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The Dust Bowl Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60 (29.970Hz)
  • Audio Codec: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Video Description LPCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit), Spanish LPCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Subtitles Color: Yellow
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: NR
  • Run Time: 240 Mins.
  • Discs: 2 (2 x Blu-ray)
  • Digital Copies: N/A
  • Studio: PBS
  • Blu-ray Release Date: November 20, 2012
  • List Price: $29.99

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]

Documentarian Ken Burns in the usual folksy style we have come to know so well by now tackles one of the greatest environmental disasters of the last century with The Dust Bowl. Using his intimate, down to earth style combining eyewitness interviews, narration, and pans across dramatic archival black and white images, Burns lets us in on the story of the massive decade-long drought that hit America’s breadbasket during the 1930s. Exacerbated by the previous decade’s “Wheat Boom” in which farmers turned over the prairie, devastating the grazing lands that were meant to normally cover the area, the drought, that would affect 46 of 48 states, would lead to massive black clouds of dust covering the great plains. With the lives of children and livestock threatened, and no signs of precipitation in site, the dust storms and drought would eventually trigger the largest mass migration in American history, many “Okies” “Arkies” and others heading for the land of milk and honey – California. The depression-era migration would go be documented by the folk songs of Woody Guthrie and by John Steinbeck in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Grapes of Wrath. With The Dust Bowl, Ken Burns recovers from what was a somewhat lackluster effort with The War, but still doesn’t reach the epic levels of documentation he achieved in his classic The Civil War.

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

The mixture of sources in this documentary don’t make for spectacular HD reference material, but there are certainly some splendid moments captured in a lot of the archival photographs that show great detail and a fine organic, textural quality. Unfortunately, the 1080i/60 AVC encodement does have some issues with motion artifacts that show in the pans across the images as well as some elevated noise and instances of posterization during the interview segments.

Audio Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

It still astounds me when I come across a title on Blu-ray this far into the game that has a lossy soundtrack on it. What’s the purpose, really? Didn’t we leave that behind with DVD? In any case, The Dust Bowl has an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix alongside an English LPCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit) Video Description mix. The 5.1 is well enough for a documentary, better than most documentaries, outside of IMAX exhibition films, but one can’t help but think that many of the atmospheric effects of dust storms or the wonderfully folksy soundtrack might have been better served with a lossless encodement. Still, the dialogue and narration are clear, separation is good, and there are no hints of crackle.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:3.5/5]

The supplements give a behind-the-scenes look at the series’ production with interviews with Ken Burns himself, additional interviews with the Dust Bowl survivors, and a couple of additional Dust Bowl stories.

The supplements:

  • Land of Haze (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:15:28)
  • Dust Bowl Stories (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:30:38) – Excerpts from interviews with survivors of the Dust Bowl
  • Uncovering the Dust Bowl (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:05:41) – The filmmaker discusses the story behind the project that would eventually evolve into his film The Dust Bowl.
  • Grab a Root and Growl (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:12:17)
  • The Dust Bowl Eyewitnesses (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:06:32)
  • The Dust Bowl Legacy (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:05:19)

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

With The Dust Bowl Ken Burns returns to what he knows best, giving us a window on history into the stories that make up the American experience. It’s filled with harrowing stories, and is the ideal form of Documentary-Americana that Burns does so well.

Additional Screen Captures

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Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl - Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

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Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl - Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl

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Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:3.5/5]



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