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MPI Networks presents
Baraka (1992)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: August 04, 2000

Director: Ron Fricke

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some disturbing images)
Run Time: 01h:42m:07s
Release Date: January 25, 2000
UPC: 030306706023
Genre: special interest

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There are some films that defy description, and others that even when described can in no way represented by mere words alone. They require the participation of the audience; they are an experience unto themselves, and describing their content does little to convey what actually happens when you view the film. Such is the case with Baraka.

Filmed on 70mm in 24 countries on six continents, Baraka offers a collection of stunning images encompassing nature and humankind. Director and photographer Ron Fricke captures the majesty of nature and the ritual of the human experience through a series of time lapse, slow motion and aerial photography. The film is set to a score derived from and melding elements from around the world. There is no dialogue. Contrasts are presented ranging from flights over volcanos, to oilfires in the Kuwait desert, to the rituals of religions and the workplace the globe over. The images evoke a gamut of emotions from awe inspiring to deeply disturbing.

It would be hard to review Baraka without mention of Fricke's earlier work on Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, as the two share a similar style of photography and substance, yet Baraka is not simply the same film revisited. Both share the use of complex time lapse photography, though with the aid of more complex computers, Baraka demonstrates some awesome sequences that would not have been possible 10 years earlier, with crane shots captured over a full day that are compressed into less than a minute of screen time, yet remain fluid. The use of depth in some of Baraka's compositions is stunning, as the picture seems to keep going further back in layers. The surrealistic quality of many of these sequences is offset by stark and very grounding scenes in which the human reality is presented bare and without excuse. Funeral pyres (complete with closeups of burning bodies) or chicken sorting factories are displayed with disturbing frankness, which could prove upsetting to some. I would find it hard to imagine anyone walking away from this film without having been changed by it somehow. It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking which assaults the senses visually and aurally, and I found that days after viewing the film, many of its images were fresh in my mind.

To describe what Baraka means is also a very personal. It is an observation that we partake in, a study of nature and humankind, and the accelerated pace or slow motion cause us to refocus our attention. We see life on earth juxtaposed between its extremes. If you are willing to take the journey, you are in for an experience you won't soon forget.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.20:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This is an extremely detailed and complex set of images, which by its very nature is going to make compression difficult. In the accompanying featurette, mention is made more than once about using 70mm to make sure there are no compromises in the visuals, which makes it doubly confusing as to why the DVD is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen to start with, and further, why a full frame transfer was included, which eliminated the possibility of a dual layer presentation. Dual layers would have decreased the amount of compression used on the feature, which is riddled with artifacts (though some of these will be less obvious on smaller screens). There are many scenes where aliasing is present, which I found highly distracting. Colors are vibrant with extremely good black level and contrast, but on more than one occasion the compression and aliasing are so obvious that it ruins what should have been an extremely breathtaking presentation. I would really hope that this film is revisited and provided with the lowest possible compression in an anamorphic release sometime in the future—this is a beautiful film, but visually, this DVD does not do it justice at all.

The Pan-and-Scan side not only ruins the composition, but suffers from even worse compression problems than the widescreen side. Colors are fine, but the scope and impact of the image is greatly lessened with the sides of the image chopped off.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Where the video has its flaws, the soundtrack is very well presented. Michael Stearns' score is enveloping, and like the visuals, encompasses instruments and styles from around the world. You are drawn into this picture, and the soundtrack is a key device in pulling you into the experience. I can't emphasise how much the score adds to the film, and its presentation here is stunning. There are both a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and a 2.0 stereo mix, both of which sound amazing, though the 5.1 version completely fills the room. For a film like this, it may be a little too powerful. Depending on your state of mind, you may prefer a little more distance from the picture as the combination of visuals and score can be somewhat ovewhelming.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Behind the scenes featurette
Extras Review: The disc features an 8 minute making-of featurette that is quite informative. Philosphical and technical aspects of the film are examined by director Ron Fricke and its producer. One interesting comment was the desire not to compromise the image quality, which meant dragging 70mm equipment all over the world. Why then, would the DVD release not feature an anamorphic transfer and also include a cropped version on it (70mm has an aspect ratio of 2.20:1)? Unlike the supplements on many other discs, this is one that you may wish to view prior to watching the feature.

The disc also features an index section with single page overviews of the MPI DVD catalog. The 4-page booklet enclosed contains a world map showing where scenes from the film were shot.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

On its own, Baraka will make an indelible first impression. The visuals are breathtaking, and the score suits the film perfectly. Despite my criticism of the decisions made for the DVD video presentation, I would still have to highly recommend the film, especially to those who enjoyed Koyaanisqatsi, although some may feel Baraka is too similar for their liking. It is a powerful piece of film making, and one that belongs in a well rounded collection. I would have to reiterate my warning that some of the images may be found disturbing, especially for children. This is an extraordinary film, it is too bad the DVD doesn't live up to its potential.

As a footnote, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi is now available on DVD with a donation to their legal defense fund, which is trying to free the rights for this film so it may be released commercially once more. Details can be found at theKoyaanisqatsi website.


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