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Director Richard Stanley is not likely a household name to the average filmgoer; while most recently he has come into the public eye again through "Lost Soul" the fascinating documentary chronicling Stanley's failed Hollywood breakthrough via a now legendarily bad adaptation of "The Island of Doctor Moreau," Stanley remains an independent auteur in every sense of the word. His early 90s cyberpunk near masterpiece "Hardware" likely remains his best work, while "Dust Devil" should be a film with more acclaim than it receives (likely the effect of massive tinkering by Miramax upon its stateside release). Stanley has another filmmaking side, one of a documentarian focused on the odd and obscure. Stanley's 2013 documentary "The Otherworld" arrives via a very noteworthy Blu-Ray release and offers viewers possibly the most calm Stanley offering in quite some time.
Running around an hour and 45-minutes, "The Otherworld" is Stanley's most challenging film to make it through. Opening with Stanley making reference to a strange area of France wherein he had a personal experience that left him forever changed, "The Otherworld" begins with all the trappings of an ethereal Stanley offering. Shot with keen and striking cinematography, Stanley takes viewers to Rennes-le-Chateau and the areas beyond (Stanley refers to this area as "The Zone"), into a realm of mystery, stunning architecture, a dash of off-the-grid counterculture, and a dash of conspiracy that soon turns into a permeating fragrance.
"The Otherworld" is arguably the least interesting Stanley offering I've come across, but it is not entirely a loss. As a man of science myself and with an inherent bias towards conspiracies in general, "The Otherworld" proved a challenging piece to make it through. The film allows the residents of the region speak for themselves and the cast of characters throughout the program are definitely a fascinating bunch, with some espousing tales of political conspiracy, while others ramble on in tangents about geometry within the landscape and the region as a conduit into another world. Add to that the consistent dabbling with Grail conspiracies ("Holy Blood, Holy Grail" itself is named dropped) straight out of the realm of Dan Brown and "The Otherworld" can turn into an exercise in not rolling one's eyes.
In the end, I'm not entirely sure "The Otherworld" is a feature that is necessary to exist. It is very obvious a passion project for Stanley who had experiences in the region and is very aware some may not believe him. In the end, Stanley proves once again whether in the realm of fiction or nonfiction that he's a filmmaker willing to put himself on the line and explore fringe ideas in a fascinating and memorable way. "The Otherworld" may not have informed me about any one thing in particular, but it did give me into a glimpse of a lives being lived away from modern cynicism and a region of the world with one foot in the semi-modern and one foot in the past. An interesting diversion for fans of Stanley and those more inclined to be entertained by conspiracy.
"The Otherworld" is presented with a 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. It is most definitely an eye-pleasing visual presentation highlighting Stanley's eye for unique framing, capturing his picturesque, often ethereal filming style admirably. Colors are rich and vibrant, capturing the French countryside remarkably well, while detail levels are above-average throughout. Some interview segments have a level of healthy digital grain expected from the genre.
The Otherworld sports both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 English audio track and a MA 2.0 English audio track. While the documentary itself is perfectly serviceable with the 2.0 track, Simon Boswell's score comes alive and becomes its own force of nature via the hearty surround track. English subtitles are included (a number of interviewees speak native French).
While "The Otherworld" itself is the advertised selling point here, Severin films has outdone themselves by gathering three of Stanley's previous documentary efforts on a bonus DVD. Previously available separately on the outstanding five-disc limited edition (and now sadly out of print) release of "Dust Devil". "Voice of the Moon" is a roughly half-hour documentary about life in rural Afghanistan, filmed in the early 90s, while "The White Darkness" runs around 45-minutes and chronicles Haitian Voodoo culture. Rounding things out, is the feature length (over 90-minutes) "The Secret Glory" examining Nazi dabblings in the occult, specifically the hunt for the Holy Grail (which makes it an appropriate companion to the main feature). These documentaries are a great look into Stanley's approach to telling a tale and highlighting the curious and unsettling; I personally tracked down the previously mentioned "Dust Devil" release largely in part for their inclusion there, so I'm happy to see them resurface.
On the main Blu-Ray itself are two deleted sequences, and a 30-minute behind-the-scenes feature that is as much an exercise in tone as is it is informative.
While "The Otherworld" is very much a "take it or leave it" offering, it is essential viewing for Stanley fans. Among the many conspiracy tinged documentaries it sets itself far apart by opting not for sensational narration, but first hand accounts at a series of fantastic and supposedly unexplained events. Severin Films' Blu-Ray is a technically accomplished release that earns a must-own status by the inclusion of three other Stanley documentaries, that are easily more fascinating and worthy of replay than the main feature. Highly Recommended.