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" program.
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 is explained.
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 superb transfers.
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.