, and a strong level of detail remains for the 42-minute runtime. Image clarity—from deep underwater to flying over treetops—is first-rate, and human fleshtones appear natural. No evidence of any banding or shimmer to be found.
As a BD title, this one carries the sort of transfer that makes this a neat "show off " disc. Excellent.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The primary audio track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and it is big, deep and aggressive; this is one of those audio mixes that really sounds—for lack of a better word—special, the type where you wish all DVDs could make your system sound so alive. It's difficult to pinpoint any particular element, but overall the track just comes across as a audio showcase. Airplanes and fanboats roar left to right or front to back, while voice quality consistently remains sharp and crisp. The music on the New Orleans-influenced soundtrack often rises up out of the rear channels, while up front it is largely directional cues and narration.
A French 5.1 dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Coral Reef Adventures, Journey Into Amazing Caves, Magic Of Flight, The Living Sea, Mystery Of The Nile, Greece: Secrets Of The Past, Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk, The Alps, Dolphins, Super Speedway, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Extras Review: With the main feature just 42 minutes, one might expect some kind of extras to make the experience last a little longer. And here there's a making of (31m:43s), a non-HD chronology of the project, featuring principle creative team folks like director Greg MacGillivray, writer Glen Pitre, and musician Tab Benoit. It's a mix of how the production concept shifted after Katrina, as well as talk about the vanishing wetlands. A History of MacGillivray Freeman Films (07m:37s) covers their 40-year history, and serves as a teaser of sorts for their other similar titles.
There's also some onscreen text-based content, such as a trivia game, bios about the featured musicians and Greg MacGillivray, info on the Audubon Nature Institute, and some alligator fast facts. A big plus are the 12 MacGillivray Freeman trailers, all presented in HD. It's a globehopping set of travelogues, from the Alps to Greece to oceans to caves. The disc is also BD-Live ready, so if you're so enabled there's always that.
The main feature is cut into 18 chapters.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThese MacGillivray Freeman Imax travelogue/destination discs do look terrific on BD, and at well under $20 provide a pretty affordable way to add a visually impressive reference quality disc to your collection. This entry focuses on the history of New Orleans—from the vanishing wetlands through Katrina—and uses all sorts of the region's local music as its narrative foundation.
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