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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow
Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow
Acorn Media // Unrated // July 8, 2003
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted June 16, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

As featured on the wonderful PBS program Mystery!, the Cadfael series has produced some of the most entertaining mysteries television episodes ever produced. Based on the series of novels by author Ellis Peters, Cadfael features the incomparable Sir Derek Jacobi as the title character himself, Brother Cadfael. A Twelfth-Century Shrewsbury monk, Cadfael's razor precise analytical mind solved pretty much every mystery that popped up around the abbey. And as an aside, there certainly were a lot of people dying around the Cadfael's abbey, weren't there? And here's another question, one shared with the many Poirot mysteries -- why do people continue committing crimes, thefts, murders, etc. while they are around the famous crime solver Brother Cadfael (or Hercule Poirot)? I'm sure the man has engendered some kind of reputation by now. But there's a simple answer, as always: you wouldn't have so many thrilling tales of ratiocination. 

In any case, one of the reasons why the Cadfael stories are so entertaining is that of the main character himself. Cadfael is man of dimension, with a history that adds a sense of worldliness to his adventures. Aside from his monastic lifestyle, he was also a sailor, a Knight of the Crusades, a healer, and a herbologist -- in other words, a man of physical prowess, intellectual achievement, and spiritual depth. Throw in a wonderfully vivid portrayal by Derek Jacobi, and you end up with a great television series that has entertained mystery lovers for almost a decade.

Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow isn't one of my favorite Cadfael episodes, but it remains a decent ninety minutes of old-school mystery. Acord Media has been releasing the series in North America, and the resulting DVD may please fans of the series, but most likely will do very little for the casual observer.

The DVD

Video:
Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow
was shot for television, and as such retains a full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. If you've seen any of the other Cadfael DVDs, you'd notice that the level of quality as it pertains to the video transfers ranges from the unacceptably noisy to relatively decent if slightly drab. This DVD lies somewhere in the lower echelon. There is noticeable pixellation throughout the transfer, with some obvious haloing and edge-enhancement which gives the entire image an overly digitalized look. Colors are muddled and flat throughout, with soft contrast levels and an overall "brownness" to the video. Image detail is slightly soft, shadow delineation is weak and lifeless. Is the disc watchable? It most certainly is, at about the levels you might find on broadcast television (I've often noticed that, over time, the video quality of British television productions shot on film become more degraded than Promise Keepers at a nudie bar.) However, on any comparative scale the overall video presentation is nothing more than disappointing.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio presentation fares much better than the video. In fact, this is one of their better audio soundtracks to date. The orchestral score sports fine fidelity and excellent range. Surround effects are used more often and effectively, although the soundstage isn't as fully opened up as one might like it to be (again, this is not a fault of the audio presentation but rather wishful thinking by the reviewer.) Dialog is bright, clear, and well-rendered. There is some occasional directional activity, but overall the audio is firmly rooted in the center channel.

The Extras:
The Ellis Peters sections contains a Biography of the author as well as The Brother Cadfael Chronicles, a text list of all the Cadfael novels she wrote. Sir Derek Jacobi (audio) contains several audio clips by Derek Jacobi discussing his role and the series as a whole, all of which are edited together into a single presentation. Finally, Filmographies contains biographical and "filmographical" information on Jacobi as well as several others members of the cast.

Final Thoughts

Fans of Cadfael will most likely enjoy Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow. Unfortunately, while it ultimately wonderful to have this great show released on DVD, the quality of the transfer on this disc ranks as one of their least presentable. And while the extras are of good quality, Cadfael: The Sanctuary Sparrow does not represent the series at its best. For that, I would highly recommend The Virgin in the Ice, The Devil's Novice, or The Leper of St. GilesCadfael completists will probably get the most enjoyment out of the DVD, but if you're new to the series and curious, I would recommend the disc as a rental first, and only after you sought out some of the aforementioned titles first.

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