Photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand transitioned to filmmaking just over a decade ago, helming such films as Earth from Above, Home, and Planet Ocean. Each one has carried a vague "mankind is slowly killing the planet" message, adding a spoonful of sugar to the medicine with jaw-dropping aerial photography of impressive landscapes. Somewhat removed from films like The Qatsi Trilogy and Baraka in that they're driven by narration, his documentaries are still a feast for the eyes nonetheless. Things have changed a bit with Arthus-Bertrand's newest film Human (2015), however: it's focused more on people than the planet and not narrated, although still armed with outstanding aerial footage that's exclusive to the film. It's also more than two and a half hours long, and feels even longer.
Part of the reason that Human feels so exhausting is a total lack of context...which, to be fair, may be a fault with Kino's Blu-ray and not the filmmaker. There are at least four dozen talking head interviews that last several minutes apiece, but no names are given nor are their countries of origin. Their stories typically deal with universal topics like love, death, tolerance, religion, regret, and happiness, but they're rarely structured in any meaningful manner. This, combined with the lack of context and excessive running time, cripple their lasting impact: even if these intensely personal stories are engaging at first (and they certainly are), the effect is more numbing than exciting as Human wears on.
The aerial footage, which breaks up many of the interview groups effectively, is visually captivating and paired with an excellent score by prolific French composer Armand Amar. Most of these short (and often slow-motion) scenes are just as memorable as the stories, if not more so, and don't always say anything about the human condition...but they're sure pretty to look at. From a wave of inner-tubers in east Asia to a dazzling human tower at the center of a huge gathering, their slow and subtle movement is undoubtedly more striking than still photography. Yet, like the talking head interviews, no location or other context has been provided. As a result, these scenes are still impressive from a visual standpoint, but they'd be more effective if we knew where or why these events were taking place.
More questions are raised when you consider the various formats in which Human has been made available: an extended theatrical version, which premiered at the United Nations in 2015, is currently available for free on YouTube (divided into three parts) and clocks in at 188 minutes. Kino's Blu-ray runs just 143 minutes. It's already at least 30 minutes too long in my opinion, yet the notion of a three-part series sounds like a better idea. What's more is that the YouTube version features optional Closed Captions that identify the participants and locations, which undoubtedly make it a more effective, intimate, and educational experience. While Kino's Blu-ray is most likely superior from an A/V standpoint and a bonus documentary is included, Human on disc can't help but feel a little incomplete.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Human's visuals are obviously one of its most immediately striking aspects...so it's good to know that Kino's new Blu-ray delivers a strong and solid image with no obvious drawbacks. This was obviously a film shot with great care, as the 1080p transfer features a jaw-dropping amount of color and detail at times. Close-up interviews, though hardly vivid with a simple black cloth backdrop, are immediately eye-catching for the distinct skin tones, blemishes, wrinkles, fine textures, and other unique qualities present in each of its dozens of subjects. Slow-motion crowd photography and aerial landscape footage, however, are where Human really takes off: there's an almost hypnotic effect to their stark beauty and colorful effectiveness, and the lack of digital imperfections (noise reduction, edge enhancement, banding, etc.) make this a true five-star effort in every respect.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio is available as either DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo tracks, both of which have no trouble serving up a convincing atmosphere. Keep in mind that the "human" aspect of Human is an almost entirely front-loaded affair: interviews never spill into the rear channels, and even the crowd roar present in several outdoor scenes stays completely up front. Frequent music cues are the only exception, as they often occupy the other three (or, on occasion, all five) channels. LFE use is limited but noticeable at times. While Human offers a somewhat different audio experience than expected, it's still an effective one that gets the job done. Optional subtitles are not included, but the interviews (presented in at least a dozen different languages) feature burnt-in English subs.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic, film-themed interface offers smooth, simple navigation, a clean layout, and minimal pre-menu distractions. Separate sub-menus have been included for chapter selection, audio setup, and bonus feature access. This one-disc release is packaged in a standard (non-eco) keepcase with no inserts of any kind.
Not too much, but what's here is of good quality. The main attraction is a mid-length Documentary
(52 minutes) that covers all the expected bases including the challenges of shooting a documentary around the world, meeting thousands of new people, director Yann Arthus-Bertrand's photography career, the interview process, translation, the contribution of several different crew members, and more. Overall, this is a valuable inclusion and the bonus interview footage is appreciated, especially given the total lack of deleted scenes. Like the main feature, it's presented in several different languages and includes burnt-in English subtitles. Also included is the film's Theatrical Trailer
Yann Arthus-Bertrand's Human is undoubtedly an uplifting, forward-thinking documentary that's worth watching for its diverse stories, amazing aerial photography, and epic soundtrack. But there's something missing here: little to no context has been provided---no names or locations are given, for starters---and its excessive running time will also keep first-time viewers at arm's length. That's not to mention Human is also available for free online, in more digestible separate parts and what appears to be a more context-friendly form. That all but kills any recommendation for a blind buy, but the strengths of Kino's new Blu-ray are obvious: featuring a top-notch A/V presentation and at least one worthwhile bonus feature, there's certainly enough here to consider Human a worthwhile weekend watch. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.