Despite a mixture of failures, successes and some declining ratings, "reality" shows still remain a major part of American television. While many of these shows provide what I like to call "cotton candy" entertainment, there are a few that at least provide some value and depth. "The Amazing Race", which offers a travelogue of various places and cultures along the way during its trip, is a prime example. "Fire Within" is another fine work, a fast-paced series that aired on Bravo, which follows members of the famed Cirque De Soleil troupe. The series focuses in on eight members of the show, who surpassed all of the emotional and physical requirements to get down to the final team.
Yet, as we're told early on, these people may be physically and emotionally strong enough to qualify, but Cirque De Soleil requires one to go beyond that. Throughout the 13-episode series, we see the cast cope with struggles both professional and personal and the troupe overall really pushing themselves to try and prepare for their latest production, Varekai.
The show is refreshing, not only because it shows people from different backgrounds/walks of life trying to come together to create something magical and beautiful, but because the show seems so grounded and natural. Nothing seems even remotely "scripted" - the work that these people are trying to do is extraordinarily demanding, making the triumphs that much sweeter and the failures that much more difficult. Insecurities sometimes arise, as some worry that they will be cut before the show first goes live - act alterations and complete termination from the show is a reality that the performers have hanging over them up until the actual show begins. All the drama and conflict needed arises simply out of the core of the show.
The winner of the Outstanding Non-Fiction Program (Alternative) Emmy Award in 2003, "Fire Within" is a beautifully filmed, fascinating series. The cinematography is outstanding, managing to follow the performers and events in a way that feels free and real. The editing is also superb, as is the marvelous narration. Although a lot of people who aren't fans of the subject matter may skip this by, the series is well-worth looking into for those who are seeking out a truly compelling "reality" series.
VIDEO: "Fire Within" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality throughout the episodes was consistently strong. Although the picture could appear slightly soft, depending on the lighting conditions, the majority of the episodes remained crisp, sharp and well-defined, with the image often showing nice depth and fine detail.
Really, very few issues were noted with the images. A few brief traces of pixelation were noticed on a couple of occasions, but that was about it. No edge enhancement was spotted, nor were any instances of wear on the source material. Colors remained vivid and bright, with very nice saturation and no concerns.
SOUND: "Fire Within" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio presentation was perfectly satisfactory. The show's audio was largely front-heavy, but there was some reinforcement by the surrounds, which offered a bit of musical reinforcement and ambience. Audio quality was very good, as the narration and dialogue seemed very well-recorded and clear. Music and other elements also came through sounding crisp and clean. The presentation could have stood to offer some additional activity in the rear speakers, although I suppose it could have become gimmicky or the filmmakers may have felt it took away focus from the subject matter.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a reunion special exclusive to the DVD. This nearly 23-minute piece has the performers coming back together to recall their time preparing for their performance with the Cirque. We hear about stories from the production and hear more about what's going on with the performers now. We also get a Q & A section (title cards ask the question, then the performers respond) that features both the performers and the director. The Q & A section lasts for a total of about 29 minutes. Rounding out the section are promos for other Cirque releases. Very nice animated menus, as well.
Final Thoughts: "Fire Within" is a stellar series that chronicles the successes, failures, conflicts and drama of this passionate and talented group of artists. It's a compelling and well-done series that definitely deserves a look. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides very good audio/video and a couple of good supplements.