Blu-ray Review: Samsara

STUDIO: MPI | DIRECTOR: Ron Fricke | PRODUCER: Mark Magidson
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/8/2013 | PRICE: DVD $27.98, Blu-ray $34.98
BONUSES: interviews, featurette
SPECS: PG-13 | 102 min. | Documentary | 2.39:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson’s first collaborations were on the 1985 IMAX movie Chronos and 1992’s Baraka, which was shot in 70mm. Gorgeous visual essays on nature, man and man’s “unnatural” creations (including buildings, factories, vehicles and so on), both films serve as a wind-up for their 2011 epic Samsara, a not-quote travelogue/not-quite-documentary that can now be considered Fricke and Magidson’s finest creation yet.

Like their first two films, Samsara (a Sanskrit word that means “continuous flow,” a reference to the Tibetan concept of the wheel of life) is, again, a visual essay—this one a collection of images that are at once energizing and hypnotic, obtained over a five-year production period that brought the filmmakers to some 25 countries. Brewing storm clouds, Asian temples, wind blowing across sand dunes, African tribesmen, animals lining up in a slaughterhouse, skyscraper construction sites, Indian dancers—over the course of 101 minutes, the images keep on coming at a pace that varies with each “movement.” Designed to entrance the viewers by their beauty while prompting them to make connections between the images in their own minds, Samsara is a The Qatsi Trilogy for a new generation. And it delivers insomuch as viewers want to give back to the film by fully immersing themselves in its luxurious depths..

It’s tough to be a “captive viewer” when watching a film in one’s living room, but that’s the best way to view Samsara—or, better, the fairest way to view it.

Samara is photographed entirely in 70mm and was transferred to 4K digital projection format. The yield is a simply stunning image that features some of the finest clarity and color that I’ve ever seen on my humble home theater.

The Blu-ray’s only bonus feature is a fifty-minute making-of featurette that goes behind the filmmakers’ international travels, editing, scoring and other technical aspects of the production. Early on, director Fricke describes he and producer Magidson’s concept of Samsara as being “a non-verbal guide to meditation on the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.” Cool and interesting. But in this case, we have no problem with letting the film do all the [non-verbal] talking.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.