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Burning Plain, The (2008) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Image"The Burning Plain" is the latest studio-released independent feature that has received some success.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to the expectations set forth by the hype.  The story is simple and yet tries to keep audiences in anticipation.  Audiences will nod off before anything pivotal happens in the film.

I respect filmmaker artistry, but the filmmaker needs to remember that the audience needs to be taken into consideration.  If there is nothing for the audience to latch onto, then the film becomes meaningless to anyone who is not the creator.  That is exactly what seems to have happened with this film.

The story is entirely simple, and only got the greenlight for production because of a slight twist, which is also overused in filmmaking.  The story is told in parts, jumping back and forth among four storylines.  It is certainly confusing at first, and will undoubtedly cause half the viewers to give up and watch something else.  After a little while it is obvious that the four storylines take place at different time periods.  The characters lack any connection for at least half the film.  But once the name is dropped it clicks with the audience how everyone fits together.  I won't spoil the connections as it is the only thing in the film, but I will tell you that the connection is not as strong as the filmmaker thought it would be.  Most viewers can discover the truth before it is dropped in the film, and when the connection is revealed it is uninspiring.

Unfortunately, since the film is comprised of snippets, usually never longer than a couple minutes before jumping to another segment, there isn't much attention grabbing material in this film.  The story deals with Sylvia (Charlize Theron), a middle-aged woman running a restaurant in on the Oregon coast.  She clearly has something bothering her as she sleeps with every man that approaches her.  Meanwhile, she is also being stocked by a person of Mexican descent.  The connection will eventually surface if you can't guess.  Back in Mexico, a dad and his little girl do some crop dusting.  In the past, a girl's mother, Marianna is having an affair with a Mexican father.  She tries to conceal the affair from her family, but her daughter is suspicious and catches them.  There is also a storyline dealing with the aftermath of Marianna's mother and Santiago's father being killed in the trailer in the middle of the desert.  This story is centered on Marianna and Santiago's budding romance.
Magnolia releases this independent film on Blu-ray with a 1080p/VC-1 encode and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  This is quite a good presentation for an independently made film.  There are no artifacts or banding issues that one might expect to see.  Film grain is light and stable, never protruding into the shot.  Black levels are decent, with only the occasional crushing.  Shadow delineation is the worst part of this transfer.  Still, there are plenty of details to be found.  The overall image is softer than most Blu-ray transfers.  The color palette is dependent on the director's use of the four elements of nature.  Each story is defined by the tones present in earth, wind, water and fire.  This is not the best transfer, but it good for the production design of the actual film.

The audio is nothing special.  The Blu-ray comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 MA track.  The mix is entirely front heavy.  In fact, if it weren't for the couple of instances of very minute ambience levels in the rear channels, I would say that this was a 2.0 mix that was simply encoded as 5.1.  I counted numerous occasions in which the rear channels could have contained discreet sound effects.  Doors closing off-screen behind you and planes fly over your head all call for surround effects.  Yet, alas, there are none.  Extremely disappointing.  Dialogue is clear for the most part.  There are some garbled lines here and there.  The audio has not been treated with Hollywood's polish.  The dialogue is un-EQ'd and sounds like rough production sound.  While I have certainly heard worse from independent films, this track doesn't have anything to offer.  The dynamics are flat.  The frequency response has some dips.  The LFE channel is decent, but underwhelming overall.  One can't really expect more from this audio track, but is not memorable by any means.

The Blu-ray of the film comes with a few bonus materials, one main featurette in particular.  "The Making of 'The Burning Plain'" is a 45-minute documentary that offers some insight into the filmmaker's intentions.  "The Music of 'The Burning Plain'" discusses the score and the combination of Hans Zimmer and Mars Volta.  "HDNet: A Look at 'The Burning Plain'" is a standard promotional piece.  The disc also comes with some trailers that play before the film.

"The Burning Plain" is not attention grabbing.  For those that love the filmmaker artistry films in which is seems like the director cannot move beyond film school then you will probably enjoy this film.  However, most viewers will find it extremely dull and choppy.  The video and audio qualities are not the best, but are adequate for the genre of film.

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