Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (Blu-ray) (1989)

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Released 15-Sep-2018

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Fantasy Audio Commentary-writer / director Alex Proyas
Audio Commentary-composer Peter Miller and editor Craig Wood
Interviews-Cast-Rhys Davis (7:50)
Interviews-Cast-Michael Lake (36:51)
Featurette-Spirits: Making a Post-Apocalypse Western (23:30)
Music Video-Spirits Song (4:09)
Gallery-Image Gallery (8:31)
Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 96:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Alex Proyas
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Michael Lake
Rhys Davis
Norman Boyd
Case ?
RPI ? Music Peter Miller


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Five years before he came to attention with The Crow (1994) writer / director Alex Proyas made his first feature Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds, a post-apocalyptic story made on a low budget and with a tiny cast, shot on 16 mm in the desert outside of Broken Hill, NSW. The film sank with little trace and was mostly forgotten.

     Felix (Michael Lake) and his younger sister Betty (Rhys Davis) live in an isolated homestead in the desert, in a house replete with crosses, religious iconography and totems. Into their lives stumbles black clad Smith (Norman Boyd), a man escaping from something or someone. Betty is terrified of him, believing that he may be a demon and she urges Felix, who is confined to a wheelchair, to get rid of him. But Felix wants to escape from their isolation; he is trying to build a flying machine and for this he needs able bodied help so he entreats Smith to stay. Smith has limited time before his pursuers arrive but he agrees to stay and the two construct and test a succession of gliders while Betty becomes increasingly hostile and frantic about Smith’s presence.

     Until this point in his career Proyas had been making music videos, but there is no rapid or abrupt cutting in Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds; instead there are long, slow, almost lethargic sequences with some stunning images. While in his commentary Proyas cites influences including Sergio Leonie, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Andrei Tarkovsky, aspects of Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds bring to mind the stylized framing and elaborate costumes and make-up of Japanese Kabuki theatre; the character played by Davis is the reference here. The result is that Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds is a beautiful film with saturated, vibrant colours; the red desert and blue sky often intersecting horizontally across the 4x3 frame. There are also yellow sunsets and billowing dust, and stunning images such a tiny grim reaper figure walking across a landscape of telegraph poles, crosses, animal totems or rusted automobiles. The result is hallucinogenic and surreal, a sense of unworldliness enhanced by the haunting electronic score by Peter Miller who also provided the Leonie-like sound design which features the mechanical thump of the windmill or the more frequent squeak of Felix’s wheelchair.

     In Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds, Smith is the enigma, the man who is escaping his past. Both Felix and Betty are trapped by the past; their religious convictions are the legacy of their father who is buried beyond the homestead. Felix at least has thoughts of escaping; not so Betty who, while she may fear Smith is a demon, if anyone in the film is possessed it is Betty. Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds may not be totally successful as it tries to fit in too many influences and images but it is certainly an audacious work from a first time Australian filmmaker that deserves to be seen.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds is presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, with black bars at the sides, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This Blu-ray presentation is a new 2K scan of the original 16 mm film negatives. The result is a stunning looking print as Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds features saturated, vibrant colours including the red desert and blue sky. Skin tones are also very red, the males anyway as Betty often has a white, made up face. Detail is strong as well, including the close ups of faces and the interior house sets, such as Betty’s room where shadow detail is very good. Blacks are solid, there is pleasing grain in wide exterior shots and except for a few tiny marks I did not notice any marks or artefacts.

     English subtitles are available.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     English DTS-HA MA 5.1 and 2.0 are provided.

     Dialogue is clear. This is not so much an enveloping audio track as a subtle one using natural and industrial sounds; the wind, the mechanical beat of the windmill, the squeak of Felix’s wheelchair, the twinkle of the wind chimes. The exception is the sequence of the migrating flock of bats overhead which is loud and the sub-woofer adds to the depth. The haunting electronic score by Peter Miller is superb.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary

     In a commentary recorded for this Blu-ray writer / director Alex Proyas provides a wealth of information about the film including how it was written originally as a short, his influences, the colour palate, art direction, score, the cast, locations, the constraints of shooting on a tiny budget and with the amount of film stock available limiting his options, visual effects, miniatures and filmmaking techniques in the late 1980s, what he would do differently now, reactions to the film and the restoration.

Audio Commentary

     Another good commentary. Composer Peter Miller and Editor Craig Wood sit together and ask each other questions, talking about the many hats everyone had to wear on the shoot, who made what prop, location filming, the set, magic hour shots, effects including the forced perspective miniatures, cardboard cut outs and effects in-camera, the sound design and remixing including Felix’s squeaky wheelchair, cut scenes, the music including the later video clip, shooting on 16 mm, and they add anecdotes including getting the cans of beans from Heinz.

Interview with Cast Rhys Davis (7:50)

     The interview was filmed in 2018, intercut with some film clips. Davis speaks about her background, Broken Hill, the reactions to the film and her subsequent career but disappointingly she is asked nothing about the shoot!

Interview with Cast Michael Lake (36:51)

     Also interviewed in 2018 Lake is very amusing as he talks about his background and career in show business over the years, the Sydney scene in the 1980s, his audition for Spirits, location filming in the desert 40 km from Broken Hill, the film’s music. He also provides some anecdotes about the shoot and talks about Alex Proyas.

Spirits: Making a Post-Apocalypse Western (23:30)

     This consists of sections of video diary shot both on location in 1986 in Broken Hill and when the team returned the next year to shoot the visual effects and miniatures. The video and audio quality varies and there are some split screens and comparisons between rehearsal footage and the finished film. This type of extra can be unstructured and uninteresting but this is a fascinating look at a low budget film crew working in a remote location dealing with the wind and the weather, such as when it rained for six days straight while they were trying to shoot miniatures.

Spirits Song Music Video (4:09)

     The 1988 music video: music and lyrics Peter Miller, vocals Karina Hayes. This song is on the soundtrack album but is not itself in the film.

Image Gallery (8:31)

     Almost 70 images including theatrical and VHS tape artwork, the soundtrack album and single artwork, behind the scenes photographs, production sketches and artwork, stills and promotional photography and print advertising. Silent; the remote can be used to advance or the stills do advance automatically.

2018 Trailer (2:17)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This release is the only version of Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds that is currently available.

Summary

     I first became aware of Alex Proyas when I was blown away by The Crow. Like many, I suppose, I was not aware of his earlier feature film Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds but now thanks to Umbrella and the beauty of HD we can experience this surreal post-apocalyptic western (Proyas’ description) looking and sounding better than it ever has. For anyone interested in Proyas or Australian filmmaking Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds is a gem of a film not to be missed.

     The video is stunning, the audio very good. The extras are genuine and interesting, resulting in an excellent Blu-ray package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, October 29, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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