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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/27/02

The Importance of Being Earnest
2002 (2002) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Importance of Being Earnest

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/C+

Specs and Features

94 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:11 in chapter 10), audio commentary by director Oliver Parker, "making of" featurette, behind-the-scenes production footage, bonus theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned

Ernest is, in many ways, the ideal husband; he's completely charming, well-mannered, good looking and has quite a way with words. He's become so successful at winning over the opposite sex that two women have offered to spend the rest of their lives with him. The problem is, Ernest doesn't exist, and he's got two different men impersonating him. Jack (Colin Firth) has a double life of sorts - in the city, he's known to his friends and acquaintances as Ernest. Gwendolen (Frances O'Connor) is so wooed by him that she's agreed to take his hand in marriage. But convincing Gwendolen's snobbish upper-class mother Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench) that Ernest is worthy of her daughter's hand in marriage is another matter. When he confesses to his best friend Algy (Rupert Everett) that he is known at his country estate as Jack, Algy comes up with a plan of his own - show up at the estate as the dashing Ernest to court Jack's lovely ward Cecily (Reese Witherspoon).

All of this is complicated enough and doesn't amount to much of an actual plot. But director Oliver Parker does a good job of staying true to the spirit of playwright Oscar Wilde's original work... and his unparalleled ability to employ the use of colorful language and masterful wit to craft a unique, comical and fast-moving farce. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are ideally cast as the bumbling romantic cynics whose deceptions will eventually get the best of them. Reese Witherspoon is good and appropriately charming as the escapist privileged young heiress, though her sometimes thin English accent proves to be a drawback to an otherwise winning performance. Tom Wilkinson (who turned in last year's best performance in In the Bedroom) and Anna Massey also do their share of scene stealing in supporting roles.

Buena Vista's DVD release of The Importance of Being Earnest preserves the film's 2.35:1 anamorphic image with a transfer that is unhampered by any defects that might occur during the transfer process. The result is a faultless picture that retains a natural theatrical texture. Contrast is precise, there's little artificial-looking edge enhancement, and the varied color palette employed by director Parker and production designer Luciana Arrighi comes to life onscreen without ever appearing oversaturated. This is a very clean, detailed image that would give any other big-budget DVD release a run for its money. The 5.1 audio track, on the other hand, is an average effort. It's certainly not a flawed mix, but there's really not a lot to play around with to make the track all that exciting. Surround use is sporadic, and there's very little movement to the mix at all. The important thing is that dialogue is at the forefront of the mix, firmly rooted in the center speaker.

Parker lends his services on a screen-specific audio commentary that is effective enough at shedding light on his choices in adapting Wilde's well-loved play to the screen. He discusses everything from his reasons for casting Witherspoon as the sole American among the principle actors (he thought she'd bring a fresh approach in contrast to the "weight" that comes with British stage experience) to rearranging the script to fit a cinematic timeline. It's a slow and sometimes laborious track, but it's worth a listen if the additional extras on the disc proved too vacant for your liking. That said, the 15-minute behind-the-scenes production footage is a rather dull assemblage of videotaped footage that documents the filming of a few scenes in the film. The "making of" featurette (roughly 7 minutes in length) is slightly more attention-grabbing. It's composed entirely of on-set interviews with the cast and director, who talk more about Wilde's work than they do their own on this film. Perhaps the two segments would have been more fulfilling had they been combined into one feature and trimmed down a bit. As is, they're barely worth one viewing. Always the clever marketers, Buena Vista rounds out the disc with a selection of 5 trailers for other Miramax fare including Mansfield Park, An Ideal Husband and others.

This most recent screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy proves to be a pleasant comic concoction. It's not a comedy that you can passively enjoy, but the closer attention you pay to the dialogue, the more rewarding it becomes. The disc could have benefited from some heftier extras, but the presentation of the film itself is first-rate. See it and you'll find out exactly why Wilde's comedies are still so highly regarded.

Dan Kelly

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