In 10 Words or Less
The magic of Cirque du Soleil, only with a story
The concept behind "Solstrom" is so simple, that it's surprising it took this long for the creative geniuses at Cirque du Soleil to think it up. Take the beauty and art of the troupe's performances and marry them to the tried and true format of the variety show. It's a little bit like Benny Hill serving as ringmaster at the Circus of the Stars, just without the accompanying sexual hi-jinks (or at least a lot less.)
Now, Cirque Du Soleil's shows already have plenty of drama and glamour, but if they were going to get 10 hours of TV out of their performers, while not repeating themselves often, they were going to have to push their own limits. Each episode is built around a theme, such as childhood, love, and adventure, and each is explored by one (or a pair) of the 13 "solar creatures," all of whom have starred in one of the Cirque's shows. Mischievous beings from the sun, they cause all sorts of trouble, which serves as set-up for the acts.
Some episodes, like "Wind of Romance" and "Wind of Freedom" get the balance of story and action perfect, but others, like "Howling Wind" are misfires, leaning too heavily on the atmosphere of the sketches than the fun in the performances. But even the misfires have their bright spots, and with a menu system that has chapter stops for each act, the slower moments can be skipped in favor of the more impressive moments.
Those impressive moments are too plentiful to list here, and to do so would only ruin the surprise when they do occur. Among the most impressive performances are a trampoline act that is a masterpiece of acrobatics and choreography and a 10-person "ballet" performed upon light bulbs that's the epitome of grace. Though these are great, there are many more that will amaze, including the various jugglers, contortionists and high-wire performers.
The circus acts may be the reason to watch "Solstrom," but its brilliance lies in the universal nature of the episodes. One needn't speak a word of English (or any other language for that matter) and they will be able to jump right into this series and enjoy it just as much as anyone else. The broad physical comedy, in the mold of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and amazing physical feats cross all cultural and generational boundaries, the same way your usual circus does. You just don't see Zebrapeople spit cosmic wind at the Ringling Brothers' shows.
Columbia/Tri-Star didn't skimp on disc space for this set, spreading the 13 Superbit-quality, 45-minute episodes over five DVDs. The discs are packaged in five simple, yet well-designed ThinPak cases, inside of a cardboard slipcase. The anamorphic, widescreen menus include some subtle animation based on the series' concept, along the names of the episodes and a set-up link, with episode chapters available on a subscreen. Language options include English Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1, while subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
The anamorphic widescreen video of "Solstrom" is presented in Superbit quality, a fact that's obvious immediately. The colors are bright and solid, detail is excellent and there's no sign of dirt, damage or excessive grain. The show has a soft look at times, as lighting and visual effects are used often, but it seems to be a style choice, not a transfer error. Considering the show is an overall piece of art, the upper-level video is definitely appreciated.
While the video is top-notch, the audio is even better. Available in Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1, the audio is fully immersive, spreading out across the room. Normally, when comparing Dolby and DTS tracks, the differences are slight. Here, it's not even close. The DTS track blows the doors off the Dolby track. In DTS, the room explodes in sound, with rich layering and impressive directionality among the surrounds. It's simply more of an experience to view this DVD with DTS sound.
The bonuses for "Solstrom" are found on Disc Five, but there's not that much available. The biggest extra is a 17-minute featurette, "The Making of 'Solstrom,'" The creators, crew and performers talk about the effort that went into putting this series together, with clips from the show tying the talking heads together. For a fan, it's interesting back story.
The included photo gallery is incorrectly named, as it is not one of those usually-lame user-controlled flip-throughs. Instead, this is a well-edited photo montage, set to music. There are also two Cirque DVD promos that cover the past releases.
The Bottom Line
If you've seen the other Cirque du Soleil shows, you've probably seen these tricks and performers, but not in the cohesive, up-close-and-personal way "Solstrom" presents them. If you haven't seen all the Cirque events, this can serve as a best-of sampler. Either way, the 10 hours of acrobatic, amazing and often highly comic performances are fantastically entertaining. The DVD presentation, with beautiful video and outstanding audio, delivers the optimal home Cirque experience, though the extras are just so-so. Cirque du Soleil offers some of the best family entertainment available, and these DVDs put it all together in one fun, fast-moving box set. Anyone who enjoys the art of circus performers will find something to like in "Solstrom"
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.