Monday, July 11, 2011

Cirque Du Soleil: Journey Of Man 2D/3D Blu-ray Review

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This thirty-eight minute short film is light on narrative but has plenty of visual spectacle much like other Cirque Du Soleil shows.  Freed from being enclosed for their traditional shows, the Canadian troupe takes full advantage of several beautiful and remote locations. For those people that have never seen one of their shows, a group of performers usually do acrobatics, interpretive dancing, and a lot of wire work to convey a basic message or theme to the audience.  From every one of their shows I've seen (including this one) those messages are generally obtuse or overly simplistic.  In this case, the “plot” is a series of sequences that move from scene to scene somewhat upruptly.  One of the weaknesses of the film is the rough transitions between the scenes.
For The Journey of Man, the film starts with a bang…the big bang in fact.  The opening sequence starts with a beautiful vista in space where we see the universe form which immediately transitions to a tribal group of drummers.  The drummers provide an exciting rythmic performance that leads to the appearance of a young boy dressed in all white from head to toe in an attempt I would hazard to guess to look like a sperm.  With these kind of abstract kind of shows, there’s a lot of room for interpretation.  I may be right because the next sequence appears to symbolize the act of child birth through some synchronized swimming.
Shot from the water and into the air (talk about a rough birth), a young boy lands among some redwoods where he encounters two clowns called Flounes (Josette Dechene, Paul Vachon) who seem to represent the balance that the boy needs to learn with one clown exemplifying caution and the other reckless abandon.  The group plays together in the forest until some creature descend from the trees on bunjee cords which initially frightens the boy before his amazement and wonder get the better of him.  Once he loses his fear of the acrobatic creatures, they immediately pull him and send him to his next destination/stage of life.
Now a teenager, he walks through the picturesque desert in Nevada until he comes across a muscular figure (Mikhail Matorin) twirling a metallic cube.  The young man watches the man excitedly especially when the cube catches on fire and the man disappears.  With that, the young man also teleports into a lush garden where he sees two figures (a man and a woman) standing on a lily pad in the middle of a pond.  Upon closer examination, he sees that they are statues and he witnesses an incredible performance of strength and agility as the two figures contrort to perform an amazing balancing act that he understands as the concept of love.  The constant balancing act between the man and the woman as they support each other teaches him what love means and it allows him to advance to the next stage in his development which unfortunately for him is greed which is symbolized by a devilish looking stilt walker who offers a golden bowler hat as an enticement to join him.
Consumed by avarice, the middle-aged man has everything he wants but is still unhappy and plagued by visions of his lost childhood joy and wonder which is brought to life by some extremely acrobatic dancers.  Of course these dancers bring him back from the dark side which allows him happiness and and the acceptance to move on to his final stage with everyone that has gone on before him.   From birth to death, the main stages of his life have finally come full circle and we are informed that each one of us is given three keys to unlock a wonderful life…dreams, faith, and love.
While I don’t really like movies that leave the entire narrative up for interpretation, the narration by the incomparable Ian McKellan helps somewhat.  That aside, the stunts and acrobatic sequences are top notch and you can see why the live shows do so well.  By filming these sequences in the wild so to speak, it opens up the possibilities  and the outside scenes are enhanced by the change of venue.  The indoor sequences seemed to make the performers revert back to their usual choreographed routines.  The spontaneity that bolstered the other scenes disappears as you can see the performers do the same drill they’ve done hundreds of times in similar places.  I hope that future efforts continue to take the performers outside which would force the troupe to discover new excitement filming on location and possibly tailor their routine to their new environment.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks pretty good for both versions of the film including the 3D version.  Journey of Manwas filmed over a four month period using an IMAX Solido twin camera  and an Iwerks 8 perf/70mm 3D rig to achieve certain effects.  Being actually filmed in 3D allows the film to look even better than a post-conversion would have.  The 3D in this case provides a lot of depth to the scenes and some gimmicky shots but this looks just as good in 2D but without the added virtual space.  One thing that this production cleverly did was to add figures or objects in both the foreground and the background which adds an extra layer of dimension that feels like you were there. While this movie doesn’t seem to be deliberately going for a hardcore 3D experience, it’s subtle presentation is still enjoyable.  There’s a lot of nice detail in most of the shots but I did notice a few frames that looked soft to me. Color is brilliantly captured in both versions and it’s enhanced by both the variety of colors present and also by the natural beauty of the locations where it was filmed.  Black levels are also very good especially during the night-time metallic cube performance.  Flesh tones look natural and consistent throughout the film.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Journey of Man’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is extremely good with some excellent directionality and some power behind the music.  This is an active mix that uses all of the channels and provides some nice ambient noise for the rear channels.  There’s quite a bit of cross channel panning which adds a lot of nice atmospheric touches.  The narration by Ian McKellan is clear and captures his uniquely classy yet warm voice well.  I do have to mention that the other dialogue by the clown which is just weird gibberish was also captured well to my consternation since I hated it. There really was no point in having the clowns babble constantly when no one understands what they were saying anyway.  On a more positive note, the great music by BenoĆ®t Jutras is well presented and works in tandem with the visuals to great effect.

Special Features (0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no special features included which really hurts the film’s overall score.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

If you are already a fan of Cirque Du Soleil or if you are intrigued by this after reading my review, then I think you would really like this.  If you dislike ambiguity and movies with a non-existent narrative, then this may not be for you. The movie looks great in both 3D and 2D and the sequences are impressive to watch, but I wish it had something more to connect these scenes together more than it does.  It seems like the troupe put together a list of routines that they do really well and filmed them and didn’t really know how to integrate them as a whole.  I would love to see someone with an incredible imagination like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, or even Terrence Malick take a crack at making a film with these performers.  The troupe has the talent to do the acrobatic stuff but they need someone with a strong film background to tie it all together to take it to the next level.
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