Cirque du Soleil: Dralion
takes its name from the combination of "dragon" and "lion,"
as this performance by the Canadian circus troupe brings in an Oriental theme
and a group of guest Chinese performers in an "east meets west"
Dralion is essentially a
series of independent performances loosely connected by an Oriental theme in
the costumes and sets, as well as by a musical score that provides a continual
background for the entire show. We get to see a number of impressive acrobatic
performances, ranging from trapeze work to synchronized leaping, as well as
what are essentially modern dance numbers enlivened by the performers being
suspended by wires as they leap and twirl. Other interesting acts include a
juggler who puts his entire body to work; a parasol-twirler; an acrobat who
performs incredible gyrations while balanced upside down on one hand; flag
waving; and dances including the "dralions" themselves, looking like
shaggy Chinese dragons.
For the most part, the emphasis
of the performance is on the spectacular and the dramatic, with lavish costumes
and makeup accompanied by dramatic lighting to create a visual feast. A few of
the performances are more comic in nature, and don't fit very well with the
overall program; some of the solo performances (like the hand-stand gymnast and
the juggler) also seem to drag on a little too long, in contrast to the group
dances and acrobatic performances that seem to be just the right length.
The camera work does leave
something to be desired here, however. We get a lot of close-up shots, which
actually detract from the experience at times: the makeup and costumes of the Dralion
performers is designed to be seen from a distance, not right up in their faces.
Up close we notice things we shouldn't, like rubber hairpieces on the dancers,
or exaggerated eye makeup.
I also found that the camera
work contributed to making the 89-minute program feel overly long. As a circus
performance, Dralion is designed to have a central focus of attention
but also areas of interest around the edges of the main performance; in the
long-distance shots that show us the full view of the stage as the audience
would see it, this is evident. An audience member could thus choose to watch
the central performance or to switch focus to the various smaller details that
add to the overall effect of the show. I think that being able to switch focus
at will, rather than at the whim of the camera operator, would create a greater
sense of involvement in the whole experience. To a lesser extent, another
distancing effect is inadvertently created by the occasional camera pans to
look at the audience and their reaction to the show. These shots serve as a
reminder that we are further removed from the performance: we are watching
people who are watching Dralion.
Overall, Dralion will
likely please fans of the Cirque du Soleil, though it's not perfect; it
certainly does have the merit of being distinctive.
If you pick up Dralion
hoping for an exceptional transfer, you'll be disappointed. The image quality
here is strictly average for a widescreen anamorphic transfer, and it's
certainly not what viewers are looking for under the Superbit banner.
This Cirque du Soleil
performance is meant to be seen from a distance, and the dance choreography,
set design, and costumes are all designed with this in mind. However, the image
quality is satisfactory only when it's in tight close-up; middle-distance and
longer shots are sub-par. The image is never particularly sharp at the best of
times, and if the camera pulls out to the point of view of the middle of the
audience, the performers' faces become featureless ovals and the details of the
costumes and sets become blurry and indistinct. Pixellation and edge
enhancement join in the party to reduce image quality as well, and to top
things off, a small amount of grain appears in some of the scenes.
This seems odd, considering
that the transfer's bit rate is a nicely high 9.5 Mb/s. However, the bit rate
is only half of the story here. The quantization level (a measure of
compression) is extremely high (an average of 9, compared to 2 for a very good
transfer, or 5 to 6 for an average one). With that level of compression, the
high bit rate of this transfer is entirely wasted... and the lackluster image quality
To the transfer's credit, the
bright colors that appear in the sets and costumes look vivid and correct, and
there's no color bleeding. Contrast is also handed acceptably, although the
dramatic lighting of the live spectacle doesn't seem to have the same impact in
the DVD version.
This merely adequate image
quality is really unforgivable in a film that is above all a visual
spectacle... and even more so when it's being marketed as part of a line of
A DTS 5.1 and a Dolby 5.1
soundtrack are both included as options for Dralion. Both sound quite
good; there's not a whole lot of surround action, but the applause is nicely
localized to the side channels, and the music is fairly immersive. The DTS
track definitely edges out the 5.1 in terms of overall depth and richness of
the sound, offering a very pleasing listening experience.
There are no special features,
as is standard for a Superbit release.
The only thing that the
Superbit release of Dralion appears to have that's superior to the
non-Superbit is its DTS soundtrack. Considering that the image quality is
decidedly so-so, and that it lacks several of the interesting special features
found on the other release, those who are interested in purchasing Dralion
should consider the non-Superbit version. For viewers who are not familiar with
Dralion, I'd suggest it as a rental; it's distinctive but I didn't find
it to have a lot of replay value, so try it before you buy it.