Some famous adventurer (it may have been George Mallory) was once asked, "Why climb Mount Everest?" He replied, "Because it's there." One may well have expected the same response from Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, if one could have quizzed him about his unwavering determination to cross the Antarctic, and after watching this joint Channel 4/ABC mini-series, no reason on Earth would make any sense.
British explorer Ernest Shackleton was born in 1874 and was a member of more than one attempt to reach the South Pole before commanding his own expeditions. This DVD, imaginatively titled Shackleton, is a two part dramatisation of his second last trip to the Antarctic in 1914, and is perhaps the most eventful of his expeditions. It was on this trip that Shackleton planned to be the first to cross the Antarctic on foot.
The story begins with Shackleton trying to raise the 60,000 pounds necessary to fund the expedition, and assembling a crew and the necessary provisions. The money is raised, a crew of 27 is finally selected, and a ship chosen just before the outbreak of World War I. Things started to go wrong almost from the outset and only the fear of failure saved the expedition from a very premature and chilly end.
Just 85 miles from land, Shackleton's ship, Endurance, found itself trapped in the ice, and so began a most amazing adventure for 28 men, 69 dogs, and one cat. In one of the most beautiful, yet harshest environments on the planet, the expedition battled on in the face of some incredible odds. Every imaginable hardship was encountered over the many months, and that there is any record of this amazing journey is extraordinary in itself.
As with most British historical dramas, there is much to be said in favour of this release. Headed by Kenneth Branagh and Aussie Matt Day, the cast is extremely believable, and the makeup, costuming, sets, and special effects are outstanding. The story moves along at a steady pace and at 205 minutes is quite a challenge to watch in one sitting, but you may find yourself doing just that, old boy.
Shackleton is presented in an anamorphically enhanced aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and on the whole is quite good. There is a generally good degree of sharpness and clarity that really only appeared very grainy and soft in Chapter 20, but perhaps this was deliberate in an attempt to make the image as turbulent, confusing and tumultuous as the action on screen.
Colours are slightly muted, especially in the Antarctic scenes that dominate the feature, but this is almost certainly a deliberate attempt to convey the bleakness of that landscape. Black levels vary from very good, to not so good in some of the later chapters. As a result, shadow detail suffers a little at times, but is generally acceptable. There are no film artefacts to speak of, and neither are there any problems with noise.
Overall, the wonderfully picturesque landscapes and beautiful scenery looks quite magnificent.
The layer change has wisely been placed between episodes and is therefore not an issue.
The only audio provided is reasonable Dolby Digital 2.0 and while there is not a great deal of need for a fully blown 5.1 transfer, it would have created a nice ambience. Rear and centre speakers and the subwoofer are therefore silent. Still, the 2.0 has a very impressive sound range, and the low-level frequency sounds are quite deep and rich. The sound of ice cracking and being pushed into the ship is quite impressive.
There is not a great deal of separation, but on the few occasions it is noticeable it's natural enough. All dialogue is loud and clear and there are no problems with synchronisation.
There is not a great deal more to be said about this more than adequate audio. It does what it needs to do and it does it well for a 2.0 stereo mix.
This is a well-acted, beautifully filmed, and well-paced dramatisation. It recounts an amazing journey through an incredibly beautiful and inhospitable place. It is even more remarkable when you remember that it is based on a set of real events. It makes one wonder what adventurers do for a thrill in 2003.