Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky have enjoyed successful, productive careers both separately and as a team, using their combined visual talents to call attention to the world around us. Their first film collaboration was Manufactured Landscapes (2006), a showcase of Burtynsky's striking large-format industrial images combined with filmed footage from the photographic locations. Though much of its subject matter centered around sprawling Chinese factories and those who worked there, one stretch of their sobering documentary focused on the enormous Three Gorges Dam near Yangtze River. During its construction (which finally ended in 2012), millions of citizens were displaced from their homes. After the initial release of water, Earth's rotation was momentarily affected.
The theme of technology vs. nature returns in Watermark (2013), Baichwal and Burtynsky's second and most recent feature-length collaboration. It's also comparable in format to Manufactured Landscapes in that this "moving exhibition" showcases Burtynsky's highly detailed photographs (typically shot from the air) and documentary-style footage filmed at the same times and locations. The overall mission statement of Watermark explores modern society's relationship with water, serving up 20 segments from 10 different countries. Featured locations include The Xiluodu Dam (China), which produces six times the output of the Hoover Dam; the Ogallala Aquifer (Great Plains, United States); a water polluting leather tannery (Bangladesh); abalone farms (East China Sea), where sea snails are dealt like playing cards; the National Ice Core Laboratory (Denver, CO); an ice sheet in Greenland; a massive 12th century step well (Rajasthan, India); and many more. Representatives and local citizens are seen hard at work and occasionally share their stories, but it's the massive scope of certain man-made locales that provides Watermark's most sobering, effective moments.
Without question, even those completely unfamiliar with these locations will find Watermark an informative, entertaining production. Without the heavy hand usually associated with environmentally-charged documentaries, it also discusses the effects of pollution, irrigation systems, "ancient ice", supply and demand, geothermal springs, and more. We're even afforded a look behind the scenes as Burtynsky, Baichwal and producer Nicholas de Pencier set up and execute tricky camera shots, interact with the locals, and get a few glimpses of Burtynsky's studio in Canada as he maps out large-scale prints. Entertainment One's Blu-ray serves up a near-perfect A/V presentation and includes a handful of equally informative, entertaining extras. Not surprisingly, it's another well-rounded effort from the extremely talented duo.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprisingly, the technically proficient Watermark looks fantastic on Blu-ray. This 1080p transfer features artfully framed 1.78:1 compositions during the video clips, while stills of Burtynsky's work are correctly framed at differing aspect ratios (usually in the neighborhood of 1.4:1). Image detail is suitably strong, showcasing plenty of important little details and textures along the way. Colors are also rendered nicely, popping vividly at times without bleeding at the edges. Black levels are also solid, ensuring that other details don't get lost in the shadows. The only minor problems I saw were trace amounts of softness and a few moments of motion blurring, but it's possible that these were nothing more than source material issues. Either way, this is a terrific looking disc that really makes the most of every pixel.
DISCLAIMER: This still images featured in this review were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track makes its presence known immediately, as a surging rush of water serves up plenty of LFE and sonic heft for roughly three minutes. Other sections of Watermark feature a similarly large soundstage, from the massive man-made structures to bustling city scenes. Other moments are much more subdued, offering a nice breather by way of simple human interaction and more serene landscapes. Most of the dialogue is presented in English, but forced English subtitles have been included for other languages including Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, and more.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple but stylish menu interface includes options for playback, chapter selection and bonus features, while only minimal pre-menu ads and warning screens must be dealt with beforehand. This one-disc release is packaged in a somewhat eco-friendly keepcase with attractive double-sided artwork. No insert and/or slipcover are included.
A brief Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
(15:24) is up first, featuring input from Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and producer Nicholas de Pencier as they discuss location access, equipment, aerial footage, human encounters, and other aspects of this globetrotting production. Of similar interest is a short Interview
(9:29) with Baichwal and Burtynsky recorded in Toronto on September 29, 2013 and moderated by film critic Adam Nayman. A collection of Deleted Scenes
(15:20) is up next, presented in the same format as the main feature and exploring more short stories from around the world. More additional footage is included in the form of a self-playing Picture Gallery
(38:14) featuring dozens of Burtynsky's large-format images with commentary by the photographer. Finally, the Theatrical Trailer
(1:23) rounds out this short but sweet collection of supplements. Forced subtitles have been included for translation purposes only.
Much like their first feature-length collaboration, 2006's Manufactured Landscapes, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky's Watermark will provoke feelings of curiosity, amazement and disgust in equal measure as viewers are reminded how action---and, in some cases, inaction---can affect the world around us. From massive man-made structures to abandoned, arid landscapes and bustling city streets, this 93-minute documentary explores our planet's relationship with one of its most valuable resources. The visuals can be staggering at times, thanks in no small part to Entertainment One's excellent Blu-ray package: combining a near-perfect technical presentation with a fine assortment of bonus features, Watermark is a release no documentary fan should pass up. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.