Before Genghis Khan and his empire cemented their place in history, Khan went by the name of Temudjin, an independent boy and man raised either in captivity or driven from his home. Writer-director-producer Sergei Bodrov did his homework in studying the real history behind what turned a victimized youth into one of the greatest military strategists of all time. His findings on this evolution served as the focus in Mongol, a biopic of Genghis Khan’s early years.
Mongol achieves Bodrov’s goal of peeling back Genghis’ relatively unknown past to most audiences by covering the time period between Temudjin’s selection of a bride and his father’s murder through to the initial formation of his empire in a battle against his most formidable and personal foe. To cover such an extended time period, Bodrov has chosen to hone in on distinct moments in Temudjin’s life that shape the man he will become rather than smoothly transitioning from boy to adult. By doing so, the narrative comprised mostly of Temudjin’s relationships is uneven and at times difficult to stick with depending on whose turn it is for screen time.
Within this journey from child to leader, Bodrov portrays an empathetic character more victim than tyrant. Temudjin, driven by an unrelenting love for his wife and Mongolian people, is hardly the Genghis Khan history outwardly speaks of. That is, unless he’s wielding a sword in a blood-spattering skirmish reminiscent of 300, in which case the long-haired Mongol shows no mercy. Otherwise, Temudjin is portrayed as an underdog through to an admirable act of kindness in the closing minutes hardly befitting the man who would show no mercy en route to ruling half the world.
A promise or perception of grandiose battles on the scale of Braveheart in Mongol is more fallacy than fact. Ongoing tension between Temudjin and his blood brother builds to a climatic battle resolved not by combat, though there is a small clash between a wave of combatants, but by the rule that Mongol’s are afraid of thunder. With the enemy army cowering under their shields, unaffected Temudjin rides through them on his steed and formally begins the creation of his empire. With each stride, any hope of being enthralled by a majestic battle is washed away in the rain.
Mongol’s journey to Blu-ray carries the burden of needing to replicate the gorgeous on-location sets in eye-popping high definition. The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer flourishes with detail reproduction in the elaborate costumes and numerous tight shots of Temudjin and other characters’ faces. Because most of the 2:05 runtime is dialogue-driven, there are plenty of still shots to study and pick out the intricate sunburn cracks on the skin of Temudjin and his wife. Additionally, most of the Russian and Eastern European outdoor locations with majestic mountains and sweeping vistas look fantastic in this transfer.
Nighttime and battle sequences provide a challenge on numerous occasions. The flickering of fire off-camera causes major blocking in backgrounds behind a character at least three times that I noticed. Grain is present and accepted during most of the film, however during battles, there are spikes in its presence reaching beyond an acceptable level. The combination of overly heavy grain and the blocking makes for several minutes of distracting viewing.
If the encode needed more space to tighten up the blocking it was certainly there had a BD-50 disc been utilized in lieu of the BD-25 chosen. The same argument can be made on the audio end where a Mongolian 5.1 Dolby Digital track is the only option. The absence of lossless audio is felt throughout the film with a flat mix suffering from suppressed dialogue in the center channel and top ends that don’t reach as far as expected. Surround design is excellent, though, especially during the select few scenes when flying CGI arrows are tracked from the bow to its landing destination.
BD-25 or not, the decision to bounce subtitles between being contained within the image’s frame and being half on and half below the frame is irritating at best. Warner could have easily slapped some quality control on these and gotten all the subtitles within the frame. Something from the mouth of Bodrov in the way of extra features would have been appreciated as well.
Bodrov’s intention to create a three-film arc chronicling the life of Genghis Kahn makes the slow pace and lack of big battles in Mongol easier to stomach. With this “mostly” necessary foundation in place, the stage is set for Genghis Khan by name to be born in the next two films. Let’s hope Warner and New Line put a little more effort into those films’ Blu-ray audio, video and extra features.
Buy Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
- Score: 7.1
- A good film and nice foundation for future movies is hampered by mediocre A/V and a complete lack of bonus features.