David Bowie: Serious Moonlight appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’ve seen every incarnation of Moonlight: videotape, laserdisc, and 1999 DVD. The program never looked good, and the 2006 DVD didn’t mark any noticeable improvements.
Disclaimer: I don’t currently have access to the 1999 DVD, so I couldn’t make direct comparisons. However, I’ve watched – and listened to – this program many times over the years, so I feel I’d detect any major changes even without A/B-ing the two releases.
None could be found, at least not in regard to the visuals. This was always a fairly ugly videotaped show, and the new DVD didn’t alter its origins. The DVD maintained a pretty soft picture from start to finish. Close-ups demonstrated decent delineation, but even those came across as less than concise. Anything wider tended to be moderately soft. Blooming from the lights didn’t help, as that added a glowing effect to the material. The show often suffered from a gauzy look.
Some jaggies and shimmering occurred, though neither were significant. I did see some blockiness to the production and video artifacting was apparent. Other than this aging videotape look, I didn’t see any prominent source concerns.
Colors were consistently problematic. They tended to be mushy and messy throughout the show. All the lighting was heavy and runny, though clothes tended to seem a bit more concise. The colors just didn’t display much vivacity as they made matters murky. Blacks were passable, but shadows seemed thick. The smattering of low-light shots tended to be tough to discern.
As I mentioned, I couldn’t directly compare this DVD to the prior one, but I’d be shocked if they looked different. The 2006 release offered visuals that seemed remarkably familiar to me. I blame all of this on the source material, frankly. I don’t think the original footage boasted high quality, and we continue to suffer through that decades later. For better or for worse, this is the way Moonlight looks.
The 2006 DVD of Serious Moonlight presented three separate soundtracks, all of which seemed different in various ways. Without question, I preferred the Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix. This was easily the most listenable of the bunch, and it earned the “B” audio grade listed above.
As with the picture, the limitations of the source material came through with this audio. However, the stereo track minimized them. It offered fairly decent imaging as it spread the instruments pretty well across the front. Bowie’s vocals remained reasonably centered and the rest of the elements blended together well.
Audio quality wasn’t dazzling, but I thought it was the best I’d heard from Moonlight. Vocals demonstrated a little “arena echo” but came across as acceptably concise and natural. Bass response could have been warmer, but the track offered more than adequate low-end. I also felt the mix could have offered greater punch in the high-end, but I didn’t find any reason to complain too much. Again, the source recording had limitations, and this was as good as I’ve heard the songs sound. I wouldn’t call this a great mix, but it seemed more than satisfying to me.
On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks came across as much more flawed. In most ways, the pair seemed very similar. The DTS mix was louder and more “in your face”, though. That meant that although the Dolby version minimized some of the DTS edition’s flaws, it also came across as tepid in comparison. The DTS version presented a greater punch along with its more aggressive attack.
Both tracks presented similar soundfields. These stayed oriented toward the front and used the surrounds for general reinforcement of the music and crowd noise. Frankly, I only noticed their usage at all when I switched between the stereo mix and the 5.1 tracks; if I’d not done so, I wouldn’t have been aware that the surrounds played any role.
While the stereo track offered pretty solid imaging, both 5.1 mixes tended to be less well-defined. Bowie’s vocals lacked clear centering, and instrumentation also tended to jump around from spot to spot. The elements rarely seemed to reside in one specific spot as they mushed together. This felt like one broad, messy attempt to locate the music much of the time.
Audio quality also faltered. The DTS track accentuated the “arena echo” on Bowie’s vocals and made them seem too loose. Similar problems marred the instruments. Passable low-end appeared, but high-end was pumped excessively. That gave much of the audio a harsh metallic sound. The DTS edition seemed too aggressive and it gave me a bit of a headache.
For the most part, I thought the Dolby mix was similar though less pushy. It didn’t shove itself in my face so severely, though that meant it also was flatter and more tepid. While it didn’t slam against me in the same way, it also lacked much punch or power.
In the end, I thought the two 5.1 mixes deserved “D+” grades. Although I gave the old 1999 DVD a “B-“ mark for its 5.1 track, don’t take that as an indication that it sounded better than either of these. As I noted, I’ve not heard that one in a while, and frankly, I was probably so happy to hear any life from Moonlight that I overestimated the quality. Prior incarnations were dismally thin and flat, so a mix with power of any sort came as a welcome relief.
I also have a lot more reviewing experience under my belt over the last seven years, so my standards have changed. Whatever the case, avoid these 2006 5.1 mixes. Stick with the more than satisfactory stereo track, which I believe offers the best audio ever attached to this program.
While the earlier DVD came with no extras, we get some interesting bits on the 2006 edition. The main attraction comes from a documentary called Ricochet. Named after a song from Let’s Dance, this program got a video release back in the day, but I believe this marks its first DVD incarnation.
Shot during the Serious Moonlight Tour, “Ricochet” takes us to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok in December 1983. The program lasts one hour, 17 minutes and 54 seconds as we see Bowie on the road in these unusual locations. We watch him get to the places, tour the areas, and put on the concerts.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “documentary” just because so much of it appears staged. For instance, the Hong Kong portion looks at a local Bowie cover band who try to get tickets to the show. Still, we find some decent live footage as well as glimpses of Bowie in these areas. It’s a frustrating documentary since I’d like something more natural and less manufactured, but I’m glad to get it.
In addition to the documentary, we get a 20-image Gallery. Presented as a running piece, this lasts three minutes and 45 seconds. That means the program progresses slowly from shot to shot, but it comes with a bonus: a live version of “Modern Love”. I believe this is the same rendition previously available on the “Modern Love” single. With or without the photos, it makes for a nice addition.
Serious Moonlight made me a Bowie fan in 1984, and I continue to enjoy it all these years later. The concert doesn’t show Bowie at the peak of his game, but it offers more than enough highlights to make it worthwhile. We get good stereo audio and a couple of nice extras. However, visual quality remains problematic, and the two 5.1 mixes aren’t good. Despite some flaws, I nonetheless recommend this solid program.