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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 80:04)
  • Inuktitut: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

    The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)

    Madman Cinema/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 168 mins . MA15+ . PAL


    Every family has a story a tell, and each is probably an epic in its own way, but few probably have a story like this one. Set in Canada's far Arctic north, against a harsh background of ice, snow and bitter winds, life here is undeniably tough, made even tougher when destructive influences are working from within.

    Atanarjuat (the Fast Runner) and Amaqjuaq (the Strong One) are brothers and Iniut hunters, as was their father Tulimaq. Their family has been 'victim' of a shaman since they were boys, and the 'curse' seems something they cannot shake. As adults they are determined to break this shaman's effect on their family. Both have wives, and Atanarjuat has a second wife and young son. They live as a small group and although they seem content, trouble is rarely far away.

    Most of their troubles stem from Oki, the son of the tribe's chief, Sauri. As a young man, Oki was promised Atanarjuat's wife, Atuat, but she has no intention of honouring the pact between their fathers. Oki wants Atuat, and will stop at nothing to claim her. Much of the film concentrates on this struggle between Oki and Atanarjuat, and Oki's sneaky and deceptive attempts to drive Atuat away from Atanarjuat. The results are deadly and drive an even bigger wedge through the small isolated tribe.

    The film is a long one at almost three hours, and often looks more like a documentary than a movie. Sure it has a plot, and a (confused) beginning, middle and end, however there are some lengthy passages that are quite cinematically beautiful, but ultimately unnecessary. This is a film as much about survival against the odds as it is about the characters. The actors are all Inuit, and it's a bit difficult at times to judge just where the acting begins and ends, such is their manner and lifestyle.

    Those who love fast-paced films with plenty of action and stunts are definitely advised to look elsewhere. There are rewards for sticking it out, not least of all the chance to get a peek at a culture that you don't see every day. There are some beautiful yet harsh landscapes, and enough drama to sustain interest, but it takes a while to work out what is happening, a little longer to work out just whom is related to who, and what the hell is all the fuss between the families all about. The film has won an impressive number of awards, and you can't usually argue with that.


    Generally, The Fast Runner is an acceptable transfer, no doubt made on a budget, and while not the best you will see, it is far from a shocker. The aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is faithful to the original, and while it is 16:9 enhanced, it is also an NTSC to PAL conversion which presents its own set of issues. The image is not exactly razor sharp, and suffers from small comets and minor blur when cameras are forced to pan with any speed. This is not gratingly bad, but evident nonetheless.

    Colouring is no doubt affected by the use of natural light, which at times is overly bright, and at other times a little on the dark side. With so much snow, ice and blue sky, brightness was no doubt tough to combat. There is also some evidence of chroma noise, though grain is not an issue. Colours are mostly good, with a few scenes bordering on black and white, but again, the conditions would have a bearing on this.

    There are some mild compresion problems, but little in the way of dirt and other marks. Shadow detail is not an issue until the action moves indoors, especially at night - igloos are a bitch to light! The subtitles are easy to read, and the layer change is a little clunky at 80:04.


    I suspect that no one reading this review is fluent in Inuktitut, and if you are, then I suspect you rarely get a chance to use it. This Dolby 5.1 audio will be what the doctored ordered if you are hoping to brush up.The rest of us will have to make do with the subtitles, which one has to assume are accurate, although there are a few spoken lines that don't flash up any text.

    The sound may be front-heavy, with the rear channels used mainly for ambience such as wind and the odd cry of a sea bird, but overall it is a well thought out mix. The soundtrack makes use of the rear channels, especially in the Enigma-like pieces. The music seems to be quite erratic and includes didgeridoo-sounding tracks, some Irish bagpipes and even some Gregorian-like chanting. The subwoofer really only gets a workout during a few of the scenes when the score gets a little louder, but when it does, it sounds 'big'.

    There would appear to be no synchronisation problems, although the Inuit tend to mumble at times, so it's hard to be sure. If there are issues, then I suggest that most of us will never know.


    No extras are included.


    While on the surface the storyline appears like it might rival Melrose Place for over-the-top dramatics and twists, this is far from the truth. The film is hardly a roller coaster ride, but is intriguing as much for what it shows of the Inuit people as it offers in the way of a story. The scenery is quite majestic, and while it may take a little while to work out just what the hell is going on, it is an enjoyable film that lovers of non-Hollywood epics will appreciate.

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      And I quote...
    "Murder, betrayal, infidelity, black magic, patricide, rape, thuggery and family feuds - on ice!"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
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          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
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    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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