Silverline // 1999 // 52 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // May 1st, 2000
You can't get enough of French romantic classical music.
Night in Paris is a disc of 14 pieces of classical music by French composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Very nice audio tracks combine with shockingly bad video to make for a nice background music experience, or perhaps a romantic interlude or dinner party. One glaring flaw (besides said video) makes this a disc that is hard to love, despite the beautiful music.
I have fairly eclectic tastes in music. My heart belongs to rock and roll, and that is the music I performed for nearly 20 years. But I like R&B very much, and have a fine appreciation for jazz and classical music. I have to admit that I prefer the works of Wagner, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Rossini to anything on this disc, but that is just a matter of taste. I always said if Wagner had been alive today he'd have been a rock-and-roller. I could be wrong, but I like to think I'm right on that count.
At any rate, this disc sticks to French composers, though they cheat a bit and allow a piece by Offenbach who was really German but wrote his music in Paris. Bizet, best known for the opera Carmen, and his contemporary Gabriel Faure, get the most play with 3 pieces each. One of the best known French composers, Debussy, gets 2, as does Ravel, a contemporary of his and a student of Faure. Massenet gets one piece, as does Saint-Saens, the teacher of Faure. Ending the disc is the single piece by Satie, lesser known but notably the inventor of muzak, or background music not meant to be actually listened to. Most of these composers were contemporaries of each other, or at least had overlap in their careers, and I suppose goes to show how much music meant to the French in the 19th century. Many of these composers were either students or teachers of another, or drew influences on their music from each other.
All of these pieces have a common theme of being romantic music, without a lot of drumbeating or loud passages. Debussy differed somewhat with a more impressionist style but still sits well within the theme. The whole disc has a peaceful, serene feel to the music. I would recommend such music for impressing a date, for an evening gathering or dinner, and it would make excellent bedtime music to soothe yourself to sleep. All pieces are performed by the London Philharmonic and as you would guess are very professionally done. The recordings were done in 24bit/48khz sample rate and are extremely good as well.
You have a choice with the disc between Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 6 channel soundtracks. I expected the DTS track to be a little better and I was right, but not by much. The Dolby Digital track is perhaps a bit less spacious and open sounding, but equally warm. If you don't have DTS capability yet but do have Dolby Digital you won't be disappointed. The DD track can also be downmixed for stereo of you lack 5.1 capability. I didn't feel like the experience lost much in 2 channel stereo, as the rear speakers are only mimicking the front. Dynamic range is excellent in all modes, and the sound is always clear and detailed.
The disc offers a choice of video tracks to go with the music. The best by far is the Program Notes choice on Title 2. With it you just get biographies of the various composers followed by an analysis and interpretation of the piece in text.
Contrasting the considerable strength of the sound is the video, which is simply horrid. I've never seen a lower bitrate on a DVD and it shows in spades. Stick to the text track because you can actually see what is on the screen. The other choices are pictures of France, European art, and Nature. Each of these are very grainy and soft; worse than a 6 hour mode VHS copy of any television show. In many cases I don't even believe these were photographs, but perhaps pixelated computer graphic versions of these settings. The pictures shift from one to the other without any great sense of continuity, except for when they overlay parts of one picture onto another, which has the result of wiping half the resultant mix into a smear. Simply put, this is the worst video I've ever seen on any DVD.
Now you might be saying to yourself, as I did, "well, just don't watch it, treat it as a music disc." And you can do that, but there is one glaring flaw. You can't pause it. You can't fast forward or skip back, except to the chapter beginnings. So if you're reading that text and a page goes by before you're finished (which happened to me constantly), you have no choice but to go on or start the song over and hope you get to finish reading it the next time. Many times I wished for the ability to skip back to read the text or just pause to finish the page but to no avail. I can't say that perhaps it isn't a Toshiba DVD player compatibility issue, as both players I tried it on are by that manufacturer. But this would be the first disc I had such a problem with, so I'm betting that they just didn't give us a pause or fast forward/rewind option. Fortunately my player will start up where it left off when you hit stop so "stop" had to be my pause button. Of course you can't read the text when you do that, but at least you can leave the room and take up where you left off again.
The disc won't actually stop either. When the disc finishes the last piece, it starts over again with the next set of video to look at, over and over. So if you fall asleep playing the disc, it will stay on all night. I'm very disappointed in the technical aspects of the disc, in terms of how the disc plays and the lack of pause or skipping features.
My last complaint is the total running time of the music is 52 minutes. Sure you'll hear it over and over, but it's only 52 minutes worth of material. That is too short for a DVD.
If softer classical music is your type of sound, this disc will not disappoint in the music department. If you're a fan of these composers and want a mix of their music on one disc, you could be happy too. The soundtracks are very, very good. Unfortunately that is really the only good part of the disc. The video and lack of playability features are definite drawbacks. In the end the music is really the thing of most import on the disc and in that regard I can't complain. Well, maybe I can. I should mention the disc comes in a jewel case, CD style as well. Perhaps that is for the best keeping it with my music rather than my movies.
The folks at Silverline, who produced this disc, know their music. Total acquittal on that count. On the making of a DVD however, I have to convict them of malfeasance. Sentence is suspended while I await subsequent offerings with a pause and skipping features.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 52 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated