British and Irish Lions Tour to Australia 2013, The (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the first of three BD releases celebrating the winning tour...
British and Irish Lions tours are a special event in the rugby calendar that occur once every four years. The best players from the teams that comprise the home unions - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - put aside their rivalries and travel to around the world to face one of the three rugby super-powers: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
We last visited New Zealand in 2005 and were comprehensively thrashed in a 3-0 test series whitewash. South Africa in 2009 saw another test series defeat, albeit one that was far more closely contested than 2005 (the Lions lost the first two tests by only a few points and ran away with the third). This year it was again time to journey down under to Australia seeking a first series win since 1997 (when the Lions narrowly beat South Africa). The Aussies beat the Lions in 2001 in a controversial series marred by a number of violent on-pitch incidents and behind-the-scenes problems between the coaching staff and players. Prior to this tour you had to go back twenty four years to 1989 for the last series victory over Australia.
Now I'll be perfectly honest, I grew up playing rugby in the amateur era and my fondest recollections of Lions tours are of the '89 series win in Australia, the unsuccessful but closely fought and wildly entertaining trip to New Zealand in '93, and of course the historic win over the Springboks in '97. Later tours in the professional era just haven't had that same spark, at least until 2009 when there appeared to be a real sense of camaraderie between the players. Even though we lost that series both sides played some very enjoyable rugby. By comparison the 2013 tour felt a bit flat, but I can't really put my finger on the reasons. The first few game were easily won, with a convincing warm-up win against the Barbarians followed swiftly by some good results against the likes of Western Force, Combined Country and the NSW Waratahs, but I still had this niggling feeling that the scorelines flattered the Lions (most of the midweek opposition opted to field weakened sides).
When we narrowly lost to the Brumbies it looked like the wheels were about to come off of the tour. Matters weren't helped by a mounting injury list that saw a number of key players ruled out of the tour almost before it got going. Props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins (Ireland and Wales respectively) had to go home after suffering injuries early-on, while key players like Tommy Bowe, Jamie Roberts, Paul O'Connell, Alex Corbisiero and tour captain Sam Warburton suffered injuries that kept them out of vital games. I was also puzzled by some of the selection, which had me scratching my head before the team even got on the plane. However, as soon as the first test started I put aside my natural English bias and got behind the team as I always do, which is what the Lions are all about. The first two tests were hard-fought, injury-packed affairs, subject to some rather 'unusual' refereeing interpretations, but there were moments of brilliance from both sides. Some might say that the Lions were lucky to win the first test, but after being on the end of the majority of the dubious refereeing decisions I think they deserved the win. The second test was a bit of a damp squib (in fairness, probably because we lost), and I would have liked the whole thing to have been wrapped then I think it actually helped that the series went down to the third game. It certainly made for some passionate, powerful performances in what turned out to be a record-breaking win for the Lions.
As to this release, well it's definitely going to be of interest to Lions fans, but it has a bit of a stop-gap feel to it. Touted as the 'Official Film', the reality is that it's a highlights package culled from the warm-up and midweek games and the three tests. This is all well and good, but 'Official Film' evokes images of an in-depth tour diary, or at the very least interviews with the players and coaching staff, but there's none of that to be found on this release (Lace is releasing a separate documentary and complete collection later in the year). The first disc includes all of the highlights, which can be played back to back without introduction or individually selected. It was nice to relive some of the tour matches, but it would have been even nicer if they were contextualised by a short introduction by those involved. The second disc contains the decisive third test in its entirety and is the the most enjoyable aspect of the release, primarily because we hammered the Aussies!
Well, this is pretty much what you'd expect from a recent HDTV-sourced Blu-ray. Quality isn't on a par with a good film-sourced transfer, but the 1.78:1 (1080/50i AVC) image does surpass the that of the original live broadcast by virtue of a the higher bitrate and more efficient codec. Colour is strong, particularly the bright primary reds of the Lions' shirts (which do not bleed) and the lush greens of the playing field, while the gold of Australia's jerseys also looks impressive. Detail varies at times depending on whether you're viewing live match action, replays or recaps, but it's still perfectly acceptable. To be honest there isn't a whole lot to criticise, as it's a perfectly competent representation of the original broadcast material.
Truthfully I was hoping for something a little more expansive than LPCM 2.0 Stereo, as many sporting events are now presented in surround sound, but the soundtrack gets the job done. It's a no-frills affair, with clean commentary and a decent enough representation of the on-pitch action, but immersion is obviously limited. I did try decoding the track to ProLogic II to see if that helped, but while it added a bit of depth there still wasn't a whole lot of ambient noise so I switched the effect off. I didn't watch the original broadcasts at my house (I don't have Sky), so it's entirely possible that they were also presented in 2.0 Stereo. With that in mind it seems unfair to be overly critical of the audio experience, even if it is a bit limited.
Unfortunately this release doesn't include any traditional bonus material. I guess a case could be made for the third test being the bonus item, but I would have liked to see interviews, pre-match punditry, publicity material etc. It seems that most of the good stuff is being held back for future releases.
While the content is enjoyable, I have mixed feelings about this release given that there are a further two editions on the horizon. Any self-respecting Lions fan is going to want the complete package including the documentary and all three tests in full (even if they don't watch the second test!). Spreading the content over three staggered releases devalues it somewhat, as those who buy into the first and/or second releases are going to be left with a bad taste in their mouths when the complete package arrives in November. Still, if you desperately want to relive the tour and you've run out of room on your DVR, this will fill the gap until the more comprehensive effort arrives. The audio-visual quality is what you'd expect from a broadcast sporting event, but the pedestrian presentation and lack of bonus content cheapens the overall package.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Exempt from classification
Release Date: 5th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Easter Egg: No
Cast: The British and Irish Lions
Length: 274 minutes
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