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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Overture
The Overture
Kino // Unrated // March 7, 2006
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted February 5, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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"Thai musical instruments are simplicity themselves. Yet the more simple the instrument appears, the more subtle our techniques must be."

The Movie:
The past decade has seen something of a renaissance in Asian cinema. Whereas in years past we in America might have heard of Akira Kurosawa, Zhang Yimou, or one or two prominent directors, by and large few other movies of interest from the region made their way to our shores. Lately, however, we've had an explosion of notable films from China, Japan, and Korea. Thailand hasn't made much of an impression so far, but is slowly entering the fray. The silly Tony Jaa martial arts movie Ong Bak made a splash recently, and Francis Coppola has been championing a historical epic called The Legend of Suriyothai. Now a local award winner from 2004 titled The Overture comes to DVD with hopes of winning over Western audiences.

The film tells the true story of Sorn Silapabanleng, one of the most revered of traditional Thai musicians. Raised in poverty, as an infant Sorn was drawn to a xylophone-like instrument called the ranad, and soon developed into a child prodigy. During his teenage years he rose to prominence as a star in the old government's royal orchestra, establishing his lifelong reputation, until his later years when a new regime brought in with it censorship and intolerance, attempting to sweep away anything old or "uncivilized". The defiant Sorn then stood as a symbol for the values of tradition and cultural preservation.

Had it been made in the United States, a film like The Overture would be classified as typical awards bait. Handsomely produced and filled with a sense of self-importance, the movie rigidly follows a standard musical biography formula, in which the hero must rise above his humble origins, overcome limitations in his own character, stand tall against seemingly invincible opposition, and eventually become a legend. It's the Thai equivalent of Amadeus, or Ray, or Walk the Line, or a dozen other movies we've all seen before. True story or not, this genre is incredibly well-trodden, only the details varying from one film to the next, and The Overture doesn't offer much in the way of innovation.

What is most interesting about the movie is its exploration of a musical style rarely heard or understood in the West. The xylophone may not be a much respected instrument in Western music, its use more of a gimmick and usually relegated to the background of larger ensembles, but in Thailand the ranad is the centerpiece of their traditional music. The Overture makes a case that its seemingly simple design requires extraordinary precision, control, and talent to coax out the most intricate melodies. The picture also has a fascinating scene where the introduction of a Western piano, a mechanism so much more complicated than the ranad, might be perceived as an intrusive threat, until Sorn instinctively finds a way to use the two instruments in tandem, blending their melodies and two vastly different cultures into a harmonious union.

The Overture certainly does not break much new ground in its genre, but is a well-made film that tells a story whose details will not be very familiar to Western audiences. If not exactly a breakthrough in Thai cinema, it is interesting enough to be worthy of at least one viewing.

The DVD:
The Overture comes to DVD in the United States courtesy of Kino on Video.

Video:
The movie has the distinct look of having been shot on video. The DVD also appears to be a PAL-to-NTSC conversion, and suffers from some blended frames and ghosting. The anamorphically enhanced 16:9 picture is soft and has a weak sense of detail. Colors are solid but the image tends to get smeary whenever there's a lot of motion. Contrasts also bloom. It's a dull transfer but adequate for what the movie is.

Audio:
The Dolby 2.0 Surround soundtrack is also unimpressive. The front soundstage is clear but not dynamic. Fidelity is only average, and disappoints for a movie with such a focus on music. The audio has little surround envelopment or depth, and practically no bass at all.

The disc has optional English subtitles that appear in an ugly font. The translation to English is very coherent, with no significant spelling or grammatical flaws.

Extras:
The DVD starts with an obnoxious forced trailer that is fortunately skippable by hitting the MENU button. After that, the only bonus features provided for the movie are a theatrical trailer and a still gallery.

No ROM supplements have been included.

Final Thoughts:
The Overture is a formulaic "inspirational" movie whose primary point of interest for Western viewers will be its appreciation for a form of music so foreign to our own ears. The DVD has bland picture, sound, and extras. It's worth a rental but probably not a purchase.

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