Cirque du Soleil - Midnight Sun
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // $24.95 // September 6, 2005
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted August 15, 2005
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In 10 Words or Less
Unlike any Cirque du Soleil you've ever seen—unfortunately

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Cirque du Soleil, Canada
Likes: Jazz

The Show
I recently took in a show of "La Nouba," Cirque du Soleil's Orlando show, and it was a reminder of why a live performance is always better than a recorded one. The energy and the excitement of watching people performing with out an editing net is far superior than the canned power of a TV drama. Ironically, sometimes when you film a live show, it's even less engaging than the taped version. Such is the case with "Midnight Sun."

As part of the 2004 anniversary celebration for the Montreal Jazz Festival, Cirque du Soleil put together a blowout musical performance with that twist of spectacle that's the trademark of the troupe's shows. Bombastic world music crashes together with acrobats, fire swallowers and numerous dancers to create a kinetic display that's spread across a stage and a lengthy runway that juts out into a teeming crowd in the night of Montreal.

That's bound to sound great to any fan of the Cirque, but this is not the Cirque fans have grown to love. Likely because it's part of the Jazz Festival, this show is focused primarily on the music that is such a big part of the troupe. Sure, there are parts that are familiar, like the silk-scarf acrobats and the loosely constructed storyline that holds things together. But they don't have the level of power and emotion that the other show's hold. Instead, it feels like a concert with some stunts thrown in.

One of the other problems with the show is the size. Something I've noticed in previous shows is the intimate nature of the performance space. In this case, a crowd of over 200,000 people and a "stage" as big as three city blocks makes what is otherwise larger than life into something significantly smaller. This especially hurts the way the acrobat's performances are perceived. There's also the matter of the stage, which is so miniscule that the performers can barely move more than a few feet. The German Wheel, which is normally full of momentum and speed, is limited to the precision movements that, while impressive, aren't that exciting.

On the plus side, the music is as good as it's ever been, the costumes are stunning and the stunts that are present are good ones. For a fan of Cirque's music, this is a perfect package, but for the average Cirque fan, it can frankly be a bit boring. It's unfortunate, as I've had nothing but good things to say about their DVDs to this point. In fact, I can't truly say this is a bad DVD, as it may just be a matter of taste. But when you build your reputation with one style and switch to another, you have to expect the fans might feel a bit cheated.

The 95-minute show is packaged on one DVD, which comes in a standard keepcase with a two-sided insert that's mainly promotional. The disc opens with a choice of menu language, English or French, leading into an animated anamorphic widescreen main menu that offers a choice to play the show or view the special features. There are 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks available, but only through your remote, and there are no subtitles or closed captioning. There's not much in terms of dialogue anyway.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen video of this show is just about brilliant. That's never been a problem for Cirque DVDs. Despite a setting that's not exactly perfect--at night, outside, in a crowd of 200,000 people--the footage is crisp, with nice color and excellent detail. Considering the amount of action going on in some shots, that it isn't a muddy pixilated mess is an impressive feat. Per my reader, the video is cranking at 9Mbps, which makes me surprised that this isn't listed as a SuperBit title like the recent Cirque releases from Sony.

The audio, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, is strong and clear, with bass-heavy music that pounds through the speakers. There's nothing in terms of panning or directionality that will make you say "Ahhh", but its all well-produced, making for an enjoyable listen, which is the most important thing with a show like this.

The Extras
There are three extras, though one is the now traditional Cirque promo piece that's found on every one of the troupe's DVDs, so it really shouldn't count. The other two are just disappointing. One is the show's encore, a four-minute song that's repetitive and really kind of boring, with the singers just standing at the end of the stage runway. As a side benefit though, you get to see what Cameron Diaz might look like in 15 or so years.

The other bonus is a photo slide show, set to music from the show, that runs just over a minute. The pictures change rapidly, so there's plenty to look at, but the photos aren't of the highest quality. It's going to be of limited interest to most.

The Bottom Line
Those who tune into Cirque du Soleil for its unique blend of art, music and action might find themselves disappointed by "Midnight Sun." As part of the Montreal Jazz Festival, this show is focused first on the music, and doesn't push the envelope in terms of the more circus-based portions of the show. Myself, I found it lacking because of that. The DVD presentation is wonderful when it comes to the audio and video, but there are next to no extras to support the main show. Of all the Cirque du Soleil DVDs, this is probably the least purchase worthy that I've seen, though the music is as beautiful as ever.

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