I confess to owning every single album Sigur Rós has released (and many of the singles), the vinyl collection, the Heima DVD, Jónsi's solo album as well as his Riceboy Sleeps project with Alex, and have seen them live twice. So you could say that I'm a pretty big fan. It should come as no big surprise that I was eagerly anticipating this live concert performance and CD set. I really wanted to like it enough to give it a full five stars, but there were some glaring weaknesses that held it back and made me grudgingly give it four stars, which I still feel may be a bit generous.
First, the good. The song selection is a splendid collection that spans all their albums. While I wish they would have included the performances of more of the songs they performed at these shows, the ones chosen are excellent. From the opening wail of Jónsi's bow on guitar, we know we're in for a real treat. The Blu-ray offers a very robust DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that faithfully reproduces every sound, from the warm chords of Kjartan's Yamaha CP-80 and Jónsi's trilling falsetto to Georg's thumping bass and Orri's crashing cymbals. The wall of sound envelops the viewer, creating a fairly accurate rendition of the live concert experience. I'm not a fan of live recordings that have the crowd cheering and making noise the whole time, so it was to my pleasant satisfaction that audience noise is only noticeable during the applause at the end of the songs, creating no distractions at all while Sigur Rós is playing. The good part about the visuals is that the camera angles are unique and don't cut so quickly as to be distracting. The longer nature of Sigur Rós' songs tends to lend themselves to a more restrained pace of editing, and I was not at all disappointed to find the edits complemented the music very well.
Unfortunately, there is some bad, all of it relating to the video. The encode on the Blu-ray is likely quite faithful to the source, utilizing an MPEG-4 AVC with a fairly healthy bit-rate. The problem lies in the source, or more specifically, the post production manipulation that went on. I know that director Vincent Morisset likes a desaturated, vintage look, but I feel that he went so far in his manipulation, pushing everything to 11, that it had extremely detrimental results. To achieve his "vintage" look, the video had the color removed (which I was fine with), the image was softened, the highlights were often extraordinarily blown out, copious amounts of grain were added, the brightness was tweaked with a strong pulsating effect, and another effect was often employed that smeared the highlights across the screen. Now, I know that this was intentional because there are four bonus performances where only the color was removed, grain was added, and the pulsing effect was still there, but the highlights looked fine and sharp detail was left virtually unscathed. These four bonus videos looked significantly better than the main, non-bonus feature. I could see Morisset's cumbersome post-processing working fine for a music video or shorter format production, but it doesn't work so well for a 75 minute concert.
Many times while I was watching it, the video quality was so bad that it looked like a poor quality, $1 DVD bin transfer of a B-movie from the early 1900's (I'm serious, and not being facetious here). This is not at all what I would have expected from a Blu-ray of a modern production, even one trying to be stylized as this is. The softness removed all traces of fine detail, which is sad -considering the ornate costuming that Jónsi wears- and I missed out on the enjoyment of seeing the textures of the road-worn instruments. I'm not sure why the highlights were so horribly blown out either, as it destroyed highlight and midtone detail and there was significant video banding in these areas, which is an artifact of modern digital processes and detracts from the intended vintage film look. The smeared highlight effect was thankfully not employed nearly as much as these other effects, but could have still used a little more restraint. The pulsating of the light levels was also very distracting and used very heavy handedly. It was almost enough to give me a headache over the course of 75 minutes. I'm guessing it was intended to emulate the look of early twentieth century silent films, but pulsed to such a ridiculous degree that it detracted from the pleasure of the viewing experience. Again, this was an effect added in post and wasn't an artifact of the venue or lighting setup, as some of the old archival footage that was intercut had the same pulsing effect applied.
If I could have given this 3.5 stars, I would have. Rounding down to three stars seemed too harsh, as I felt that Inni successfully captured the feel, energy, and excitement of attending a live Sigur Rós show, which is no easy feat. I wish the entire concert had been processed more similarly to the bonus footage (minus the pulsating), as it managed to capture the feeling of a vintage show through desaturation and graininess while still maintaining both the fine textures of clothing, hair, and skin, as well as detail in the highlights. Perhaps 4 stars is being too generous, but watching the concert took me back many years to when I got to see them on the road and it makes me eagerly anticipate seeing them again.