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Blu-ray Review: Visions of Italy

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I’ve been looking forward to the day when I can travel back to Italy since visiting Rome, Florence, Venice and a number of other cities there more than five years ago. It’s a gorgeous country — both because of its natural beauty and its consistently awe-inspiring architecture. There’s nothing like walking the streets of one of Italy’s grand cities, exploring and finding hidden treasures of architectural genius tucked away in alleys and in places you would never expect.

But if you can’t be there in person, Acorn Media’s Visions of Italy is probably close to the next-best thing. The only problem — if you want to visit Italy before watching, that desire isn’t going to be even remotely satisfied. Visions of Italy is a perpetual tease, offering spectacular views of places across the country, but for so brief a time, it’s almost painful to not be able to explore further.

Visions of Italy, which was first aired on public television, appears here as a two-disc set on Blu-ray. The series is comprised entirely of an aerial view, with a helicopter flying over an extensive selection of Italy’s highlights, and the result is frequently stunning and beautiful. The first disc contains two programs. Northern Style, which features looks at The Alps, Pisa, Florence and Venice among many others. The second program, Southern Style, flies over Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Rome and more. The second disc also contains two programs — one devoted entirely to the island of Sicily and another that features a more in-depth look at the great cities, like Rome, Florence and Naples, and landmarks like the Coliseum and Saint Peter’s Square.

Accompanying the impressive footage is an only-sometimes cheesy regional score and narration that seems designed to provide interesting facts rather than present a comprehensive history of the cities, leaving out some information that would seem obvious to include.

The aerial view is simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst ways to see Italy — the perspective it provides is certainly unique, and there are many locations that benefit from the birds-eye, large scale view this series provides, but there’s only so much one can see from the air. Still, it’s enormously successful visually, with near-perfect camera angles and lighting all of the time.

The Blu-ray presentation appears in 1080i high definition with an aspect ratio of 16:9. The clarity and color sharpness the high def provides only enhances the shots, and the program clearly finds an appropriate home on Blu-ray. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound isn’t utilized much, but the music and narration are crisp and clear. Viewers also have the option of turning off the narration and listening to the music alone.

With the included bonus footage, Visions of Italy adds up to almost 300 minutes of the gorgeous sights of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The small investment for this Blu-ray set is certainly worth it; just realize it might force you to spend a much larger chunk of change on visiting the country itself. After watching this, you might not be able to help yourself.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.