Sense & Sensibility

Reviewed by Van T. Tran

Special Edition DVD

Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.0 [CC] & Dolby Surround, Portuguese & Spanish Digital Stereo, subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated PG, 136 min., $29.95, street date 8/24/99.

Supplements:

  • Audio commentary by Emma Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran
  • Audio commentary by Ang Lee and co-producer James Schamus
  • Two deleted scenes
  • Emma Thompson's Golden Globe acceptance speech
  • Theatrical trailers

Studio Line

Academy Awards: Winner of Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Dramatic Score, 1995.

Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, James Fleet, Harriet Walter.

When Henry Dashwood dies unexpectedly, his estate must pass by law to his son from his first marriage, John (James Fleet) and wife Fanny. But these circumstances leave Mr. Dashwood's current wife, and daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, without a home and with barely enough money to live on.

Though John and Fanny inherit the family's vast estate, it is Fanny's shy, charming brother Edward who captures Elinor's heart. But before Elinor and Edward have a chance to express their tentative feelings for each other, Fanny -- who dislikes Elinor and disapproves of her comparative poverty -- contrives an excuse to send Edward off to London.

In their cramped new quarters, Elinor struggles to keep a tight rein on the family purse strings, and to keep her longing for Edward hidden even from her mother and sisters. Marianne, meanwhile, becomes swept up in a passionate love affair with the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise), a very public romance conducted with so little prudence by Marianne that it earns her sister's disapproval.

As Elinor and Marianne struggle to find romantic fulfilment in a society obsessed with financial and social status, they must learn to mix sense with sensibility in their dealings with both money and men. Based on Jane Austen's first novel, written 200 years ago in 1795 but first published in 1811, Sense & Sensibility marks the first big-screen adaptation of this classic romantic comedy.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B/C+/B)

Amongst Jane Austin's six major novels, Sense and Sensibility isn't regard as one of her best. It was her first novel written in 1795 and was not published for 16 years, until she was an established novelist. More than two centuries later, Emma Thompson successfully adapted and improved on the novel for a most gratifying motion picture. The Oscar nominated screenplay has all the elements that I seek in a romantic comedy. It has an abundance of wit and humor, and characters that I can truly care and empathize with. The film is superbly crafted by Taiwanese director Ang Lee and the casting is wonderful. Ever since I saw the film on laserdisc, I wanted to own it. But I ended up not getting it for various reasons, and now that the film is available on DVD with the bonus materials, it makes perfect sense for me to finally add it to my collection.

The picture is presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and displays a similar quality to the 1996 laserdisc release. A welcoming feature this time is that the picture is enhanced for widescreen sets on DVD. Images are generally soft, especially during interior scenes, and facial features lack fine details. This softness I notice is due mostly on the photography, rather than the transfer itself. The lighting on the sets is warm and natural, such as the focus on sunlight and candlelight, to convey not only the historical setting but also the romantic and idyllic environment. The color pallettes on the set and costume design are rather subdue mainly to reflect the less than wealthy circumstance that our heroines are left with. The same instance does not hold true on the lush landscape, which is encompassing and expressive, a reflection on Marianne's (Kate Winslet) youthful romanticism. Whereas the household is an enclosure of Elinor's (Emma Thompson) responsibility. Images are clean and smooth, and compression artifacts on the dual-layered disc are nearly none existance. The layer switch on the disc is excellently done. Fleshtones for the most part are naturally rendered, but do appear too bright at times. Overall, a very pleasing transfer to showcase a very beautifully photographed film.

For the English speaking soundtracks, the DVD is encoded with a 5.0 Dolby Digital and a 2-channel Dolby Surround. While the 5.0 DD is the preferable choice, I found both soundtracks to have little different in the presentation. The 5.0 DD is more accurate, albeit very subtle, in the placement of sound effects. Whereas the imaging on the Dolby Surround is more restricted. Not surprisingly, the film is mostly dialogue driven, with the surrounds on both soundtracks lie quite dormant throughout the entire film. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the soundtrack is the score composed by Patrick Doyle, a favorite composer of mine. The score expresses eloquently many sentiments share by the sisters. Patrick also wrote melody to the poems of Weep You No More Sad Fountains and The Dreame, which hint on the stages of Marianne's maturity, from seeing the world as imbued with romanticism to a sense of acceptance and peace. The music on piano and strings is presented with rich clarity on the soundtracks.

For the special features on DVD, two audio commentaries were recorded early this year, five years after the theatrical release of the film in 1994. The first track features Emma Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran, and it is one of the more entertaining commentaries I've heard all year. From the film's beginning to the end credits, their enthusiasm and fondness for the film overflow with spontaneous remarks and funny anecdotes. There were more than a few times when I just burst out laughing. More than just injecting humors, they were able to cover a wide range of topics and offered interesting insights into the making of the film. Since Emma Thompson adapted the screenplay from Jane Austin's novel, she was able to articulate some of the differences and decisions that were made from the original material. The second commentary track features director Ang Lee and co-producer James Schamus, and while enjoyable and effective, I was not as entertained compare to the first track. That being said, I am glad to have the director's commentary than not. Next are two deleted scenes, one showing Edward kissing Elinor, and the reasons to edit the scenes can be heard on Emma Thompson's commentary track. There's also a clip showing her accepting speech on the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay Adaptation, in which she made the most of her center stage. Last of the supplements are trailers for the films that she starred in. Besides Sense & Sensibility, we get trailers for Howards End, Much Ado About Nothing, both are available on DVD, and The Remains of the Day, which is yet available on the format. Remains is one of my favorite films and seeing the trailer provides high hope that it will be available soon.

Of all the Jane Austin's adaptations, I rank Sense and Sensibility on top of my favorite list along with Paltrow's Emma. Emma Thompson does a splendid job in balancing the script with humor and romance resulting in an irresitible crowd-pleaser that delights the heart and satisfies the mind.

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