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DVD Review - Colours of Infinity - Blue Dolphin
An interesting confection - a collection of three videos on fractals, plus a fourth bonus video Infinit that combines the music of David Gilmour (used to good effect particularly on the Colours of Infinity video) with fractal images.
The videos are of mixed quality. The worst is Is God a Number?, looking at the nature of consciousness and whether fractal mathematics gives us a handle on this least well explained aspect of the human brain. There is interesting input from the likes of Roger Penrose and John Polkinghorn (though it isn't made obvious that though both are/were mainstream scientists, neither is exactly mainstream on this particular subject), but the primary narration by mathematician Michael Barnsley is excruciatingly amateurish - it really was painful to watch.
Next best is the middle video, Clouds are not Spheres, on the life and work of Benoit Mandelbrot, discoverer of the Mandelbrot set and much of fractal geometry. This was much more professionally presented by actor Martin Shaw, but the problem here was more that Mandelbrot is still alive and features in the video at considerable length. This led to an over-reverential approach and a certain lack of pace in what could have been a better told story. As an aside, if they ever make a drama doc of Mandelbrot's life, Martin Clunes is the obvious choice to play him.
Best of the three by far was the first video, Colours of Infinity, presented by Arthur C. Clarke. Even this has faults. Clarke's presentation is slow - he is an old and quite ill man - and the video maker has a tendency to spend much too long on interludes with psychedelic pulsing fractal images, in part to make the most of Gilmour's music. Even so, there is strong input from Ian Stewart, and here Michael Barnsley as interviewee rather than presenter is more subdued and bearable. We get a good picture of the Mandelbrot set and fractals in a documentary with not-quite broadcast standard graphics - it all felt a bit training video - and without the storytelling skill that a good documentary requires.
There was also a bit of a tendency to oversell the applications of fractals. This is a natural tendency, but there was no mention of the fact that, despite Michael Barnsley starting on his fractal image compression back in 1991, it still isn't widely used in the mainstream. I used it myself in the early days of PC images and expected it to sweep aside inferior compressions like JPEG and MPEG - but instead of going mainstream it became a specialist tool. I would have been really interested to find out why this happened, and whether anything is going to reverse it, but there was no feeling for this, just hand-waving assertions that there will be wonderful devices in the future based on fractal technology.
Overall, a fascinating subject, reasonably well done in the first video, but this topic could have been so much more engaging than the presentation makes it.
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
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Last update 05 June 2007