Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Sailplane Grand Prix in the Andes DVD

I bought this from Cumulus Soaring in the US, along with some other gliding films, and only recently got a chance to really sit down with it.

In a nutshell, the DVD provides some breathtakingly beautiful and expertly filmed footage from the 2010 Grand Prix, but was a bit of a disappointment to me because it didn’t provide a record of the Grand Prix, in terms of results, daily competition footage etc.

I own the Gladiators of the Sky DVD from 2006 and the subsequent 2007 NZ Grand Prix DVD. Both provide Tour de France style narrated coverage of the GP event, day by day, combining video footage from chase aircraft and computer visualised telemetry to follow the races. It’s a great format, because it gets across both the drama of the competition and the changing fortunes of the national competitors, while also revelling in the beauty of sailplanes in a mountain environment.

The Sailplane Grand Prix in the Andes DVD (also available in Blu-ray) seems to be aimed more at making a case for the grand prix events as a spectator sport worthy of greater exposure, suitable for high-end sponsorship (there’s a lot of sponsor and product focus on the aircraft and through the DVD) and with impeccable green credentials.

Some of these objectives are clearly worthy – for example the filming, the amazing settings, the beauty of the aircraft, and the sophistication of glider tracking and visualisation technology mean that, properly promoted, soaring grand prix could be a successful TV sport. Greater public exposure and awareness can also result in greater involvement of premium sponsors (which is bound to be good for the sport) and one of the DVD items shows possible future full-colour gliders with all-over paintjobs.

However, the sustainable, green arguments for the sport, which the two introductory films push heavily, seem contrived and clunky. While certainly the fact that gliders soar on sun-generated energy lines without engines is a green-friendly idea (and one of the things that constantly amazes me when I fly), I think the conceit pushed in the DVD that grand prix soaring is perfectly matched to a sustainable global future would not survive even a cursory consideration of the impacts of towplanes dragging all the competitors into the sky, the transport from across the globe of gliders and crews, and the fuel use of the various chase planes and helos.

So, what are we left with – well, the DVD has 6 self-contained chapters. The first two are a longer and shorter edited version of a promotional film of the Grand Prix, which gives a professionally-narrated and produced summary of what sailplane Grand Prix is, some of the competitors, and some beautiful footage of gliders flying in the Andes, as well as some great footage of Condors. Some of the footage is of competition flying, but some seems to be either from practice days or specially flown filming trips, because on a few occasions you can clearly see one glider (I think Kawa’s Diana) popping its brakes to stay in position.

The footage of the Andes flying is breathtaking and the camera people have done an incredible job. It is romantic, dramatic and hypnotic and it would be great to show non-flying friends who want to see what gliding is about, but it also looks like it is designed to show some big-time decision makers in a boardroom somewhere. One thing I noticed that helped me come to this conclusion – in addition to the shots of sponsor artwork and pilots drinking from cans so the brand is clearly visible, there’s not a bucket hat in sight! Just bare-headed glamorous pilots like Kawa and Rocca (and Uli Schwenk – not so glamorous, but a great pilot)!

Next up is a piece called Dinamica – One Day in Sailplane Grand Prix, which provides a mix of in-flight footage, computer graphics and interviews, covering one of the competition days (day 6 I think) won by local hero Carlos Rocca. This is the sort of thing I wanted to see more of – I wanted something like this for each day. The graphics show how the lead changes, how pilots make good and bad decisions getting to turnpoints, while racing footage shows ridge-running, thermalling and close flying. Beautiful!

Aquarium is more than 30 minutes of sailplane footage with an electronic style soundtrack and no narration. Perfect for a gliding club to put on at a public display day, it is hypnotic and beautiful, mixing footage of mountain flying with flying over Santiago city, gliders dumping water ballast and flying with Condors.

Kawa in the cockpit has air to air and from the cockpit footage – lovely again; and finally there is a track dedicated to a speeded up computer animation of a day’s race, to show what the tracking system can do.

So, overall it’s a lovely DVD, though for me, it doesn’t satisfy my desire to have a record of the whole Grand Prix, where I can follow each day’s racing (since I couldn’t subscribe to the live coverage).

I had some issues with the subtitles. For a while I couldn’t find how to not have any subtitles on-screen (they really ruined the look). After Cumulus Soaring’s Paul Remde confirmed it was possible to switch off the subtitles, I finally found the sweet setting on my DVD player. Since subtitles were hard-coded to Automatic, I had first to change the language of the disc to “Original” and then the subtitles didn’t display.

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