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Magic Journey to Africa Blu-ray 3D/2D Review

Magic Journey to Africa (2010) Blu-ray 3D/2D cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Magic Journey to Africa

Spanish Theatrical Release: May 7, 2010 / Running Time: 49 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Jordi Llompart

Cast: Eva Gerretsen (Jana), Raymond Mvula (Mel), Michael Van Wyk (Kabbo), Leonor Watling (Fairy), Adriá Collado (Jana's Father), Veronica Blume (Jana's Mother), Odette Ochs (Gal-La), Natasha LaMoela (Gal-la's Mother), Georgina Macaulay (Bushman Woman), Thereza Kahorongo (Mel's Mother), Panduleni Hailundu (Mel's Father), Harris Gordon (Fire Spirit), John Whiteley (Owl Man), Arnold Nzwanana (Elephant Boy), Simon Brading (Lion), Joan Díez (Horse), Ònia Jané (Flower), Julius Cotter (Caracal), Carlos G. De Olalla (Doctor), Molly Malcolm (Nurse)

1.78:1 Widescreen; 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, Spanish, French)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Blu-ray Release Date: April 23, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Also available on DVD ($19.98 SRP)

Buy Magic Journey to Africa from Amazon: Blu-ray 3D/2DDVD

Original narrative IMAX feature films continue to be made, or else I wouldn't be talking about Magic Journey to Africa now. Still, the format must seem quaint and amateurish when just about every big budget standard feature film is also available to see in the towering dimensions of large format screens.
That might explain why this 2010 film, an English language production of Spain, didn't make it to IMAX screens in the United States or most territories outside of its own.

The film opens in Barcelona, where a young white girl named Jana (Eva Gerretsen) is moved by the site of Kabbo (Michael Van Wyk), a young black orphan boy who lives on the street and eats out of dumpsters. When Kabbo is hospitalized, Jana visits him and learns about where the bushman boy is from: Africa, a land of talking spirits and trees. Jana is magically whisked away there and gets around on her lucky winged horse who ordinarily just looks like a stuffed doll.

While searching for the disappeared boy, Jana travels around with the hopes that her questions will be answered. She meets an arrogant caracal and then a Spanish-accented lion grieving the loss of his lioness. Jana finds a friend and guide in Mel (Raymond Mvula), an African boy who explains some of the fanciful beliefs of his people. Jana gets an up close look at some of the local magic, consulting a fire spirit, seeing stars fall from the sky and become books, and being advised by a guardian of stories, a man who turns into an owl.

Moved by the sight of sick bushman boy Kabbo (Michael Van Wyk), Jana (Eva Gerretsen) goes on a magical journey. This caracal is a little too fresh to Jana.

The film is big on generic magic and fantasy tropes. There are a lot of theoretical ideas bandied about, with phrases like "Tree of Souls." It's as if there is some language barrier which is translating writer/director/producer Jordi Llompart's ideas multiple times and losing the essence. Or it could just be that Llompart, whose résumé includes worldly documentaries and a lot of Spanish television, has shallow ideas unable to add up to something meaningful and coherent in a 49-minute runtime that employs large format photography and an international cast of modest talent.

This movie isn't easy to love or hate, which makes its very low current 2.9 average IMDb rating a head-scratcher. That is limited by the fact that only 85 users have voted on it, though nearly 30% of them have given it the lowest score possible (a 1 out of 10).
Magic Journey is wide-eyed and childish, depicting Africa as a fantastical place where anything could happen. Framed in such generic terms and random episodes, the message doesn't carry weight. For that matter, neither do some of the characters enhanced by CGI, which seems crude when compared to fare like The Chronicles of Narnia.

The budget and international expectations for this film must have been low. That would be the only way to cushion the blow of making a large format film, standard short runtime and all, that can only secure large format exhibition in South Korea and a few parts of Europe. You'll notice that Africa is not among the regions in which this was released. When you think about it, I guess that makes sense. A film enamored with the magical culture and wildlife of Africa seems more of a project for Africa to make for the rest of the world, not Spain to make for itself.

Jana (Eva Gerretsen) makes a new African friend in Mel (Raymond Mvula). Jana is advised by a fire spirit in an out-of-body experience.

Inconceivably not mentioned anywhere on the case, Image Entertainment's Blu-ray is actually a Blu-ray 3D which also works as a standard 2D Blu-ray for those lacking the necessary hardware. Is 3D really such a deterrent to the general public that it helps the studio not to mention it? With the premiums that major studios charge, it's pretty impressive that Image could include the dimensional enhancement with seemingly no effect on the reasonable $24.98 list price.

VIDEO and AUDIO

You may not be able to reproduce the IMAX experience on your home theater, but this disc's 1.78:1 picture and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio are magnificent by Blu-ray standards. Apart from a slight flicker on one effects shot, the clean, striking, sharp visuals mostly uphold perfection. The sound is quite potent, conveying nature's noises as well as a number of songs. Sadly, subtitles are not supplied in any language, but French and Spanish dub soundtracks are offered in full 5.1 DTS-HD MA.

Off-camera, an animal trainer gets a desired reaction from a cheetah in the Namibia making-of featurette. The Blu-ray's menu discloses the 3D aspect unmentioned on the packaging.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All of the Blu-ray's extras are presented in HD. Two featurettes give us behind-the-scenes looks at production by location.
Both "Making of In Namibia" (27:01) and "Making of In South Africa" (14:07) supply candid B-roll that illustrates the challenges of remote desert filming and working with wild animals (or simply pretending to) and child actors. Most viewers will consider this more than ample insight into the film's creation.

Finally, we get theatrical trailers for seven Image-distributed IMAX 3D films, promoting The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Legends of Flight, Wild Ocean, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, Dinosaurs Alive, Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia, and Rescue 3D. With the "Play All" option, they run around 14 minutes. Sadly, Magic Journey's own trailer doesn't make the cut.

Looping part of the film's end credits song, the menu plays two layers of flying clips behind static silhouettes. The BD doesn't support bookmarks, but does resume playback just as a DVD does. No inserts or slipcover join the eco-friendly blue keepcase.

For Jana, Africa's magic includes an easily befriended and led zebra.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If a bit hard to wrap your head around, Magic Journey to Africa is a harmless film. Its large format photography of wildlife takes a backseat to a quest whose episodic adventures are largely theoretical. As neither a nature documentary nor a coherent fictional feature, this is sure to have trouble finding an audience. I'm having difficulty imagining the viewer this would most delight.

Image's Blu-ray, whose 3D option is curiously kept secret, offers terrific picture and sound as well as a fine couple of featurettes. Subtitles would have been nice, but it's safe to say that this movie doesn't need and will not get a better release on this format.

Buy Magic Journey to Africa from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D & 2DDVD

Buy from Amazon.com

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Africa: African CatsBorn to Be Wild (2011) • CheetahA Far Off PlaceThe Lion King
IMAX: The Young Black StallionGhosts of the AbyssVan Gogh: Brush with GeniusSacred Planet
My Lucky ElephantDolphin TaleDinosaurThe Secret of the Magic Gourd

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Reviewed April 5, 2013.



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