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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Journey Into Buddhism
Journey Into Buddhism
WGBH // Unrated // September 4, 2007
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted August 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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Note: this DVD is distributed by WGBH, not Koch.

The Movie:
For those of us raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition with its emphasis on sin, vengeance, imperfection and other minor tribulations, the world of Buddhism can seem like an extended sigh of relief, an oasis of beauty and tranquility. In this world our inner selves are perfect, God is not out to get us if we stray from the straight and narrow, plus there's all that cool architecture and music as bonuses.

Seriously, though, the Buddhist world has long held a fascination for Western minds and spirits due in no small part to its largely diametrically opposed views to much of what the Western world holds near and dear. This elegant trilogy of documentaries serves as both an instruction manual, replete with well thought out and concise summaries of major concepts, as well as an incredible spiritual travelogue to Buddhist lands and practices.

Director John Bush, who has lived among and studied Buddhists for decades, separates his film into three "yatras" (spiritual journeys), one for each DVD in this set: Dharma River, Vajra Sky over Tibet, and Prajna Earth. Each segment tours various lands and peoples, including exotic locales such as Laos, Burma, Thailand, Bali and Cambodia. Each film is filled with one stunning vista after another, as well as wonderfully candid moments from the largely unassuming people who worship in this tradition. Prajna Earth is narrated by Sharon Stone in placid tones far removed from her Basic Instinct persona.

To accompany the gorgeous visuals, Bush has assembled an impressive soundtrack of native chants and indigenous musics, blended with ambient sound and original score elements by David Hykes. The films are as engaging aurally as they are visually and intellectually.

The DVD

Video:
The video elements are generally strong. Much of this was obviously shot on the fly so there are occasional wobbles or unexpected cuts, but the material being filmed is so captivating that it really doesn't matter. One minor quibble: the bulk of the films is in 1.33:1, but occasionally morphs into an unenhanced 1.78:1 image, awfully small on modern widescreen televisions. I couldn't help but wonder why this wasn't shot entirely in widescreen with anamorphic enhancement, but perhaps budgetary reasons prevented that.

Sound:
There are four equally wonderful audio options available: Standard Dolby with and without narration, and Dolby 5.1 with and without narration. The films easily bear repeated viewing and the experience is completely different without the voiceovers, though my recommendation is to start with the narrated versions and then re-play with the unnarrated soundtrack. Separation is excellent, and the many unusual sounds are reproduced with excellent fidelity.

Extras:
Aside from the alternate audio options (which are listed as an extra on the DVDs), there are downloadable director's notes and an interesting "dance pilgrimage" featurette on the Vajra Sky segment.

Final Thoughts:
For anyone interested in alternative spiritual traditions, or Eastern culture in general, this set is a must-have. One of the few documentaries that entertains as well as enlightens (no pun intended), this trilogy is sumptious both visually and aurally.

____________________________________________
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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