The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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TV Series
Robert F. Liu, ASC
Isidore Mankofsky, ASC
DVD Playback
Budd Boetticher
Chungking Express
ASC Close-Up
Baraka (1992)
Blu-ray Edition
2.20:1 (1080p High Definition)
DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
MPI Home Video, $34.98

Asked to define the experience they wanted to create with Baraka, the filmmakers, including director/cinematographer Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, admit their grand ambitions: “To reach past language, reach past nationality, religion and politics, and really try to speak to the inner viewer and explore the flow of energy and the interconnectedness of humanity as a living, breathing whole,” says Magidson. Fricke adds his goal was to create a “non-verbal film that was a guided form of meditation on humanity.”

After completing work as cinematographer and co-editor of the landmark 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, Fricke delved further into this kind of meditative cinema; he went on to direct, co-produce (with Magidson) and photograph the Imax film Chronos (1985). Though the Imax format offered excellent photographic opportunities, the relatively limited theatrical distribution of Imax prints and necessarily short running time of Imax presentations pushed Fricke and his crew away from the format for future use.  

For Baraka, an existential journey that visually links cultural similarities among the world’s peoples, Fricke and Magidson opted to work with 65mm. Carefully creating a camera that was largely computer-operated, Fricke found the means to realize some of the expectations he had for new photographic expression. Once the camera was ready, the filmmakers planned an elaborate trip around the world to more than 100 locations, some of them remote and rural, others frantic and dangerous. The most important guide for this complicated shoot was a schedule of the phases of the moon; numerous locations required the moon be full so Fricke could use it as the key light source; hence, the filmmakers arranged their brief trips around the moon’s patterns. At each location, they enlisted still photographers who had worked there before to assist with scheduling. Once the crew arrived, it was usually easy to gain access and begin setting up the carefully planned shots.

From the massive, breathtaking, natural landscapes to the active rituals of different peoples, Fricke and his crew moved through more than 20 countries to find the photographic links they had in mind. From the ancient birthplaces of humanity in Africa to the most-modern urban landscapes of New York and Hong Kong, Fricke and his crew gathered sumptuous images of wildlife, landscapes, cities, ruins, sacred places and the many groups of humans that bring them together. Although much of the material is inspirational and full of startling beauty, the film also visits some of the darker testaments to human complexity, such as Cambodia’s killing fields; the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, and the ugly turmoil of the early stages of the Gulf War.  

Baraka made its Blu-ray DVD debut late last year, and MPI Home Video has managed to capture with incredible accuracy and precision for home screens the film’s grandeur and artistry. This is reportedly the first feature film to be scanned from an original negative at 8K resolution; the process took nearly a month, with each frame taking nearly 15 seconds. The results are miraculous and make Baraka an essential reference disc for the Blu-ray format. The 1080p transfer has deep, rich colors and solid black levels, and it is one of the most film-like experiences this writer has seen on Blu-ray thus far. The photographic depth and clarity is truly breathtaking.

The presentation also boasts a lush, immersive DTS HD Master Audio remastering that was supervised by Michael Stearns, who composed the evocative score. The sound work has vivid character and punch and is pleasingly presented in a well balanced surround-scape.

The DVD includes a 76-minute making-of documentary featuring the key creators of the film and serving as an excellent companion piece. Rounding out the platter is an excellent 12-minute segment about the digital restoration.

Baraka fans and newcomers alike are bound to be hypnotized by the impressive artistry on display in this package.

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