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Mana Beyond Belief

Genius Products // Unrated // March 20, 2007
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 23, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Mana: Beyond Belief is a form of "silent" documentary. Instead of a verbal onslaught of concepts and ideas, this piece doesn't have a lot to say, both literally and figuratively. Voices of culture and nature echo through this film, but voices explicating the material are rarely heard. Strangely enough, that's the strongest point of this film. Where Mana: Beyond Belief rolls the dice is within reliance on the film to be widely interpretational. In that aspect, this film from directors Peter Friedman and Roger Manley is both successful and cumbersome. Mana: Beyond Belief provides a gorgeous journey into the world of tangible aura that can be charming, testing, and ultimately enchanting.

The Film:

Mana can be summed up as the brimming essence radiating from tangible objects, both old and new. It's an essence that draws people of all shapes and sizes, beliefs and dogmas. Some objects hold more mana than others. Age doesn't necessarily determine the mana, either. It's difficult to determine the exact origin of this essence, whether it be the natural charisma, staying power, or the overall appeal from surrounding people. Nonetheless, it's quite capable for just about anything to have mana. Peter Friedman and Roger Manley understand this concept thoroughly. Through their sprawling mosaic Mana: Beyond Belief, they illustrate just how diverse the range of mana-contained items can be.

Spanning the world amidst five different continents, this film succeeds in stripping down the barriers of culture and language with a careful, non-descriptive tone. In the same respect, it doesn't rob these locales of their individuality in the slightest. At the starting gate, the concept of mana is soulfully explicated in words from an empassioned individual of nature. After that, Mana: Beyond Belief turns into a form of treasure hunt. With concentration focused directly on the screen, this film is a consistent scope for mana of all kinds. There's no narration and no real description of each locale; therefore, self interpretation is key. Stripping away the spoken text eliminates any instruction on how someone is supposed to feel. This opens up a vast door to individualized ideas, thoughts, and concentrations. Mana: Beyond Belief's interpretative tone surfaces as both a strong ally and a looming foe.

It's vastly enthralling to peer into and concentrate upon each locale's focal point. Seeing how the mana-ensnared people amidst the location gaze in awe upon these objects is inspiring. Such anonymity of locales is Mana: Beyond Belief's pure strength. Instead of stapling a name and location to each image and deeming it as an irreproachable sect of the world, these frames present an inviting, ambiguous sight into not-so-distant cultures that embody the earth as a whole. Each piece of mana holds something different; from the monolithic structures of theological design to the cruising sleek curves of automobiles, the flickering essence in each of these points is quite easy to see.

This beautiful, freehand journey through Mana: Beyond Belief is also quite demanding. Sure, it's wholly possible to vapidly recline and soak in this "silent" mosaic. However, doing so would chain down the potency of the film. This is a piece that demands steadfast focus. It's amidst this unguided focus that the material can grow quite draining. Occasionally, speckles of aural commentary from interviewed individuals wedge into the film. However, almost all of this film wordlessly drifts from location to location. Concentrating upon this muted focus amidst persistent, subsequent cultures and locales can be arduous. Each segment is rich with mood; however, as the film progresses with a steady stream, this richness can grow a bit overwhelming.

Visually, Mana: Beyond Belief is a remarkable achievement. The photography utilized within the 95-minute span embodies such a remarkably poignant, visionary tone. Peering into these locations reflects on what the experience might be like as a traveling nomad in search of all things brimming with this essence. Each and every frame in this film could be clipped, blown up and displayed as a work of art. With such an aesthetically reliant production, this is quite an asset. This quality entrancingly locks the focus for all things tangible, making it possible for the inner focus to pour through.

Through this vivid journey, Mana: Beyond Belief undoubtedly succeeds in maintaining the focus upon the soulful aura of significant, tangible objects. Thankfully, the film's visual effectiveness makes the experience pleasing for both the eyes and the mind. Even though there are scenes where the desire to scream out "Where on earth is that?!" tickles the throat, never was it too strenuous to keep that urge withheld. Plus, if enough care is taken to pay attention to the surroundings and cultural clues (license plates, typical monikers of society, architecture, sideburns and guitars, etc), a roundabout answer can be formulated. That's not the point of this trip, however. What Mana: Beyond Belief does set out to do, it accomplishes quite well.

The DVD:

Mana: Beyond Belief is presented in a standard keepcase DVD with simple, alluring coverart and discart.

The Video:

Talk about eye candy overload. Mana: Beyond Belief's anamorphic image is brilliant. The range of details and colors is truly astounding. Not much of any traces of grain or visible flaws were detected. The photography within the film seeps through this transfer elegantly. Each frame, though echoing the truly fantastic camerawork in the film, resembles an intricate work of art. This transfer breathes and bleeds with rich beauty.

The Audio:

Though nowhere near as enchanting as the video presentation, Mana: Beyond Belief's Dolby 2.0 audio accurately presents the ambient sounds that course throughout the entire film. Such a film that relies upon mood and wispy sounds might have benefited from a natural Dolby 5.1 track. However, the audio track available serves its purpose well. English subtitles are locked into the print.

The Extras:

Not a whole lot is included regarding supplemental material on this disc. Directoral Biography/Filmographies are included for Friedman and Manlay, and a Chapter Selection screen is available.


Final Thoughts:

Mana: Beyond Belief is a ravishingly gorgeous stride across the globe in search for resonating points of essence. With a photogenic visual style and a splendidly ambiguous narrative, just about everyone can focus upon this piece. Though the vague, interpretive nature might wear on some viewers, those looking for an enlightening, enjoyably journey should have a pleasant experience with this documentary. Mana: Beyond Belief, a visually entrancing trip into the world of radiating essence within culture and society, comes easily Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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