Seven Years in Tibet - Blu-ray

Who can forget Seven Years in Tibet? In the early days of DVD, almost ten years ago, it was one of the first great releases. It offered stunning picture quality with video imagery that took full advantage of the top-of-the-line production values. The move is "panoramic." It shows vast Tibetan vistas, as well as exotic and colorful religious dress of the era – the late 1930s and early 1940s. Eventually, Sony even put out a "SuperBit" version, which was said to have even better picture quality.

So I was more than a little curious to have a look when this new Blu-ray DVD arrived. Adding to the excitement, it's AVC encoded. AVC is one of the three video compression algorithms used on BD discs. AVC and VC-1 are new. MPEG-2, the third, has been used since the dawn of the digital TV age.

The movie, a more or less true story, chronicles seven years in the life of Heinrich Harrer, a famous Austrian mountain climber who leaves Europe in 1939 to head a climbing expedition in the Himalayas. When the war breaks out he is arrested and thrown into a prisoner of war camp in India. Eventually he and a friend escape and find their way to the Forbidden City in Tibet. For the first half of the movie, the journey is the story. But after his arrival in the Tibetan capital Heinrich befriends the young Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of his people. Their relationship is the story from that point on, until the Chinese occupy Tibet.

The movie is enjoyable and moderately captivating. But I watched it ten years ago for the video quality, not the plot. And so I did again, but this time I have to say I was disappointed—if only because my expectations were so high. I have seen a very few high definition DVDs, of both formats, that sparkle with clarity and make you sit up in your chair. Smokin' Aces was one. Seven Years in Tibet was not.

Perhaps, because of its history, I am holding this high definition release to a higher standard than others I have reviewed. Its picture quality is quite good, but not among the best. The many beautiful, snow-capped mountain vistas looked like photographs. The magnificent orange, red and other vivid colors on monks and religious leaders in the Tibetan capital offered the wider color palette that HDTV provides. But at times they bloomed a bit. These images did not look real. They looked like very pretty pictures rather than looking out a window.

The DVD offers both Dolby Digital and uncompressed 48MHz/24-bit PCM 5.1-channel soundtracks. The PCM soundtrack I used was clear and bright, but largely unremarkable. This is not a movie that offers much opportunity for fireworks. Still, the opportunities it did offer were used skillfully – such as when the Chinese took over the Forbidden City and installed speakers on the city gates, out of which poured the shrieking, tinny voice of a Chinese propagandist.

The disc offers no extras. I am glad I have it in my collection, but this new version will not be among my reference BDs.

Reviewed on the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 1080p SXRD RPTV and Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player via HDMI to a Lexicon HD12HD pre-pro, Proceed Amp5, and Infinity Composition MTS speakers

Film: 8.0….Picture: 8.5….Sound: 8.5