The film BARAKA was the first film since 1970 to be filmed in Todd-AO 65mm and the last as of this post. Director Ron Fricke, who was the cinematographer on the Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi, takes the concept of that film–non-narrative images and music, ambient sound, no dialogue–and expands on it to create one of the most intense, emotional, startling, mesmerizing films I’ve seen to date. Fricke has not only managed to embrace the power of cinema and cinematic language, he has also embraced the power of man and nature, of culture and civilization, of spirituality and the cosmos.
BARAKA is a Sufi word meaning “a blessing, or the breath, or the essence of life, from which the evolutionary process unfolds.”
The images in BARAKA tell many stories, and those stories will change depending on the viewer. The themes are there, it is how we interpret them that is open. The film takes us on a hypnotizing odyssey through our world’s brightest and darkest moments. The emotions and reactions summoned by the film are many, from joyous to unsettling, but never pointless, never exploitative, never anything less than eloquent.
Fricke developed and patented a 70mm time-lapse system wherein the filmmaker can change the pace of time, while panning or tilting as if the viewer were casually witnessing these images in real time. It’s a startling and often breathtaking effect.
Traveling the world, Fricke and his producer, Mark Magidson, and their three-person crew filmed at 152 locations in 24 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Hong King, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Nepal, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States all on a $4 million budget.
The evocative score by Michael Stearns is as integral a part of the film as the images themselves. In addition to Stearns, music by Dead Can Dance, L. Subramaniam, Inkuyo, Brother and David Hykes are also featured and work with seamless and enthralling perfection. A 96 kHz/24 bit audio remaster was done for the DTS-HD Master Audio and the result is a stunning aural landscape with such nuance and precision as to flawlessly transport the viewer directly into the images with all its lossless beauty.
The Blu-ray transfer is everything it has been boasted to be. BARAKA is the first 70mm film to be transferred at 8K. The original 65mm negative was used and scanned at 8200 pixels with state-of-the-art equipment at Fotokem Laboratories. The 8k film scanner took over 3 weeks to scan more than 150000 frames (approx 12-13 seconds to scan each frame) culminating in over 30 terabytes of digital information.
Project supervisor Andrew Oran has stated that this remastered Blu-ray of Baraka is “arguably the highest quality DVD that’s ever been made”. After having watched it, I would have to agree. At least I have not personally seen anything so far that surpasses its beauty and definition. Film critic Roger Ebert described the Blu-Ray release as “the finest video disc I have ever viewed or ever imagined.”
Fricke is currently working on the sequel to BARAKA titled SAMSARA which, according to Wikipedia:
“refers to the cycle of reincarnation or rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other related religions.”
In his own words, Fricke has said about his work:
“I feel that my work has evolved through KOYAANISQATSI, CHRONOS and BARAKA. Both technically and philosophically I am ready to delve deeper into my favorite theme: humanity’s relationship to the eternal.”