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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/7/03

The Fast Runner (a.k.a. Atanarjuat)
2001 (2003) - Igloolik Isuma Productions/Lot 47 Films (Columbia TriStar)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Fast Runner Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/F

Specs and Features

161 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, 3 theatrical trailers (for Lagaan, Lawrence of Arabia and Limbo), film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: Inuktittut (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (encoded in video), Closed Captioned

Many years ago, a mysterious shaman placed a curse on a small community of nomadic Inuit. The evil spirit has caused nothing but strife ever since for young Atanarjuat and his family. It's stirred up constant unrest and bad luck for the tribe, and has set the boy and his brother, Amaqjuaq, against clan rival and bully, Oki. Even after many years, as the boys grow into men, the rivalry is still strong. When Oki's intended bride, Atuat, falls in love with Atanarjuat, it's decided that they must fight for her. Atanarjuat wins the contest fairly, but Oki is bitter and unable to forget his hatred... or his desire to get even. And when his revenge finally comes, only Atanarjuat's strength... and speed... can help him survive and return to save his people.

The Fast Runner was shot on location on the frozen tundra and ice sheets of the Canadian Arctic. It's the first full-length feature film written, produced, directed and acted by native Inuit. The result is an authentic look at a culture that's survived for thousands of years without written language and advanced technology. The film is a powerful story of love, loss and redemption. And it is, by any measure, an extraordinary movie.

The Fast Runner was shot on Digital Betacam video. For its theatrical release on the art cinema circuit, it was printed to 35mm film. But for this DVD, Columbia TriStar has transferred the film directly from the original master tapes. The picture is also presented in its original, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format. The color is excellent, there's crisp detail and vibrant contrast. The brightest areas of the picture are sometimes a little hot looking, as tends to happen with even the best video. But the viewing experience is excellent at all times.

On the audio side of things, the disc includes Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the original Inuktittut language. There are no subtitle options selectable with your DVD player - English subtitles are presented as part of the video signal itself. The dialogue is always clean and audible (not that I'd understand a word of it if it weren't) and the surround channels are used nicely for ambiance - wolf howls, the wind whipping across the snow, etc. It's not dazzling home theater surround sound, but it's very good for this film.

Sadly, the disc has almost nothing in the way of extras, save for theatrical trailers for three other films Columbia TriStar thinks you might also like. Unfortunately, there isn't a trailer for this film. And there's no behind-the-scenes materials either. After seeing this film, I was absolutely fascinated by the sheer effort that must have been expended and the difficulties involved in shooting video out on location in this kind of cold environment. I would have loved a documentary on the making of the film, or interviews with some of those involved. Hopefully, Columbia TriStar will see fit to make this film a special edition one day.

The Fast Runner is hard to describe and it's probably not like anything you've ever seen before. It sets its own languid pace, and keeping all the characters straight can be a challenge. But once you start watching it, the movie will get under you skin and keep you entranced. It's fascinating to me to see the kinds of stories people working completely outside the mainstream can tell when given the tools to do so. It's truly an achievement. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
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