January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

It seemed like an impossible goal, but to Ernest Shackleton (Kenneth Branagh), it was something he was destined to be remembered for. The task was to cross Antarctica, something no one had been able to do and few were interested in trying, given the region’s countless dangers & harsh conditions. Even with all those factors however, Shackleton was determined to make his place in history and managed to field a twenty-seven man crew, even though he offered little to the crew members in return. This was not an expedition for riches or land, it was one made for glory and recognition, to earn Shackleton’s place in the annals of time. But when the crew’s ship, The Endurance sinks and leaves the men stranded in some of the worst seas in the world, Shackleton and his men face certain death. As he and his men drifted in the Weddell Sea, Shackleton chose not to give in to defeat and instead, he rallied his men and with that newfound hope, the crew members started to think about making it back home. This expedition would not yield Shackleton the recognition he expected, but if he could bring back this crew after such adversities, perhaps he could earn a new place, one just as much, maybe even more honor.

I’ve seen a lot of A&E’s original productions and without question, Shackleton is one of the very best in all respects. Kenneth Branagh leads a well chosen cast through the real life story of explorer Ernest Shackleton, a who wanted to be the first man to cross Antarctica more than anything, but had to prove his courage & resolve in a different fashion instead. I’ve viewed the silent film South and read a few books about Shackleton’s expedition, so while I am by no means an expert, I did have some knowledge prior to Shackleton’s debut on A&E. I agree with the program’s critics that some important material has been overlooked here, but since the focus is very specific here, I can understand why some of the decisions were made. And in the end, the power & impact of the expedition is intact and if you wanted a more complete look, you’d have to make an immense mini-series, without a doubt. But even with those criticisms, Shackleton stands as a well crafted, highly memorable program that brings a historic event to life in grand fashion. I commend A&E for not only producing such a wonderful program, but also for releasing this excellent three disc Collector’s Edition, which provides even more insight into the real Shackleton.

As the lead performer in Shackleton, Kenneth Branagh has a substantial load to shoulder, but as usual, he is able to deliver on all counts. In truth, I was kind of surprised when I first heard Branagh took this role, but this is not your normal television mini-series, nor is Branagh’s effort the kind usually seen in them. Branagh has proven time and again he has immense talents and reinforces his reputation here, in what had to be a demanding production. As told in the included behind the scenes documentary, the shoot was hampered by all sorts of problems, but even with all those issues, Branagh comes through with flying colors. He is able to convey the inner drive that is so vital to the character, but also show the more humane side, which is just as important, in terms of character depth. Other films with Branagh include Dead Again, Henry V, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Frankenstein, and Wild Wild West. Shackleton was directed by Charles Sturridge, who also helmed such projects as Brideshead Revisited, Gulliver’s Travels, A Foreign Field, A Handful of Dust, and Longitude.

Video: How does it look?

Shackleton is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As expected of a feature that appeared on DVD less than 48 hours after it debuted on television, Shackleton looks excellent here and should delight all viewers. I saw no issues here in terms of contrast, as black levels come through in rich, well balanced fashion at all times. The colors look good also, though as should be expected, the hues sometimes look muted, as dictated by the film’s surroundings, which often range from intense brightness to total darkness. The print used has some minor defects and I noted a couple of small compression flaws, but those aren’t enough to lessen the experience, as Shackleton looks great in this release.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included Dolby Digital stereo track is excellent, with a very clean presentation and more depth than expected, especially in the more tense sequences. I had minimal expectations here and this track just took me by surprise, as it has a lot of great presence and whenever the material needs a little extra punch, this track supplies it. I found this to be much sharper and more refined than the broadcast audio, just some terrific work from A&E here. The dialogue is crisp & consistent, the music has a rich overall sound, and sound effects have more than enough power, a very effective mix here that more than covers all the bases.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This special Collector’s Edition includes a bonus third disc with three main supplements & some talent files, but rest assured, these are some of the best extras you’ll find, hands down. I’ll start with Breaking the Ice: The Making of Shackleton, an extensive behind the scenes documentary that reveals how this excellent program was created. I was stunned by how harsh the conditions were during the shoot and if you ask me, that makes the program seem that much better, knowing how much extra effort was needed to overcome the various problems. This piece runs almost an hour in length and contains no promotional fluff, this is how all behind the scenes documentaries should be, no doubt about it. Up next is Antarctica: A Frozen History, a feature length documentary from The History Channel that provides ample background on the lands Shackleton and his men faced, which of course adds a lot to the impact of the main feature. As with most of their documentaries, The History Channel delivers an informative, well made piece here and of course, it is a most welcome inclusion in this terrific release. The third main supplement is an episode of A&E’s Biography series, which spotlights Ernest Shackleton himself. This piece is a wonderful addition to this set, as it contains the bulk of material left out of the main feature, so a lot of gaps will be filled in here. This episode is up to the usual standards of the series and for those who enjoyed Shackleton, this terrific program is well worth a look, especially since it is right in this set!

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