Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: William Livingston
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.77:1
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: July 25, 2000
The Italians is a
documentary film from Discovery Channel Home Video that more than makes up with
photography what it lakes in substantial information. I was expecting maybe a walk through the ruins of historic
Rome, reflections of the art of the Renaissance, or something along those lines.
Instead, what I saw was a loving look at a country and its people…a bit
glorified, perhaps, like one of those “country” films you’d see at Epcot
Center, but the results are as beautiful as any IMAX film ever produced.
The movie benefits from a variety of appealing hosts from
part to part, each speaking English very well, and each reflecting and
expressing the passion for their lives and work. One recurring theme in the picture is that of carrying on age
old traditions: many of the people
we meet have picked up the same work that their families have done for hundreds
of years, claiming that such work is simply in their blood.
The film begins and ends with segments on the Ferrari,
starting with a look back at her history, and finishing with a look forward at
her newest installment. More than a
car to the people of Italy, the Ferrari is a living, breathing symbol of passion
and power, and the unveiling of the newest model at the end plays like a major
cultural event. I’m not much into
cars myself, so this was my least favorite part of the movie—however, I know a
couple of people off the top of my head who would buy this disc JUST for the
Ferrari footage. Consider it a
bonus if autos are your passion.
The second part details a fashion show, which again, I
wasn’t terribly interested in…it was more or less what you could see
watching one of those programs on E!. But
starting with the third part, the film really grows into something special.
Part three is a tale of fishermen, and a 2000 year old
ritual of harvesting blue fin tuna. It
is a way of life that is dying, the narration reports, because the fish are
slowly disappearing from the Mediterranean.
But for now, the hunt is on, and teams of men take their boats and nets
out for one of the most exciting fishing sessions I’ve ever seen.
These fishermen literally work on their nets year round for this one
opportunity. These nets stretch
down for fathoms, and they use them to slowly corral these fish (some as much as
10 feet long and 100 pounds) into a single area, where, amidst the churning,
foaming water and shouts of victory, these men work together to wrestle these
giant creatures into the boats. This
is a spectacle a little more violent than you’d see watching early morning
fishing shows on PBS, but it’s a part of the life…like I said, you’ve
never seen fishing like this before. This
segment is so enthralling, it could easily stand alone as an excellent short
The next part of the film takes us to Venice, and what a
beautiful journey it is. Starting
with the sound and camerawork, the movie puts the viewer at eye level from the
gondola, where the ancient city stretches out far and wide all around.
We get to meet the people of Venice, most of whom tend the same shops or
do the same work that previous generations of their family had done.
It comes across as a wondrous place where time seems to have stood still.
Part five follows a photographer and his crew as they brave
the beautiful but treacherous Alps. Again,
we are introduced to a small town in the shadow of the mountains where little
has changed over hundreds of years. The photographer too, is carrying on the work of his family,
and his collection of photos that go back to the beginning of the art form has
documented the mountains, the towns, and the people beautifully and completely.
Finally, the fashion designer from part 2 takes the viewers
on an escapade to a tiny island called Pantelleria, the southern most part of
Italy, and what has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The water is bluer and clearer than anything I’ve ever seen, as
established by a few amazing aerials. The
segment finishes with some wonderful underwater photography, where the host
demonstrates the tradition of diving without air tanks…somehow, these skilled
divers can reach a point of relaxation where their heartbeat and bodily
functions slow to the point where they can hold their breath for ridiculous
amounts of time…I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes,
in a stretch of film with no cuts.
Director and producer William Livingston has created
perhaps the ultimate Chamber of Commerce film with The
Italians, and I mean that as a compliment.
He’s captured with his cameras a little piece of paradise on earth, and
brought the experience to life in a remarkable way for the home theatre
As mentioned, this film is as beautiful as any IMAX film
I’ve seen, and that goes for the transfer as well. Though not anamorphically enhanced, this widescreen image is
still spectacular, and as close to perfect as you could ask for.
There are a few bits of older footage that show their age, particularly
in the segment on the history of Ferrari, but what was actually filmed for this
program is excellent. Images are sharp and crisp, and amazingly detailed
throughout, even objects in deep focus. Look
at the details of the buildings in Venice, or the face of the distant alps, or
even the mist rolling off the coast of Africa in the background of the
Pantelleria segment. The coloring
and lighting are simply breathtaking throughout:
always natural, bright, and without any signs of bleeding. From the blues of the water to the whites of the snow covered
Alps, to the green meadows accented with flowers, the images are extraordinary.
The print, likewise, is very clean, with no noticeable spots or scars,
and no evidence of grain or compression (thanks to the dual layered
presentation). Like an IMAX film,
this picture uses the photography not just to capture an experience, but to
bring it to vibrant life. From
beginning to end, this picture was a pleasure to watch.
Though not as lively or dynamic as an action film, I have
to say, I’ve had few experiences more pleasant than the subtle audio of the
Venice shots, where the camera puts you in the boat and the 5.1 surround track
puts you in the middle of the water. It
was such a terrific combination of picture and sound to realize an experience, I
would have given the disc high marks if it were an hour and a half of nothing
but this. But there’s more, to be
sure, and if you prefer some dynamics, you’ll really enjoy the fishing
segment, which is nice and loud, and puts you right in the middle of the action.
Overall, the rear channels are harnessed sparingly, but perfectly, and
though there’s not much use of the .1 channel, you really won’t miss it with
this kind of movie. The score is a solid plus, and the mix often makes use of all
channels for a fuller, more lively musical experience.
Though not much of an educational experience, The Italians is a quality, loving look at a people and their country. It may not be first choice for an evening’s entertainment, but I doubt any fan who puts this quality DVD in their player will be unimpressed. It’s a beautiful celluloid journey, and one that you just may want to take more than once.