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Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan(2007)
Recounts of the the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave, born as Temudgin in 1162, before going on to conquer half the world, including Russia, in 1206.
For more about Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan and the Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray release, see Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on November 3, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Sun Hong-Lei, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren, Amarbold Yuvinbayar
Director: Sergei Bodrov
» See full cast & crew
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray Review
Sergei Bodrov's beautifully produced story of Genghis Khan's rise to power lacks a worthy transfer to high definition on New Line's BD-25.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, November 3, 2008
The plaintive wail of stringed Asian instruments weave together as an ancient Mongolian proverb is displayed in red. "Do not scorn a weak cub. He may become the brutal tiger." So begins Mongol. The movie tells a fascinating story of the most successful warlord in history, filmed with incredible artistry, acted with rare skill, bolstered with eye-popping action sequences and engineered with an exotic, enveloping soundtrack. Any one of these reasons alone would probably make the Blu-ray a must-see. Put together they make it a must-have. Unfortunately, New Line (actually, this disc has Warner's fingerprints all over it) did not do justice to the high definition content. It deserves far better than the standard Dolby Digital track and less-than-stellar picture on a BD-25. But even with New Line's failure to deliver the HD goods on a BD-50, the movie simply exudes quality. From foreign film and documentary buffs to action fans who liked the spurting blood of 300, a wide range of movie and HT fanatics will enjoy Mongol. It's not perfect, but compared to the Hollywood treatments of historical figures, as in Troy, Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven, Mongol has a universal appeal and raw honesty that is refreshing.
Mongol begins as the nine year old Temudgin (Odnyam Odsuren), the boy who would become Genghis Kahn, rides horseback across the steppe with his father and others. They are traveling to choose a wife for the boy, therewith making amends with a rival clan. But it doesn't work out the way the father intends. The clan is disrespected when young Temudgin chooses Borte (Bayertsetseg Erdenebat), a girl from a different village. The journey and boy's decision set in motion a series of events that force Temudgin to spend the rest of his childhood and early adulthood on the run, narrowly escaping death. As Temudgin tries to elude his enemies, he makes important friends along the way. None are more important than Jamukha (Amarbold Tuvshinbayar). While both young boys, Jamukha saves Temudgin from freezing. The two have an affinity for each other. They slice their palms and drip the blood into the same bowl of milk, which they share. The Mongolian ritual makes them blood brothers. Sergei Bodrov gets fantastic performances from the child actors (and the adult actors too, for that matter). The cast conveys emotion and ideas, even beyond the script, and it is refreshing to see such talent from a group of unknown performers. The film's dedication to traditional Mongol clothing and customs is also of interest. Mongol was supported by the Russian Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.
But back to our story. When he becomes a young man, Temudgin (Tadanobu Asano) returns to Borte's (Khulan Chuluun) village. The couple is finally wed, but their happiness is short lived. The clan snubbed by their marriage comes looking for vengeance. Alone again, Temudgin asks Jamukha for help in attacking the clan and retrieving his bride. After the battle, men previously loyal to Jamukha decide to join Temudgin because he is selfless and shares more spoils of war. Still regarding each other as brothers, the two leaders are put in a situation where they must wage war against each other. Jamukha's powerful army overwhelms Temudgin. Even in defeat, after fighting with incredible skill, Temudgin refuses to serve another Kahn. Jamukha knows Temudgin should be put to death, but he cannot bring himself to kill his brother. Instead, Temudgin is sold into slavery and finds himself exiled. His father's teachings and the years he spends running from enemies and living in slavery instill in Temudgin a nationalist philosophy and a spiritual love of Mongolia. But how can he reunite with Borte, defeat Jamukha and bring unity and the rule of law to all the clans?
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray, Video Quality
Mongol is brought to life with stunning cinematography. Even though the Blu-ray does not achieve a reference quality 1080p picture, it delivers good enough resolution to fully pay off the filmmaker's unique artistry and vision. Tracking shots across the steppe, following travelers on foot, warriors in battle sequences, riders on horseback and even arrows flying through the air are filmed especially well. The color palette is bright and rich, with the glare of sunlight or snow on the plains often contributing a glowing, majestic quality to landscapes. Though bright, the scenes are shot right and never washed out. Shots looking at distant mountains or forests show good detail, but not the highly defined, articulated picture available on reference quality Blu-ray discs, like No Country for Old Men. During these bright sequences, particularly scenes capturing lots of motion, I noticed a very slight ringing or ghosting effect. The artifact reminds me of the digital compression of some DVDs, but on this Blu-ray it was much less significant. Night scenes and indoor shots provide deep black levels and a powerful contrast that is best described as artistically rendered. Skin tones and textures of clothing and hair appear accurate. But again, you will not see the breathtaking definition that some BDs deliver.
Watch the scene where Temudgin sits behind bars in exile. His face appears hovering in the darkness, while on the other side of the prison bars, onlookers jeer at him from a simple suspension bridge. The scene shows a subdued color palette but resolution is good. One can see the effect of long periods of imprisonment on Temudgin's face, as the makeup crew had evidently worked to create an eggshell texture to his skin. The clothing of the onlookers and simple yet impressive architecture of the town with dramatic landscapes in the distance--all is rendered dramatically, showcasing the powerful cinematography. Scenes with rain, sun, snow and desert conditions each convey imagery that makes the audience feel the atmosphere. Watch the scene where the elderly monk crosses the border into Mongolia to bring news of Temudgin's whereabouts to Borte. The camera follows him from far away and very close. From directly overhead and from the side. As his strength gives out, the camera pulls in more tightly, revealing details in the terrain, flatlands and dunes, and showing the coarse sand all around him. Another scene to watch carefully is the first battle between Temudgin and Jamukha. Watch how the video is brightened and stylized as Temudgin grows tired from fighting, and his motions become heavy and automatic. Regardless of the less-than-perfect resolution, the visual artistry of Mongol is one of its greatest triumphs.
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As much as it would have benefited from better video quality, New Line's Mongol BD would gain even more from better audio quality. Unfortunately, the studio did not even attempt to deliver high definition content, sticking us with the same Dolby Digital track that's on the DVD version. Part of the reason the inclusion of standard definition audio is so frustrating is that, like the cinematography, the sonic landscape of Mongol is lush and majestic. It could have been absolutely stunning if transferred properly and produced as a DTS-HD MA, Dolby TrueHD or lossless PCM track. But no such emphasis was placed on high definition audio. It's as if New Line forgot about the advantages possible with Blu-ray. The good news is that the Mongol's audio engineering shines through regardless, with just the right content assigned to each speaker and the LFE channel for an engaging, multichannel experience. Traditional Mongolian instrumentation merges with a more sweeping orchestral score. The authentic Mongolian dialog is anchored in the center channel, while rain, wind and the noises of battle, including ululations of riders on horseback envelop the listener in a convincing soundstage.
Listen during the scene taking place after Temudgin visits Jamukha and asks for help to retrieve Borte. The brothers have a camaraderie that extends beyond words, and after drinking together, Jamukha begins using gibberish to joke around with Temudgin, who answers him back with similar vocal tones. While not rendered with all the definition one would hope for, the sounds effortlessly communicate the humor and good feelings between the two characters. In fact, it was an amazing scene in showing the relationship and development of the two, and the audio was a strong part of that scene. For more dynamic elements of the mix, check out the battle scene near the end of the film when a great thunder storm erupts as the armies rush toward each other across the plains. The sounds of horses, men and weapons crushing into armor and flesh all rise above the score. Very little of it is lost in wavelength cancellation or other anomalies that suggest a bad mix. But the inescapable fact is that the audio is a bit flat. Though sounds are mixed to the appropriate channel, they are stuck to the speakers and not defined with the realism we have come to expect from the best BDs. One can only imagine how incredible the audio would be if New Line delivered a high-definition track done right.
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
One other sign of New Line's negligence in developing content for Mongol is the virtual absence of supplementary content. Not one documentary feature is included. A second disc is offered, but it is not a Blu-ray, nor bonus featurettes; just a CD instruction guide for a low-resolution digital copy of the film. I debated whether to give New Line a 1/5 rating for this, but decided a 0/5 is more appropriate. Obviously, there is much to reveal about the making of such a complicated, remote film, and the sensitivity given to ethnic Mongolian folk art and traditions, from their religious beliefs to fighting style--all of which are addressed in the film, but not discussed in detail. Such issues would be fascinating to learn about in more depth.
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Stylistically, I would go so far as to call Mongol a "Lord of the Rings"-on-a-budget history film, but the character direction and performances Bodrov gets from his actors are far superior to Peter Jackson's results in the Tolken trilogy. That isn't so much a criticism of Jackson as recognition that Bodrov is a filmmaker of uncommon abilities, which shine through in every element of Mongol. A good story--even a good story about Genghis Kahn-- is about relationships, and those can be difficult to show in the space of two hours. But Bodrov achieves a refreshing character affinity in that department. Asano does a fine job as Genghis Kahn, with a quiet nobility about him and conveys a deep affection for his people and the Mongolian way of life. He shows as much interest in family as in warfare. Some have criticized the film for jumping around too much in the timeline, but I don't see a way Bodrov could have done any better. Telling one of the more interesting warlord stories in history is not easy to do in a two-hour timespan. Audio, video, acting, story--Mongol excels in every area, although the Blu-ray version is not all that much better than the upscaled DVD. Still, for native 1080p resolution, I will have to recommend it highly. Even without excellent audio or video, the film should be a part of every Blu-ray collection. It's an important part of history and, thanks to Bodrov, a work of art.
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Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Mongol Blu-ray Gets Detailed - October 15, 2008
New Line Home Entertainment in conjunction with Warner Home Video have revealed the technical specs for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Mongol' for Blu-ray, which is due to hit store shelves on October 14th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Coming on a BD-25, ...
• Mongol Gets Delayed Until October - August 29, 2008
New Line Home Entertainment is conjunction with Warner Home Video has revealed that the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Mongol' has been delayed until October 14th. The title, which was originally scheduled for a September 9th release, will be released on a BD-25 ...
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