Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/16/99
1998 (1999) Miramax (Buena
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/C-
Specs and Features
124 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:18:39), Amaray
keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, Shakespeare facts &
historical biographies, film-themed menus, scene access (31
chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close
I'm so pleased about
this, that I can't help but mention it up front - this year's Best
Picture film is finally available on DVD, and it's Buena Vista's
first anamorphic widescreen DVD to boot. Miramax pushed hard for
this film to be so enhanced, and I'm glad they did, because the film
deserves such treatment. And let me say right now, that I hope this
indicates a major DVD policy change over at Buena Vista - all
widescreen films should be presented in 16x9 on DVD. When the
classic Disney animated titles arrive on DVD, may the widescreen
among them ALL be anamorphic.
All right, I suppose I've made my point. Let's talk about this film
and disc. Shakespeare in Love
tells the fictional tale of a love affair that sparked the creative
genius of no less than the bard himself, William Shakespeare. The
story goes like this - Will (Joseph Fiennes) is having something of
a creative crisis. He's promised a friend and theater owner (played
by Geoffrey Rush) a comedy called Romeo
and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, but he's lost his muse,
his inspiration for writing. Still his last play was a success, and
it's captured the imagination of a beautiful young woman of means,
named Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow, in a role that won her a
Best Actress goldenboy). Viola longs to act in a play, but the law
of the land says that women are forbidden onstage. So when Will
begins holding auditions, Viola dresses up as a boy named Thomas
Kent, and tries out for the part of Romeo. Will is certain that
Thomas is perfect for the part, but Voila gets cold feet and flees
the audition. Will follows her home, and eventually sees Viola
undisguised. He promptly falls in love with her, unaware that Viola
and Thomas are one and the same. He eventually figures it all out of
course, but allows the ruse to continue so Viola can have the part.
Viola is equally in love with Will, but unfortunately, she's been
promised by her father to marry a nobleman, Lord Wessex (Colin
Firth). Still, the heart is blind, and as their passionate
relationship unfolds, Will's play suddenly begins changing from a
comedy, into a story of undying and forbidden love. And the title,
of course, becomes Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare in Love boasts an
extremely clever screenplay, and a host of first-rate performances.
The story unfolds very slyly, as moment after moment in the play
develops out of Will and Viola's emotions and situations. Both of
the lead actors are wonderful, although while Paltrow won critical
acclaim, Joseph Fiennes was often overlooked, and undeservedly so.
Other standouts here include Geoffrey Rush, as Will's theater-owning
friend, and Judi Dench, as Queen Elizabeth. Ben Affleck and Rupert
Everett also perform well in smaller, but vital, roles. Directed by
John Madden, Shakespeare in Love is
a wonderful film, and is, I think, deserving of its Oscar win (even
though I was torn between Life is
Beautiful and Saving Private
Ryan as my Best Picture pick).
The quality of this DVD is generally very good, starting with the
video, which is, as I mentioned, in anamorphic widescreen. This is
an excellent visual experience, marred only by the fact that it's
not as crisp and clear as it should have been. There is a slight "ringing"
or "edginess" noticeable throughout, which bespeaks the
use of artificial edge enhancement (when will studios learn that you
DON'T NEED this when mastering video for DVD?). Take a look at some
of the title graphics, or the fine detail (the thatched roofs on the
various buildings for example), and you'll see the effect I'm
talking about. That aside, the print used for this transfer was
superb, and the compression is excellent. You'll see wonderful
range of contrast, with solid blacks. But the best thing here is the
color! The film has a generally muted color-scheme to it, but what
colors are present are rich and lustrous. Take a look, for example,
at the Queen's costume in chapter 17 (1:02:00 to be specific) - just
gorgeous color. Flesh tones are also nicely rendered.
The sound isn't quite as good as the picture, but it's solid, and
perfectly adequate. As with most Miramax films, Shakespeare
in Love is largely driven by dialogue, so don't expect
much in the way of surround sound. The rear channels are mostly used
to create atmosphere, but create it they do, even if subtly so.
Dialogue is crisp and clear, with the music presented nicely in the
mix. And the low frequency is quite active - there's good bass,
while not being overwhelming in any way. Extras include a theatrical
trailer, trivia on Shakespeare, and biographical information on the
historically-based characters in the film. Finally, the menu screens
are also in anamorphic widescreen - a nice (and too often
Shakespeare in Love is a
wonderful film, and this DVD captures the experience quite nicely.
To be fair, the disc is pretty bare-bones, but a Collector's Edition
version is currently in the works at Miramax (it was delayed due to
legal issues over some of the special edition materials). Some may
wish to wait for that version, but those who can't should be plenty
happy this disc. And once again, the fact that this film is
presented in anamorphic widescreen can't be down-played. Note to
Miramax and the Mouse - keep more discs like this one coming!