International music superstar Bob Marley passed away in 1981 from cancer, but his music and legacy continues to be a powerful force today. Created in cooperation with Marley’s surviving family, Marley attempts to be the definitive portrait of the legend. Both the man and his music are covered over the course of his life, from his humble roots in Jamaica, to his music tours across the globe from Japan to America as he spread the popularity of Reggae music.
The strongest elements in Marley are the intimate and revealing modern interviews from his family and associates. Everyone from his widow, Rita Marley, to his children and past band members, give candid answers and honest insight into the major events of Bob’s life. Bunny Wailer details his experiences in the Wailers with Bob Marley, as they were friends since childhood. The one notable absence is Peter Tosh, another original member of the Wailers. Unfortunately he passed away in the 1980s and his presence is barely felt in the documentary, aside from a brief audio recording and some still photographs.
For a family-approved documentary, it’s willing to go into topics the family might not like to discuss, such as Marley’s dalliances with other women during his marriage. Cindy Breakspeare, Miss World in 1976, gets extensive time to share her memories of Bob Marley, as they dated in the 1970s at the height of his fame.
Going beyond the personal details, Marley does a solid job of giving the music a proper focus and historical background. A number of exciting concert performances are showcased, including rare looks at the 1978 One Love concert. There is not much here that hardcore music fans are not going to know beforehand, but the discussion about the evolution of Ska to Reggae is interesting. A rare demo recording done in a different style than normal of “No Woman, No Cry” is one of the musical highlights with a new piano backing. Marley’s fans get to hear all his big hits performed in a number of different performances across his musical career.
Watching Marley, one gets a strong sense of Bob Marley as a personality and it tries to be as thorough as possible, covering everything from personal habits to his spiritual beliefs. A shy man by nature, Bob Marley loved playing soccer in his spare time and was a devout follower of the Rastafari movement. His spiritual beliefs are hard to separate from his music, as they informed his philosophy and outlook on the world. Marley drags a bit in the middle before covering the prime of Bob’s music career for Island Records, but fully explores his life and music in a complete manner that hits just the right notes. Casual fans might be overwhelmed by the amount of information, but Marley’s music is wisely inserted during the slower parts.
Marley looks similar to many other recent documentaries about music icons from the past. The modern interviews that constitute the bulk of the narrative are in pristine HD, shot on the latest digital video cameras under controlled conditions. These segments are absolutely perfect, as if the person is right next to you in your living room. Watch Bunny Wailer in crystal-clear detail as he retells the origins of the Wailers and his memories of Bob Marley. Pristine with a neutral color palette, the HD interviews look almost too good when the documentary cuts between them and the archival stuff.
The rest of the footage is much less presentable, most of it from material with less resolution than DVD. Vintage concert performances and historical interviews are thrown into the mix alongside still photographs, among other sources. They are obviously necessary for a complete picture of Bob Marley’s life, but the tape-sourced quality problems have to drag down the overall video score. Concert footage varies wildly in quality, depending on the particular film stock and venue.
Magnolia has provided Marley a very strong video AVC video encode on a BD-50. Compression is never an issue, even on the more problematic film sources like the concert shot on 16mm film. The 144-minute main feature is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
Marley has a solid 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that relies more on the strength of Bob Marley’s music than any surround tricks to involve the listener. The music, so familiar to millions of Marley’s fans, is nicely presented in lossless form with excellent fidelity. There is nothing too adventurous about the surround mix, as the music is largely confined to the front soundstage with very moderate usage of the subwoofer channel. Don’t expect a huge degree of involvement from the back channels or directional sound cues, outside of incidental activity.
As a documentary, the dialog does suffer in part due to the heavy Jamaican accents of the participants. It’s less a problem of the recordings than the actual interviewees themselves, but comprehension can be difficult at times without the aid of subtitles. Thankfully the music comes through the speakers loud and clear, covering a wide range of Bob Marley’s hits and a smattering of very rare recordings like a Gospel demo for “No Woman, No Cry.”
Marley has a bevy of extra features, all in HD when applicable.
Feature commentary with Director Kevin MacDonald and Ziggy Marley – One of the better commentaries I’ve ever heard, as both men obviously love the movie and give an excellent amount of extra insight into the project. Kevin MacDonald shares some fascinating tidbits on the interviews and in general a wealth of extra information. Ziggy Marley adds his perspective and personal remembrances to much of the depicted events, which gives a better context to the documentary. It’s a loose, flowing commentary that rarely lags.
Around The World (18:36 in HD) – Modern interviews of people from around the globe, recalling how Bob Marley’s music has affected their lives.
Extended Interview With Bunny Wailer (19:03 in HD) – Unseen interview material with Bunny Wailer that didn’t make the movie
Children’s Memories (10:03 in HD) – More stories from Bob Marley’s adult children, detailing memories of their childhood with him.
Listening To “I’m Loose” (3:48 in HD) – This is a short piece showing different participants’ reactions to audio of Marley in the studio, making banter.
Marley Soundtrack promo
Ziggy Marley’s Legends of Reggae – short audio promo for Ziggy’s radio show on SiriusXM.
Various Magnolia Trailers
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