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Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, the story centers on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law.
For more about Black Gold and the Black Gold Blu-ray release, see Black Gold Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on June 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Nathin Butler
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
» See full cast & crew
Black Gold Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, June 12, 2012
One of the largest cinematic projects ever undertaken in the Arab world, Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Black Gold" (2011) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers-France. The supplemental features on the disc include a standard making of featurette; documentary film; special effects demonstration; storyboards with text descriptions; and two stills galleries. In English, with imposed French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The 1930s, Arabia. After a bloody conflict, Emir Nesib (Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In, Play It to the Bone) takes the two sons of Prince Amar (Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and vows to raise them as his own. Both men and their advisors view the move as a serious peace treaty, which cannot be broken.
Some years later, an American prospector (Corey Johnson) discovers oil in the Yellow Belt, the area where Emir and Amar once clashed. He quickly convinces Emir to allow his Texas-based employers to exploit it and foreign workers begin digging. With the money from the oil Emir builds new hospitals and a large library, the best in the region. He also modernizes his army.
Amar's sons, who have become handsome young men, interpret the arrival of the foreigners differently. The feisty Saleeh (Akin Gazi, The Devil's Double) suspects that it is only a matter of time before Emir attacks and destroys Amar. The quiet and sensitive Auda (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet) concludes that the oil business could have a positive effect on the region but chooses to stay away from politics.
Soon, the news about the American company and its activities reaches Amar. He isn't pleased with Emir's dealings because he is convinced that the oil in the Yellow Belt belongs to the people of Arabia. He plans to confront Emir but his former enemy quickly marries his daughter Leyla (Freida Pinto, Trishna) to Auda to prevent bloodshed. The wedding unleashes a string of tragic events.
One of the largest cinematic projects ever undertaken in the Arab world, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold feels like a very long and very expensive commercial for an exotic country with rich history. At times it looks impressive, but at times it could bore one to tears.
The film is wildly inconsistent. Parts of it flirt with old Hollywood clichés about the Arab world which are so annoying that one would think that Annaud tried to film a bizarre adaptation of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, but elsewhere there is a degree of seriousness that suggests an entirely different approach to Hans Ruesch's novel. Some of the actors also clearly struggle with their lines (the film was shot in English, but the overwhelming majority of the actors hail from non-English speaking countries).
There is a string of predictable character transformations that further disappoint. After a key event, Auda suddenly becomes a passionate leader with a vision for his people but it never ever feels like he is in fact the right man that could lead them. In the beginning of the film Emir is a man who could understand the game of politics, but later on he literally acts like a spoiled kid who has suddenly learned that no one wants to play with him.
The film's only redeeming quality is the excellent cinematography by Jean-Marie Dreujou (Patrice Leconte's The Girl On The Bridge, Sijie Dai's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress). Shot in the vast deserts of Qatar, the massive battle scenes are very impressive. The desert cities also look terrific (great special effects). The film is also complimented by a strong music score courtesy of Oscar winning composer James Horner (Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar).
Note: Last year, Black Gold premiered at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar.
Black Gold Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.34:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers-France.
The high-definition transfer is virtually flawless. Detail and clarity are outstanding, both during close-ups and large panoramic shots (see screencapture #7). Color reproduction is also excellent. The footage from the desert, in particular, boasts some remarkably rich yellows, browns, blues, and blacks. Most indoor sequences where light is restricted also look terrific. Additionally, there are no traces of compromising sharpening corrections or other lab tweaks to report in this review. The high-definition transfer is also free of serious banding and aliasing issues. There is no edge flicker or serious stability issues either. All in all, Warner's presentation of this very ambitious and very expensive film is indeed quite impressive. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Black Gold Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Warner Brothers have included imposed French subtitles for the main feature (when the original English audio track is selected, they cannot be turned off). The subtitles split the image frame and the black bar below it.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has an impressive range of nuanced dynamics. During selected sequences seemingly random audio effects enhance the exotic atmosphere very well. Elsewhere, the shootouts and battles are very aggressive. James Horner's music score also benefits tremendously from the lossless treatment. The dialog is crisp and clean, but this is the kind of film where optional English subtitles could be quite helpful as a number of the main characters have notably thick accents. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray release comes only with imposed French subtitles. For the record, there are no problematic audio dropouts to report in this review.
Black Gold Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Black Gold Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold is an ambitious but very inconsistent film. It is beautiful to look at, especially after the action moves to the desert, but thematically it lacks the depth it needs to be the epic it should have been. Warner's presentation of the film is very impressive, but unfortunately their disc comes with imposed French subtitles for the original English audio. Hopefully, the film will make it to North America so that people could at least see it. It is a curious project, to say the least.
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Black Gold Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Black Gold Blu-ray - November 26, 2011
The French branch of Warner Home Video will release on Blu-ray director Jean-Jacques Annaud's (The Name of the Rose, Enemy at the Gates) Or Noir a.k.a Black Gold (2011). The film is one of the largest cinematic projects undertaken in the Arab world. Street date ...
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