Bryce Courtenay's novel, The Power of One, was a number one best-seller when it was released, so it was logical that it should be given the Hollywood treatment and find its way onto the big screen. The resulting film won many fans, and almost as many detractors. Most of those that had read the book saw the film as a bastardisation of Courtenay's novel, and could not forgive the filmmakers for altering his story so radically. But more on that in a moment.
The Power of One is the story of P.K. (Guy Witcher, Simon Fenton, Stephen Dorff), an English boy born in South Africa at a time when Apartheid was still very much a part of that country's social structure. Orphaned at a young age, and residing at an Afrikaner run boarding school, P.K. finds life tougher than he could have imagined. At the hands of the English-hating bullies, he is urinated on, physically and emotionally tortured, and very much alone. As he puts it himself, he is more than familiar with the loneliness birds.
At the outbreak of World War II, life at school becomes even more cruel and torturous. The young P.K. becomes the charge of a kindly German, Doc (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who substitutes as P.K.'s grandfather. It is through Doc that P.K. begins his life journey and learns patience, tolerance, diplomacy and altruism. As the war unfolds, Doc is arrested and placed in a prison that mostly houses black South Africans. It is here that P.K. learns to box, play piano, and that life is not just cruel for a young English boy in this country that is simultaneously beautiful and ugly.
A great friendship develops with long-term inmate, Geel Piet (Morgan Freeman), who teaches P.K. to become an accomplished boxer. Dubbed "Rainmaker" by Geel Piet in his belief that P.K. is the one who will unite the tribes just as the rain settles the dusty landscape, and though P.K. tries hard to play down the myth, it seems that everything he does seems to perpetrate it. In prison, P.K. continues to learn that freedom, for some, is just a word.
It is from here that the movie diverts significantly from the novel. As P.K. approaches adulthood, he finds more opportunities to better the lives of black South Africans, falls in love, and crosses paths with the chief bully from his school days. His life is still one long struggle, and plagued with troubles and difficult choices. He is still revered by the tribes as the "Rainmaker', and with time, P.K. learns that only by the tribes uniting can South Africa benefit from the power of being one.
As discussed, those that love the novel may not be quite so enamoured with the movie. Events are truncated, omitted and distorted. Characters are amalgamated, left out, or under-developed and new characters are introduced. The reasons are probably more to do with time constraints rather than necessary drama building, and some will find the ending unfulfilling and possibly too unlikely to be truly believable. The cinematography is quite wonderful, and the acting and direction are solid.
The accompanying music from Hans Zimmer and South African musician Johnny Clegg is fantastic. It is both uplifting and dramatic, and makes wonderful use of African rhythms and sounds.
Thankfully, South Africa has begun to move on from the days when Apartheid was embraced by the ruling governments. There is still much that needs to change, and on many levels the sadness and ugliness that is a significant part of South Africa's history is as prominent now as it was then. There is still so much more that can be done.
The Power of One is another of the many NTSC titles that Warners are releasing into Region 4, so be sure you have NTSC compatible hardware before shelling out the dollars. Leaving aside the NTSC versus PAL argument, this is still a very average transfer. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but is not anamorphically enhanced. The picture clarity is fair, but never sharp. There is a noticeable amount of constant grain that makes the picture look even less sharp.
There are a number of frequent film artefacts such as dirt and scratches. It is obvious that little effort has been put into cleaning the print up, or in trying to find a good clean copy to transfer from. Colours are generally acceptable, but occasionally look a little washed out. This is a shame, as the beautiful African landscape could have looked even more beautiful. Black levels vary from acceptable to poor, bordering on deep grey and occasionally blueish black. Shadow detail is fair, and there is no evidence of low-level noise.
The last gripe is the number of film to video artefacts such as some annoying shimmer, and the MPEG artefacts such as the opening credits that suffer from mosquito noise (incorrectly coloured pixels around the text).
There are no subtitles, and there is no layer change on this single-sided, single-layer disc.
With just one audio track on offer, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, there is not a lot to recommend. It is clear enough, and there are no problems with synchronisation, but it is somewhat unremarkable. The sound range is quite pronounced, however, and low-level sounds are some of the deepest I have heard in a stereo soundtrack. The deep rumble that accompanies several scenes is quite striking, and the music is also well served by this. There is noticeable separation and some panning of sound effects, but a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack would have been superb. As it is, this is acceptable without being impressive.