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Ang Lee
Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant
Writing Credits:
Emma Thompson

After the death of the family patriarch, the Dashwood women struggle to get by.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby 5.0
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby
Portuguese Dolby
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 136 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 8/24/1999

• Audio Commentary with Director Ang Lee and Co-Producer James Schamus
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Actor Emma Thompson and Producer Lindsay Doran
• Emma Thompson’s Golden Globe Speech
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers


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Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 25, 2022)

Filmmaker Ang Lee began his career in his native Taiwan, and 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman brought him success that spanned continents. This led him to direct his first English-language effort, 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

An adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, we meet the Dashwood family. When wealthy Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) passes away, the laws of inheritance stipulate that his estate goes to his male heir, John Dashwood (James Fleet).

This leaves his widow (Gemma Jones) and daughters Elinor (Emma Thompson), Marianne (Kate Winslet) and Margaret (Emilie François) high and dry. They get an allowance of a mere 500 pounds a year combined on which to live.

Down to earth Elinor and impulsive Marianne usually veer in opposite directions. As both attempt to cope with their new circumstances, they embark on romances that spotlight their differing personalities.

Like most American males, I never read Austen’s novels, and my exposure to adaptations of her work remains limited. I saw 2005’s Pride & Prejudice as my first exposure back in 2006.

From there, I watched the 1995 Pride as well as 2020’s Emma, though I’d also seen 1995’s Clueless, a loose take on Emma. Oh, and I’d also checked out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I guess counts.

Despite my general disenchantment with “chick flicks”, I largely enjoyed these efforts. The 2005 Pride offered a pleasant surprise, and Clueless always delivered an amusing update. Emma was also an engaging effort.

The 1995 Pride didn’t dazzle me, but it became a more than competent adaptation. Only the messy Zombies turned into a fairly weak presentation.

Given that I’ve largely liked my experiences with Austen-related films, I went into Sense with moderate expectations. Because the genre still doesn’t elate me, I didn’t assume that I’d love it, but I figured I’d enjoy it.

The presence of so much notable talent added to these hopes. Thompson won an Oscar for her screenplay, and the film nabbed six additional Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

With an impressive cast, expectations rose greater. In addition to Thompson, Winslet and Wilkinson, we find talents like Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie and others. How could a project with such a strong pedigree go wrong?

In truth, I can’t claim anything actually “goes wrong” with Sense. Nonetheless, I admit the end result largely leaves me cold, as the story and characters never do much to engage me.

Put simply, neither Elinor nor Marianne turn into compelling personalities. Whereas the story sets up the two as opposites, they rarely come across as especially different, and the movie fails to find much in terms of their personalities that means we connect with them.

The leads of Sense mainly come across as the sorts of intelligent women who bristle at the restrictions of their era that we expect from Austen. Of course, even with those vibes, both still mainly concentrate on romantic prospects, but nonetheless, the roles give off the proto-feminist feel we anticipate.

They just never seem particularly interesting. We follow Elinor and Marianne as they plod through various prospective partners but not much of this makes a real impact.

Do I ever feel like I care what happens to Marianne and/or Elinor? Not really. They seem like good people but the film can’t imbue them with enough true personality to ensure that their fates matter to us.

It doesn’t help that Thompson was far too old for the part. When I went into the movie, I assumed she played the mother, not one of the daughters.

36 years old during the production, Thompson was closer in age to 47-year-old Wilkinson than to 19-year-old Winslet or 12-year-old François. The film asks us to swallow Thompson as the sister of these two, and that becomes a bridge too far.

Austen wrote Elinor as 19 in her novel. What in the world inspired Thompson to play a role barely half her age?

I don’t know, and while she offers a perfectly solid performance, her utter inability to seem age-appropriate becomes a major issue here. We never remotely view Elinor as anything other than a middle-aged woman, and this disconnect turns into an avoidable distraction.

Even without that, I just find Sense to offer a dull tale. As noted, the characters never do much to engage me, and given that the “plot” revolves entirely around their paths, this becomes a problem.

I can find no fault with the production in general, as everything here seems well-executed and professional. As noted, we find an excellent cast, and the crew behind the camera ensures we get a film with solid construction.

I just can’t get beyond my general boredom with the final result. As much as I feel I should embrace this project, Sense just leaves me cold.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Sense and Sensibility appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced or 16X9 sets. Though not awful, this circa 1999 presentation has not aged well.

Unsurprisingly, sharpness became the weakest link. Close-ups showed adequate delineation, but anything wider appeared soft and indistinct.

Minor issues with jagged edges and moiré effects appeared, and some moderate edge haloes cropped up through the movie. In terms of print flaws, I saw sporadic specks and marks, though nothing heavy.

Colors opted for a natural feel with a golden tint during many interiors to fit the candlelit settings. The hues offered somewhat muddy tones, though they didn’t seem bad.

Blacks tended to feel inky and shadows felt too dense. Given the restrictions of SD-DVD, I thought this presentation deserved a “C-“, but it nearly slipped into “D” territory.

The movie’s original audio – brought here via a Dolby Digital 5.0 track – didn’t exactly boast plenty of sonic fireworks. This chatty film boasted nice stereo music as well as a decent environmental vibe. Given the nature of the story, I’d be hard-pressed to locate any moments where the soundfield impressed or excelled in any way.

That said, at least it gave us a reasonable sense of the various country settings. Rainstorms opened up in an engaging manner, as did a few other scenes.

Audio quality worked fine, with speech that sounded natural and concise. Music appeared lush and full as well.

As noted, effects lacked much to push one’s audio system, but at least these elements felt accurate and lacked distortion. This became a perfectly acceptable track for a character drama.

A mix of features shows up and we start with two separate audio commentaries. First we hear from director Ang Lee and co-producer James Schamus, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story and characters, cast and performances, effects, sets and locations, costumes and design choices, music, and related subjects.

While witty and occasionally informative, this becomes an erratic commentary. The main issue stems from the more than sporadic gaps, as Lee and Schamus go silent too often. The dead air becomes an issue and this winds up as a decent but inconsistent track.

For the second commentary, we hear from writer/actor Emma Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran. Both sit together for their own running, screen-specific discussion of the source and its adaptation, story and characters, cast and performances, working with Ang Lee, sets and locations, period details, and various production details.

Though not a great commentary, the Thompson/Doran chat improves on its predecessor, as it gives us a decent look at a mix of relevant topics. I can’t claim the discussion ever becomes especially fascinating, Thompson and Doran add enough useful material to keep us with them.

Emma Thompson’s Golden Globe Speech provides her acceptance for a screenplay award. Thompson makes this unusually amusing.

Two Deleted Scenes appear: “True Love’s Kiss” (1:35) and “Mrs. Dashwood Converts Elinor” (1:08).

“Kiss” features a smooch between Elinor and Edward, while “Converts” offers more interactions between mother and daughter. Neither seem memorable or important.

Finally, four ads appear under trailers. In addition to the clip for Sensibility, we find promos for Howard’s End, Much Ado About Nothing and Remains of the Day.

With Sense and Sensibility, we get a professional adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, and it boasts excellent folks via its cast and crew. Unfortunately, none of this manages to turn Sense into an engaging, compelling drama, as the end result largely bores me. The DVD comes with acceptable audio and a few bonus features but visuals seem murky and soft. I find the movie itself a disappointment.

To rate this film, visit the 4K UHD review of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

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