One of the best concert films has finally been released on DVD. Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii is a unique blend of classic space rock and haunting visuals. The new Director's Cut slightly alters that relationship and adds interviews as well as some studio footage of the band recording Dark Side of the Moon.
Initially released in 1972, the film shows the band performing some of their best known pre Dark Side of the Moon works inside the ruins of an ancient amphitheater. These live versions frequently work much better than their studio counterparts. Not only do they simply pack more punch, but director Adrian Maben assuages these songs with unforgettable images. The only audience for the concert, besides the filmmakers, are the ghosts of those who perished in the volcanic destruction of the ancient mummified city thousands of years ago. Though the music must have been loud as it was recorded, there is a certain kind of silence that permeates the entire film. This quietness is somehow put forth by Maben's camerawork. The camera wanders slowly over the band members, the leisurely tracking shots frequently giving way to images of volcanic activity alternating with beautifully disturbing close-ups of ancient Roman artwork.
The Director's Cut, while excellent, slightly changes the tone of the film. While the film was re-released in 1974 and added some interviews with the band as they were recording Dark Side of the Moon, this new version includes even more interviews. I like the fact that these interviews show that Pink Floyd at one time had a singular vision and there's nothing to indicate that the band would implode by the end of the decade. To be honest, they all look pleasantly stoned throughout, despite Dave Gilmour's assertion in one interview that the Floyd are not a drug oriented band!
On a baffling note, Maben unwisely inserts computer animation and stock NASA footage into the new cut. It simply doesn't work in the context of the film. Indeed, this "improvement" is embarrassingly out of place. Perhaps Maben was afraid that the film would appear outdated and that its relatively slow pace wouldn't settle well with today's fast/cheap/now audience. Thankfully, this gimmick doesn't ruin the film and is mostly noticeable during the opening sequence and at the end of the movie. Another caveat is that the new Director's Cut is fake letterboxed to 16:9 screen size. It is missing some picture information as one can see when comparing it to the full screen original version, which is wisely included as a supplement in the DVD extras menu. Again, not much of a distraction but something the purist may wish to be aware of. Happily, the picture is sharper and more colorful than ever before.
As for the sound quality, it is fine but not much of an improvement over my old VHS tape. We only get a Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix and while it is cleaner and free of tape hiss, it would have been nice to have a surround mix as well. The DVD has a nice 25 minute interview with Adrian Maben as well as a brief history and a map of Pompeii. Despite some reservations and because there is a considerable amount of extra bonuses on the DVD, I highly recommend the upgrade. It's great to finally have Pink Floyd's best film in a digital format.