- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24
- Audio Codec: LPCM 2.0
- Subtitles: N/A
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Classification: U
- Discs: 2 (1 x Blu-ray + 1 x DVD)
- Studio: BFI
- Blu-ray Release Date: June 20, 2011
- RRP: £19.99
Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures
(Screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG thus are meant as a general representation of the content and do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)
Don’t we all know the legendary story of Englishman Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his expeditionary team Terra Nova’s failed and fatal losing race to the South Pole in 1910? They would be beaten by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team and meet a tragic end at the hands of the unforgiving conditions of that most southerly continent.
The expedition was, miraculously, caught on film by veteran Herbert Ponting, who left the group shortly after the polar teams departed, saving the precious film cargo. It is because of Ponting’s skill and Scott’s foresight to bring him along that the world now has this visual record of their journey.
Ponting’s incredible eye captured the towering icebergs and indigenous species of Antarctica, including seals and the famous Adélie penguins. Mostly, however, we can now see the men interact with each other, happily playing around, fixing their tents, squeezing into their deerskin sleeping bags with no knowledge of the cruel fate that was awaiting them.
This is a magnificent historic artifact! A true testament to one of the great journeys undertaken by man that lives on in our our history books and our collective consciousness.
With no complete original negative remaining of The Great White Silence, the BFI undertook a massive restoration of Ponting’s film by comparing a black & white low contrast positive (“soft print”) from the Twenties in the BFI archives and a nitrite print preserved by EYE Film in the Netherlands with over 9000 feet of negative material. Ponting’s color toning was followed as closely as possible by examining contemporary nitrate examples held at the BFI archives and samples held at the National Media Museum in Bradford.
The resulting 1.33:1 AVC/MPEG-4 1080p/24 transfer to Blu-ray is at times mesmerizing, though it necessarily shows its age in many scratches, tramlines, and specks of dust and other debris. Still, that The Great White Silence looks as good as it does after a century is amazing. I’ve seen films of much later vintage look far worse. This is a superb effort from the BFI.
Simon Fisher Turner’s modern score incorporates found sounds that include ambient silence recorded in Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, the Terra Nova bell, and contemporary gramophone records that the crew took on the expedition with them. It appears here in a LPCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/24-bit) mix that has a wide soundstage, natural sounding high frequencies, and good dynamic range, though it tends toward the quiet side.
The Great White Silence comes with a rich assortment of extras including documentaries on the restoration of the film and its new score from composer Simon Fisher Turner. There is also the robust booklet filled with informative essays and information on the crew and the restoration of this incredible piece of history.
The supplements provided with this release are:
- 90° South (1933, 72 mins.) – Herbert Ponting’s final sound version of the legendary footage he shot in 1910 – 11.
- The Great White Silence: How Did They Do It? (2011, 20 mins.) — New documentary about the restoration.
- The Sound of Silence (2011, 13 mins.) – New documentary about Simon Fisher Turner’s score.
- Location Field Recordings (2010, 4 mins.) – Celebrated Chris Watson’s audio document of the interior of Scott’s polar expedition hut, presented in both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround.
- Archive Newsreel Items (1910 – 1925, 5 mins, DVD only) – A selection of archival film extracts which capture the departure and return of the expedition party.
- Booklet: Illustrated booklet including an extract from Francis Spufford’s I May Be Some Time, essay on the film by Bryan Dixon (Curator for Silent Film, BFI National Archive), essay on the restoration by Kieron Webb (Film Conservation Manager, BFI National Archive) and bios on the Terra Nova expedition crew and Captain Scott.
The Definitive Word
There is something simultaneously eerie and profound that takes places within one’s self while watching The Great White Silence. It is like being aware that one is peering into the past and looking at the ghosts of mythic beings. Perhaps it is because one knows the tragic fate that awaits them and the legend that will swell up around them in the century to follow, because, certainly, there have been many people set to film over the years that do not necessarily have this same effect on the viewer. This is not just a film, it is history. It’s almost akin to having a seat on the Titanic. Marvelous.
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