Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/17/02

2001 (2002) - Channel Four/Firstsight Films (A&E)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Shackleton Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: Shackleton - Part One
Approx. 100 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, ultra-thin keep case with cardboard slipcase packaging, animated program-themed menus with music, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Shackleton - Part Two
Approx. 100 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, ultra-thin keep case with cardboard slipcase packaging, animated program-themed menus with music, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Disc Three: The Documentaries
Breaking the Ice: The Making of Shackleton (49 mins), A&E's Biography - Ernest Shackleton: Looking South (43 mins), Antarctica: A Frozen History (90 mins), all NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, ultra-thin keep case with cardboard slipcase packaging, Kenneth Branagh bio and selected credits, animated program-themed menus with music, documentary access, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Ernest Shackleton: "I believe it is in our nature to explore... to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all."

Ernest Shackleton is a fascinating figure in early 20th Century history. Shackleton was less than successful in much of the endeavors of his life, including his explorations of Antarctica. The frozen continent was considered the last great frontier on Earth at the time, and Shackleton led two major expeditions to it. The first was an attempt to reach the pole, which failed. The goal of the second expedition was more ambitious. Because his rivals, Amundsen and Scott, had already reached the South Pole, Shackleton wanted instead to cross the entire continent. But in 1914, even getting the expedition organized at all was a major effort, with all of Europe teetering at the precipice of war. It is this second trip to the bottom of the world that A&E's Shackleton depicts. And while the effort was ultimately considered a failure, the events that transpired were to become one of the greatest stories of survival in recorded history.

While en route to Antarctica, Shackleton's expedition vessel, the Endurance, became trapped in thick pack ice in the Weddell Sea, some 90 miles off the Antarctic coast. At first, there were hopes that the ice would thaw and allow the ship to pass. Eventually, however, the ice crushed the ship's wooden hull, and the Endurance went to the bottom of the ocean, stranding its 27-man crew on the ice. With limited supplies and thin hopes, Shackleton became determined to get his men home against seemingly insurmountable odds. And let me tell you: your enjoyment of this film will not be diminished one bit by the historical knowledge that not only did he succeed, he lost not a single man.

The video quality of A&E's 3-disc DVD is something of a surprise. The first 2 discs include the 200-minute film itself (half of the program on each disc). The film is presented in full anamorphic widescreen (aspect ratio 1.85:1) and while it looks occasionally soft detail-wise, and washed out in turns of color saturation, just having anamorphic at all is a major plus. Most of the film takes place on the ice, so the fact that color saturation looks a little thin is likely a stylistic choice. Regardless, the video is quite good generally, and certainly serves the story just fine.

The audio is only here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, and while I would have preferred a true 5.1 mix, this track is very serviceable. Most of the film is dialogue driven, and once you get used to the character accents, it always sounds clear and easily discernible. The surrounds are largely used for ambience - mostly swirling wind and the occasional groaning of the ship's hull. It's not the most dynamic track you'll ever hear, but it's just fine for what it is.

The extras contained on Disc Three of Shackleton are a real surprise. To start with, you get a 50-minute documentary on the making of this film, which is absolutely fascinating. Once you begin watching, it's absolutely obvious that you could never film this story anywhere but out on real pack ice in the middle of the ocean. So director Charles Sturridge (Longitude, Brideshead Revisited) took a 90-person cast and crew out on a real ice-breaker to the pack-iced shores of Greenland. The expedition to capture Ernest Shackleton's story on film was in many ways as interesting and dangerous as the events depicted. You also get a real sense of the dedication of the cast, in particular Kenneth Branagh, who is absolutely perfect as the legendary explorer, imbuing the man with very real humanity in the face of failure and disaster. I'm guessing Branagh (and the production as a whole) will win some serious awards for this work. It's also worth noting that the production was based on the actual expedition dairies of Shackleton and his men, thus maintaing the highest degree of historical accuracy.

But we're not done. Also on Disc Three is the entire 43-minute episode of A&E's Biography on the real Ernest Shackleton's his gives you tremendous insight on the man and his life, and places the story depicted in the film in very through context. As if that weren't enough, you also get a 90-minute History Channel documentary on the history of Antarctic exploration, from the earliest efforts of Robert Scott, Raold Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton to the Cold War land grabs of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and the current status of the continent today. This is the kind background information that's invaluable to filmmakers and film viewers alike, and each of these documentaries is an tremendous piece of work on their own. Having them assembled together here on this DVD is truly a treasure.

There's one last note I'd like to make about this 3-disc set, and that's the packaging. The discs are contained in a cardboard slipcase which most DVD fans will be quite familiar with. But each disc is enclosed in its own, ultra-thin plastic keep case, about a third of the thickness of a standard Amaray or Alpha case. They're manufactured by Nexpak, and I think they're a really terrific way to package DVDs in multi-disc sets. I hope to see them used much more in the future.

Shackleton on DVD is a completely entertaining and enlightening experience. And this 3-disc set provides the kind of real and (more importantly) substantial value that is lacking in so many other DVD releases these days. There's no sugary filler... no marketing fluff here. This is pure content and a lot of it. And it's a helluva good yarn, made all the more interesting because it actually happened. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

E-mail the Bits!

Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 800 x 600 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2015 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
[email protected]