Shakespeare In Love appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio
of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image
has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite all the abuse Disney take
from DVD fans, they do crank out some excellent film transfers, and this one
Sharpness appears virtually flawless from start to finish. Whether a scene
used close-ups or extremely wide shots, everything looked crisp and clear.
I noticed no evidence of moiré effects or jagged edges, though I saw some
very slight artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The
print itself seemed wonderfully clean and free of any defects such as grain,
speckling, or scratches.
In a picture full of strengths, it's hard to pick a favorite, but I'd have
to say I most enjoyed the sumptuous hues of SIL. The film uses a
rich palette - mainly through the gorgeous costumes, but also via the sets,
particularly when we visit the various estates - and the colors come across
beautifully here. From start to finish, these hues appear bold and
appropriately-saturated with no signs of bleeding or noise; the colors are a
Also excellent are dark tones. Black levels looked terrifically deep and
rich, and shadow detail seemed nicely opaque but not distractingly so.
SIL offers an absolutely first-rate picture.
Less pleasing but still decent is the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
As one might expect from a character-driven comedy/romance, the soundfield
seems modest, with little emphasis on creating much of an effect. The
forward soundstage appeared pretty good; while it focusses on the center
channel, a fair amount of ambient effects emanate from the sides, and the
movie's score also takes advantage of the stereo sound. The rear speakers
are used consistently but lightly; I think a noticed maybe one or two actual
effects the came strongly from the surrounds, but for the most part they
simply gently bolstered the music and ambience.
Audio quality is acceptable but somewhat thin. I noticed this tone in all
aspects of the sound, but it seemed to affect the music most strongly; while
the score seems fairly smooth and bright, I thought it lacked substantial
low end and appeared weaker than it should. Dialogue suffers to a degree;
although speech was consistently clear and intelligible (with the accents
occasionally making some lines hard to comprehend), dialogue rarely sounded
natural to me. Effects weren't harmed to the same extent mainly because
they were the least important part of the mix - this isn't Saving Private
Ryan, after all. Ultimately, I found the soundtrack of SIL to be
relatively good but somewhat disappointing.
SIL is part of Miramax's Collector's Edition line, and it does pack
in some solid supplements. We find two separate audio commentaries. The
first comes just from director John Madden and offers a compelling look at
the film. Madden ably covers a variety of issues about the movie, crossing
from technical elements to discussions of the picture's structure to the
various Shakespeare references. It's an entertaining and informative look
behind the scenes.
The second commentary comes from a huge group of participants. We hear from
actors like Ben Affleck, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush and
Judi Dench plus folks on the other side of the camera like writers Marc
Norman and Tom Stoppard, costume designer Sandy Powell, a bunch of producers
and others. These folks weren't recorded together; instead, all of their
comments seem to come from different interview sessions. Normally I prefer
commentaries like this over the extemporaneous single-speaker kinds like
Madden's; the extra participants usually add zest, and the editing makes
these pieces more coherent. That's not the case here. This commentary is
definitely good and I learned a lot about the picture - the remarks of
writer Norman were especially useful - but I thought maybe a few too many
speakers were tossed into the mix; we don't get much substance from most of
them, and it can become confusing at times as I lost track of who was who.
Ultimately, it's not really that important to identify each speaker, but I
reflexively expended thought on that issue with each new voice, and I found
it distracting. The track is definitely worth a listen, but I thought it
was a little disappointing.
SIL features a number of other extras as well. We find a decent
22-minute documentary called Shakespeare In Love and On Film. This
program spends most of its time discussing the movie itself, which it does
through a combination of film clips and brief interviews with the actors and
other participants. It also includes a brief overview of a number of movies
that were based of Shakespeare's work; this section came as a surprise if
just because it offers clips from so many of these films, and I didn't
expect them to get the rights to do this. Anyway, it's a fairly superficial
documentary but it's worth a watch.
We get about ten minutes and 40 seconds of deleted scenes. Actually, the
final 40 seconds offer a mildly funny outtake that is discussed during the
second audio commentary that includes an inside joke; the other ten minutes
are comprised of true deleted scenes. Two of these are actually extended
versions of existing segments. One shows more of the fight that takes place
during rehearsal and it lasts about three minutes, 45 seconds; the other
runs 85 seconds and it expands upon the bar scene in which we meet Marlowe.
The former is truly excessive and makes the scene dull, so it was
justifiably removed, while the latter adds little since it barely differs
from the final shot.
The main scene we find is the first, a four minute and 50 second segment
that provides an alternate ending. It goes from the point not long after
the completion of the play all the way through what would be the start of
the credits. While the ending they used probably works better, this one
actually has some merits and might have been successful as well.
If you like advertisements, you'll be in heaven with this DVD. Not only
does it include the film's theatrical trailer, but we also receive no fewer
than 21 TV spots. That has to be the record, doesn't it?
A section called 1998 Academy Award-Winning Costumes provides a brief
discussion of those outfits. It shows us scenes from the film intercut with
some behind the scenes footage and offers interview narration mainly from
costume designer Sandy Powell. The piece only runs for about two minutes
and fifteen seconds, so it's fairly superficial, but it still provides a
little bit of good information. (Note that some of what Powell says also
appears in the second audio commentary, so don't be surprised that these
redundancies exist. For that matter, the 22-minute documentary also repeats
some quotes, but it seems less problematic in a longer program.)
Finally, we get some text materials on the DVD. Shakespeare Facts
provides just what the topic describes; a few pages of information about the
Bard. Actually, these combine tidbits about the man himself with details of
theatrical productions of the day, so the title doesn't complete cover the
topic. We also discover a subcategory in this area, "Biographies" of
different real people upon whom SIL characters were based. From
Queen Elizabeth I to Christopher Marlowe, this section features eight brief
biographies in all. Though they're pretty brief and lack detail, I liked
this area because it helped add to the experience.
Actually, most of the supplements contributed to making me enjoy the movie
more, and since that's really the point of good extras, I'd have to say that
the Collector's Edition of Shakespeare In Love is a success. It
remains a rather light trifle with little real substance, but it's still a
fun, clever and well-made piece of work that seems likely to stay
entertaining over repeated viewings.
Although the sound is relatively weak, the picture is first-rate, and the
extras made me more fond of the film. The "movie-only" DVD of
Shakespeare In Love offers a list price $10 less than this $40 MSRP
set, but I think the quality of the supplements makes this package worth the
extra money; if you're interested in the movie, the CE is the way to go.