Reviewed by Van T. Tran


Disney, widescreen 1.85:1, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English, single side-single layer, scene selections-26 chapters, theatrical trailer, rated PG, 120 min., $29.99, street date 1/5/99.

Studio Line

Academy Awards: Winner of Best Original Score - Rachel Portman. Nominated for Best Costume Design - Ruth Myers, 1996.

Directed by Douglas McGrath. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Greta Scacchi, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette,

A comedy of love, alliance and understanding, Emma captures the essence of Jane Austen's timeless novel. Set in the lush English countryside at the beginning of the 19th century, Emma tells the funny and timeless tale of Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow), a young woman so devoted to meddling in the lives and romances of others that she just may miss her chance to learn about love firsthand. Featuring a cast of characters true to the very best tradition of sophisticated English comedy, this adaptation of the beloved Jane Austen novel is a story about the lessons of life that ring as true today as they did in Austen's time.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B-/C/D-)

I am one of those guys that just go ga-ga over Gwyneth Paltrow, a symptom that reduces me to a little school boy, with eyes wide open and mouth agape. Those eyes, those smiles, that long neck, everything about her exemplifies elegance, and more importantly, her talents as an actress match her beauties, making her such a rare treasure on-screen. Her current role in the critically acclaimed Shakespeare in Love might very well earn her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I'll be watching the show at home and cheering like an idiot. In the meantime, we can relish her breakthrough role in Emma that is now available on DVD from Disney.

Jane Austen's Emma is by far the most accessible of her many timeless novels, the adaptation is lighthearted and fun, and yet, sophisticated enough to appeal to those with an intellectual bent. Paltrow's portrayal of Emma is remarkable, she embodies the spirits of the character, well-intentioned if not a bit naive that led her into all sort of troubles when trying to be a matchmaker for her friends, and nearly giving away her true love. Her performance is instantly likeable without being over the top in sweetness, as Alicia Silverstone is in Clueless, the modern adaptation. Directed by Douglas McGrath, whose credits include the screenplay of Bullets Over Broadway, Emma is immensely enjoyable with a crowd-pleasing ending that makes everything seem just right. If only that could be the real world.

Unforutnately, the DVD production left something to be desired. Disney, with all their financial might, is incredibly stingy in offering features on their DVDs. "Chapter Search" and "Dolby Surround" should not be listed as special features on the back cover, and including a theatrical trailer should be a minimum bonus. We are grateful, folks at Disney, that you are releasing films on DVD, but stop trying to fool the public with bogus extras, which are standard, and start releasing some substantial supplemental materials to your great library of films. While you are at it, I beg you to please remove that ugly "Widescreen" arch from the cover design. It is nothing but an eye sore and serves no purpose whatsoever.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the transfer. The picture is perfectly framed at the approximate ratio of 1.85:1. To further incense the consumers that like their format pan and scan, it is not offered, even though that version could have easily fitted on the unused side of the single-layer DVD. Normally, I could care less about the pan and scan format, but offering both versions on the same DVD when possible would appeal to everyone. The picture exhibits no apparent digital artifacts, but does contain few dirt particles. Cinematographer Ian Wilson (The Crying Game) shots the film with delicate lighting and gauzy filters that lend softness to the images. During defining moments, shade and lighting are used in great effect to accentuate the characters and surroundings. The English countryside provides for a picturesque backdrop. Colors are well saturated from the soft warm glow of candlelight to sunlight filtering through windows. The Oscar nominated costume design by Ruth Myers (L.A. Confidential) looks gorgeous draping on Paltrow, and for the men attired in the most civilize and gentleman manner.

The audio encoding is listed as Dolby Surround, but the rear channels are nearly none existence during the movie. Occassionally, when the orchestrated score swells up would the rear speakers participate. Rather, the source is through the front speakers, with the center channel getting the majority of the activities. The soundtrack is blessed by the Oscar winning score composed by Rachel Portman, the first female to ever win in that category. Like Emma, the score is instantly likeable and affectionate, as first heard on the opening credits. Consist of mostly strings ensemble, the score is lyrical and melodious and when needed be, provides for a lively ballroom sequence. Imaging and panning are not as prominent as I would like, however, dialogue sounds natural throughout.

The DVD has a suggested retail price of $29.99. On a side note, Alliance Video, which owns the distribution right in Canada, offers the DVD with an English and French soundtrack.

Related Sites

Current as of 1/12/99

  • Official Site--The Miramax site contains few paragraphs with some stills to download.
  • James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"It's the romantic buried inside each of us that responds to movies like Emma."
  • San Francisco Chronicle--"Somehow the world of Emma never seems fully inhabited. Something in its style seems incongruously modern, and the art direction, which might have helped, looks cheap."
  • Emma - The Novel and Its Adaptation--"This is the ORIGINAL Emma fansite on the web, devoted to Jane Austen's classic novel and its four major film adaptations."
  • Celebsite: Gwyneth Paltrow--Full bio, news, interviews, and fan sites ratings.
  • Entertainment Weekly--A recent exclusive online interview with Gwyneth Paltrow about her life on and off the screen.
  • The Jeremy Northam Web Site--Based in the U.K., the site covers the actor's career in theatre and films, with articles, photographs, sounds, and much more.
  • Ewanspotting--Click on the splash image to enter and you will be greeted with an original and comprehensive site on actor Ewan McGregor.
  • MovieTunes--A full review of the Oscar winning score composed by Rachel Portman: "Elegant in structure, the music offers the movie's lighthearted soul that keeps us grinning from ear to ear as the story plays out."
  • Amazon.com--Available to purchase are the DVD at 30% off, the paperback by Jane Austen, and the original soundtrack.

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