BARAKA is the Sufi word for "blessing". In 1992, director Ron Fricke tried to do something that few filmmakers have ever done: produce a movie that generally has no distinct plot, only a series of beautifully filmed sequences set across the globe. Shown in 70mm large-format venues, the film's set of beautiful images combined with the hypnotic score by Michael Stearns could have been sleep-inducing if done wrong, but Fricke has really succeeded due to not only his cinematography, but editing.
Fricke is not only the director, but the cinematographer. Traveling to places that are still wild and not overshadowed by civilization, we are lead into the middle of tribes to watch their daily lives or into the middle of mountainous areas to watch the beauty of the scenery. Many will be frustrated by the film's lack of narration, as many are likely used to the popular IMAX-style of filmmaking that offers a near-consistent discussion of what we're seeing. Fricke's images flow smoothly from one location to another, gradually heading towards busier sequences like one where baby chicks are sorted as they roll down a conveyor belt, looking as if they're not entirely pleased with their current situation. These sequences are intercut with people trying to squeeze themselves into a subway train.
The obvious message behind "Baraka" is not only that we must take care of our planet and that we are all humans; rather than focusing on our differences, we should appreciate each other. The film's lack of narration actually helps; with the film's masterful editing, the images still manage to deliver the message in a delicate and effective way. It's a gorgeous and visually stunning film which will hopefully enjoy a re-release in large-format theaters sometime soon.
VIDEO: "Baraka" is presented in 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen by MPI. This, according to the back of the package, is a new 70mm film transfer. With the film's gorgeous visuals, improvement upon the original non-anamorphic edition was certainly needed. While this new presentation does present some flaws, it noticably does improve upon the image quality of the prior edition. Sharpness and detail are generally much better here, although the picture exhibits somewhat inconsistent depth; some sequences appear rather "flat", while others look more "three-dimensional".
While the original edition was problematic with lack of detail and other faults, this new edition still does have one noticable problem, which is edge enhancement. Visible and mild at times, it did cause some irritation and occasionally kept the otherwise strong visuals from looking their very best. Other than that, I didn't notice any problems - print flaws are minimal at most, while pixelation wasn't noticed.
Colors were the strongest element of the presentation. Appearing beautifully rendered and vibrant, colors came through perfectly, with no apparent flaws. Black level appeared solid, while flesh tones of the people who did appear in the film looked especially natural and accurate. This new edition still isn't without some concerns, but it does look better than the first edition released. The cropped pan & scan version thankfully doesn't return here.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack again fares very well throughout the movie. While "Baraka" does often focus on nature, the surrounds do tend to offer the film's marvelous score instead of ambient sounds or other touches, although there are a few remarkable exceptions where sounds do nicely come from the rear speakers. Audio quality remains pleasant, if not too exceptional in any way. As there's no narration, the film remains purely music & various sounds.
MENUS:: Slight animation leads into a basic main menu.
EXTRAS:: A somewhat informative 8 minute featurette that offers rather weak image quality and a promo for other MPI DVDs.
Final Thoughts: "Baraka" is a beautiful film that, while probably more enjoyable in a theater, still translates well to the small screen (especially with better image quality here). MPI's new DVD, while boasting an improved video presentation, still misses the boat in terms of supplemental features. The box calls this a "Special Collector's Edition", but there's nothing special or new in terms of features, only an improved presentation (which should have been done in the first place). Packaging critiques aside, "Baraka" is well worth viewing, especially with this new edition's lower price (it can be found as low as $14.99).