Sony // 2005 // 585 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Evans (Retired) // September 21st, 2005
Let the solar wind embrace you and take you to a world where fantasy becomes reality.
Solstrom features the miraculous acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian performance troupe that has continued to dazzle audiences around the world since its 1984 premiere. A series of 13 episodes originally broadcast on the Bravo channel, each segment in this five-disc boxed set is a variation on the theme of "solar wind" -- an invisible force that gives extraordinary powers to ordinary people.
Whatever you may think of an entire television series devoted to stunt clowns and pantomimes, Solstrom offers satisfying mood pieces that pulsate with magic. Performers float across the stage in blissful defiance of gravity. Their acrobatic skill, stunning gymnastics, and the ever-inventive stage illusions create a whimsical world unencumbered by laws of physics.
Each episode of Solstrom features a conception of solar wind set in a different country. The performance art ranges from astounding to enigmatic -- and is at times deliberately obscure, which invites our own interpretations of meaning. All are visually and aurally arresting. Fans may recognize performers with Cirque du Soleil productions from years gone by, including the esoterically-named Alegria, Dralion, Mystère, La Nouba, O, Quidam, Saltimbanco, Varekaï, and Zumanity tours. These new performances are in keeping with the Cirque's high standards of entertainment, which is to say they are by turns surreal, dreamlike, whimsical, charming, and often flat-out bizarre.
Each piece begins with an introduction by crazed astronomer Fogus Punch (Cirque performer John Gilkey), who wants to unravel the mystery of the solar winds. Thankfully, his hyperactive and occasionally irritating nonsense segues quickly into each performance piece. Solstrom opens with "Wind of Romance," set in an Italian villa where lovers woo on a tightrope high over the street. Against this tableau people wander the villa, absorbed in their daily lives. A couple bickers, then makes up through their deep connection to juggling. One stunning set piece, a casual bit of business, features a bibliophile pondering his book -- while on fire. He rises from his seat, tips his fiery hat to a lady, then blithely walks away as the flames crackle and rise from his back.
"Twin Winds" highlights duos in the Cirque troupe. Set in Brazil, this piece features more aerial acrobatics, punctuated by dual juggling, pairs of contortionists, and couples engaged in fluid dance sequences.
A brief synopsis of the other segments:
* "Howling Wind" highlights the culture of Romania, as an old
hotel transforms into a haunted house.
* "Rockin' Wind," set in Paris, centers on the chaos when an orchestral rehearsal turns into a rock and roll show.
* London is the setting for "Once Upon a Wind," featuring a magical storybook that transports those who touch it into adventurous situations.
* In "Wind of Freedom," Caribbean prisoners flee their captors in spectacular ways.
* A "Ghostly Wind" frightens a night watchman at a Hollywood studio where the costumes come to life. This segment features supermodel Naomi Campbell.
* A Nevada airport worker finds adventure in "Gone With the Winds."
* Turning far northeast to Quebec, an elderly man recaptures his childhood through a magical toybox in "Wind From the Past." Quebec is also the setting for "Winds of Courage," as an armchair sports fan joins the games he watches obsessively.
* Heading to the Big Apple, a boy marvels as his building blocks become a New York construction site in "Wind of Imagination."
* In a Salzburg toy shop, a marionette animates itself with the "Wind of Life."
The Cirque troupe soars into space for the finale, "Cosmic Wind," as sun creatures frolic in an intergalactic disco, appropriately featuring Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), Christopher Lambert (Highlander and its many sequels), and poet Deepak Chopra. These special guests evidently appear for their star power, as opposed to any innate acrobatic talent.
This is a handsomely produced boxed set, containing nearly 10 hours of material (not including extra features). Performances, set design and costumes, the digital audio and cinematography are uniformly stunning. Viewers can luxuriate in a riot of color, aerial ballet, and wildly imaginative notions of love and yearning -- expressions of what it feels like to be alive. This is poetry in motion.
Musical compositions accompanying each piece help set the mood. When the music is not reflecting the nationality of each episode, the overriding motif is mostly New Age and light jazz with a heavy Celtic flavor and soaring vocal chants. These are punctuated in somber and sorrowful moments by elegiac strings. If Pat Metheny and Enya got around to noodling in a studio, this is the music they would make.
Don't study these performances for narrative depth; as noted earlier these segments are mood pieces -- pleasing after-dinner diversions to be enjoyed over good coffee and biscotti.
The obligatory making-of featurette and a photo gallery are nice additions, but really only offer more of what is exhaustively presented in the programs. Toggling among the seven sets of subtitles offers some amusement during the infrequent bursts of dialogue. A selection of promo spots rounds out the supplemental material.
Unless you're a tirelessly devoted fan, an hour or two of Cirque du Soleil once a week should afford entertainment aplenty. By that benchmark, this boxed set offers excellent value, as it would take more than three months to watch everything in the package at the rate of one episode per week. Better to savor these episodes gradually so that a creeping sense of sameness doesn't take over. Yes, a little Soleil goes a long way.
Beautiful performances, eye-popping set design and excellent technical talent blend together with a gentle humanity that makes Solstrom an enriching experience for souls of all ages. This box comes highly recommended, but in carefully spaced doses to derive maximum enjoyment.
Like its namesake solar wind, Solstrom warms the heart and fires the imagination. Cirque du Soleil performers are free to soar and dazzle.
Review content copyright © 2005 Steve Evans; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 585 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Making of Solstrom Featurette
* Photo Gallery
* Cirque Du Soleil Promos
* Official Site