PicturePresented in anamorphic widescreen and framed at 2.35:1, the video presentation is somewhat disappointing. Right from the opening problems become apparent, with compression artefacts plaguing the blue sea that's certainly annoying on a large display. This trend is repeated at various points throughout the running time, most obviously where there are blocks of solid colour on show. Grain, too, features at various points which does become distracting at times.
On the plus side, the print is reasonably detailed and colours are rich and solid, with a pleasing level of saturation and natural looking skin tones (the colours during the school speech are an excellent example of this). The New Zealand vistas look stunning, if a little soft at times, with long distance shots in particular suffering here. Edge enhancement is ever present and though not overly distracting, I still noticed it frequently where objects and characters are framed against the sky.
Overall the transfer is functional but doesn't shine in any way: though the grain may have also been present in the theatrical presentation, other areas of disappointment are unforgivable.
SoundThe soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and offers a functional audio mix with a couple of surprises thrown in for good measure. Dominated by the front soundstage - surrounds are conspicuously quiet throughout most of the film and only really come into use with the musical score - the sound mix is solid rather than inspiring, with a good clear centre channel where dialogue is always easily heard; which is just as well as the film is dominated by words rather than action. Steering is adequate, and whilst never bowling over the viewer, the main speakers do their job reinforcing the tale as events unfold before us.
Initial impressions may fool you into thinking that the subwoofer won't get a workout (or your main speakers for that matter), but there are a few surprising moments which will wake up even the sleepiest of viewers. The “whale” scenes late in the film contain some extremely deep bass moments which many subwoofers will cower at when played at reference volumes, and where particularly we hear car engines and music at different points, the channels really come alive with a dynamic kick that really lends weight to the mix.
Overall we have a competent soundtrack, that does exactly what it needs to.
ExtrasFirst up is a director's commentary, and while this contains lots of interesting information on the production, the Maori people etc, I couldn't help but find the delivery of Niki Caro rather flat. Almost monotone in places with lots of pauses, it doesn't exactly demand a listen despite the content.
Next up is a reasonable 27 minute documentary - “Behind the Scenes of Whale Rider” which contains interviews with all the main players including the writer of the original novel on which the film is based, followed by a selection of deleted scenes with commentary by Caro (all of them are passable to be honest), and a documentary entitled “Te Waka: Building the Canoe” which whilst vaguely interesting, is hardly essential viewing.
Whale Rider: The Soundtrack contains isolated elements of the score which works well, and wrapping up the package are a selection of trailers and TV spots and a photo gallery.
VerdictAn interesting and rewarding movie with a unique perspective, the DVD is let down by a below average video transfer, but otherwise impresses.
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