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Pride & Prejudice (2005) (HD DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 2005 / 129 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: November 13, 2007
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Monday, November 19, 2007
It may not carry the obvious appeal to high-def early adopters of a 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' or a 'Matrix,' but don't let the eighteenth century trappings of 'Pride and Prejudice' fool you. Yes, this one's initially likely to be of more interest to your wife or girlfriend, but 'Pride and Prejudice' is actually the rare romantic period piece that's likely to ultimately leave male viewers as satisfied as the females.
Adapted from the classic novel by Jane Austin, 'Pride & Prejudice' tells the quaint tale of Mr. & Mrs. Bennet (Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn) and their five daughters -- Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Mary (Talulah Riley), Kitty (Carey Mulligan), and Lydia (Jena Malone). As the story opens, Mrs. Bennet is desperate to marry off her daughters to men of wealth and leisure before her husband inevitably passes away. To her dismay, the feisty, strong-willed Elizabeth refuses to marry any man unless the union is motivated by true love. When two wealthy bachelors come to stay with the family -- the carefree Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) and his obnoxious companion Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) -- Elizabeth hunkers down and refuses to consider either one. But before long, Mr. Darcy strikes a particular chord in this most spirited Bennet and she finds herself falling for a man she loathes in every way.
Based on a plot description alone, I can't fault anyone who might think 'Pride & Prejudice' sounds like the period equivalent of a cliché-ridden romantic comedy, but tucked beneath its rather generic setup is an intelligent story about a woman trapped by her instincts, her society, and her stubbornness. This isn't a stuffy romp that relies on period manners or high-court dialogue. Nor is it a forced and modernized tale of liberation or empowerment. And it certainly isn't a clumsy farce about awkward, plutonic love in a bygone era. Instead, 'Pride & Prejudice' is a surprisingly fast-paced, universal exploration of inconvenient love -- the sort of love that develops naturally, instead of the the miraculous, instantaneous love Hollywood has tried to sell audiences for a century.
I also wouldn't describe the film as a "chick flick." Guys, there's no need to suck up that manly pride to trudge through this one. I found as much to love here as my wife. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion and caught myself grinning every time the relationships in the film hit surprisingly close to home. The plot develops naturally and the actors masterfully match the fluidity of the story at every turn. Prior to seeing the film, I wasn't a huge fan of Keira Knightley, but her sharp face and harsh delivery instantly make Elizabeth a force to be reckoned with, and when she finally begins to reveal her character's softer side, the initial standoffishness of her performance pays off masterfully. Not only did she deserve her nomination for Best Actress, but she deserved to win (Reese Witherspoon took home the prize instead for 'Walk the Line').
Director Joe Wright ('The End,' 'Atonement') doesn't just rely on a faithful adaptation and the strong performances of his cast -- his vision of 18th century England is convincing and his attention to detail is really quite extraordinary. I loved his sweeping shots that track from room to room, exploring the busy bustle of Elizabeth's home. The vivid cinematography adds to the experience and flawlessly transports the audience to another time. While I can't say his adaptation is perfect (there are a few scenes that feel repetitive and a some others that seem a tad aimless), his film is extremely entertaining and exquisitely produced.
A wonderful adaptation of a beloved classic, this is the rare period romance that has near-universal appeal.
Universal brings 'Pride & Prejudice' to HD DVD with a stunning 1080p/VC-1 transfer that genuinely surprised me. Although the standard-def DVD suffered from average color reproduction, plasticized skin, and obvious edge enhancement, this HD DVD transfer brings the film to life with natural fleshtones, crisp textures, and truly gorgeous landscapes. The palette is lush and warm, soaked in soft sunsets and candlelight that still allow the sharpest details to grace the screen. Individual blades of grass, leaves, and the stitching on hand-sewn dresses are perfectly rendered on the screen. Skin and fabric textures pop and provide the image with an authenticity that was sorely lacking on the standard DVD.
Contrast is exactly as it should be -- it never hinders the clarity of elements cloaked in shadow and it doesn't overindulge itself to create an artificial sense of depth. Black levels are deep and free from noise and spiking grain. In fact, overall the print is in excellent shape and I didn't detect any blemishes, artifacting, or edge enhancement. A handful of shots are a bit soft compared to the majority of the scenes, but they rarely detract from the overall image quality. Simply put, this is a wonderfully filmic transfer that offers a substantial upgrade over its standard definition counterpart.
'Pride & Prejudice' features a robust Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/16-Bit/2.2 Mbps) that has more to offer than you might expect from a period romance. Although the film is dominated by quiet conversations, the rear channels are frequently used to develop a thoroughly convincing soundfield. I found myself constantly surrounded by everything from heavy crowd chatter to the soft rustle of leaves in the distance. Ambiance is a consistently strong element in the soundscape -- tinkling silverware, clinking glasses, and the shuffle of footsteps give scenes a realism that more aggressive sound mixes often overlook. Likewise, the impressive acoustics of each scene are a testament to the diligence and effort of all those responsible for the film's sound design.
Dialogue is clean and comfortably distributed across the front of the soundfield -- to my relief, even the quietest lines are prominently placed in the soundscape. As you might expect, the film doesn't have a strong LFE presence, but the its score shows off some respectable dynamics. Crisp, hearty strings flutter across the entirety of the soundfield to create an immersive lyrical experience. I did note a few moments where I felt the crescendo of the music overshadowed important lines of dialogue, but this is more a matter of personal taste than it is a technical complaint. In the end, the audio on this HD DVD was just as much of a surprise as the video and fans will be extremely pleased with the result.
Although this HD DVD edition of 'Pride & Prejudice' ports over all of the supplemental content from the concurrently-released "Deluxe Two-Disc" standard DVD, unfortunately I found the contents of this package to be mostly underwhelming.
- Director's Commentary -- Joe Wright delivers a candid track in which he criticizes his film as much as he compliments it. I enjoyed listening to his honest and biting commentary at first, but it grew old after a while. He provides plenty of information, but he isn't engaging enough to make the production details entirely interesting. Less technical chit chat and a few more anecdotes would likely have made this blunt commentary extraordinary.
- Conversations with the Cast (SD, 6 minutes) -- The cast members on hand for this featurette obviously had a good time, but unlike Wright, they spend most of their time patting each other on the back. The end result doesn't add much insight into the production of the film and felt too promotional to resonate with me.
- Jane Austen: Ahead of Her Time (SD, 8 minutes) -- This all-too-brief featurette attempts to whittle the significance of the author down to a few blurbs that everyone should've learned in High School English. Worst still, the cast and crew are the one supplying the information and they merely scratch the surface of Austen's writing. I'm surprised there isn't a meatier documentary included here about the author and the influence of her enduring work.
- HBO First Look (SD, 13 minutes) -- Ugh. What do you get when you add complimentary interviews with random film clips and set it all to rousing music? Your typical HBO First Look. This is promotional fluff through and through.
- A Bennet Family Portrait (6 minutes) -- The only extra I thoroughly enjoyed, this one includes interviews with the cast as they examine the motivations of each character. It's over far too quickly, but it offers some excellent info that's missing from the rest of this mostly fluffy supplemental package.
- The Stately Homes -- Framed in an interactive map that highlights several locations in the film, clicking on any of five individual hot spots allows you to jump to short featurettes with production details, behind-the-scenes footage, and photos of each location:
- Groombridge Place -- (SD, 4 minutes)
- Basildon Park -- (SD, 2 minutes)
- Chatsworth House -- (SD, 3 minutes)
- Wilton House -- (SD, 3 minutes)
- Burghley -- (SD, 4 minutes)
None, except Universal's standard MyScenes bookmarking feature.
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I wasn't expecting to praise this HD DVD edition of 'Pride & Prejudice,' but here I am. This release features an excellent cinematic adaptation of the classic novel, a beautiful video transfer, and a surprisingly strong Dolby TrueHD audio track. The only downside to the entire package is a weak set of supplements that fail to do the movie or its source justice. All in all, an easy recommend. Don't believe me? Just give it a try -- there's a good chance you'll find yourself roped in with the rest of us.
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