Dorian Gray Blu-ray Review
Dorian Gray is locked to Region-B, folks.
Well, unlike his picture hidden away in the attic, Dorian Gray's BD transfer is anything but ugly ... but it's no oil painting, either. This AVC encode brings a moody, but beautiful look to Parker's 1.85:1 image, maintaining the film's crisp daylight scenes, the warmth of its more seductive sequences, the great contrast of its atmospheric shadow-play and the rich detail of the antiquated surroundings.
But, be that as it may, this is not the sharpest image that I've seen in 1080p, and the picture does not reflect the image that I recall seeing at the flicks. Going hand-in-hand with this, there were too many times when I thought that the presence of DNR had wrought about some Dorian Gray-style wrinkle removal of its own. The image is very smooth, very easy on the eye, with only the most minimal patina of grain dusting the surface. A lot of scenes have an unnatural processed look to them - exterior night-times, moments of subdued lighting and much of the mid-range objectivity seems glossed-over. And yet, despite this, there is a lot of texture and finite detail on display. Skin and eyes and hair, the fabric of costumes, the grain of wood, the lick of paint upon the canvas are all things that do possess a very decent level of close-in detail. In fact, if you look at shots that are brightly lit and that take place in the parlour room or in the busy parties - the scene when Dorian announces that he is getting engaged to Sybil, for instance - the detail and sharpness is actually very good indeed. There are times when the background is held in smart relief, and we can clearly see paintings and ornaments and bric-a-brac in a whole new light. But this is just not consistent throughout the presentation. Flames are bright but hold no inner life. Foreground furnishings are clinical and realistic, but the vase of flowers to the rear, for instance, can vary in its detail from reasonable to totally indistinct from shot to shot. Initially, I was very pleased with this transfer, perhaps seduced by the mood and the photography. Yet, the more I saw of it, the less enamoured I became.
There is a marvellous range of blues that provide ample atmospherics and the whites of faces, even with lashings of makeup, provide a great contrast with the dark shadows and the dark suits. Big billowing white sleeves have the same effect. Browns provide depth and mood with elegance and greens are distinctive and bold. Blood, however, is a little washed-out, lacking the usual vitality that we expect, but I suspect that this is partly down to the mix, itself, and partly down to the makers insisting on a less vivid display, post-production, so as not to arouse the wrath of the censors during the killing. However, it is worth pointing out that the blood on show as a tattooed lady digs her blade into a willing and writhing back, under which our Dorian is enjoying himself, is actually a lot deeper and more vivid. The various hues in Dorian's locks are also clearly evidenced. Thankfully, there was only the most minimal of banding to be seen in the thicker swathes of eerie midnight blues down by the river.
For fans of depth and three-dimensionality, this fares reasonably well. Whilst Dorian gadding about through low-lit backstreets doesn't look all that realistic, there are plenty of shots and frames that yield terrific depth and relief - such as the views down the stairs in many of the houses, or of party guests milling about, or of Dorian walking off in the cemetery after the funeral. Edge enhancement was never a problem, but I did see a couple of occasions when aliasing took place. Black crush was not an issue, however, and the strength of the shadows seems robust and well-maintained all the way through. So, despite being an attractive and sublime transfer, Dorian Gray doesn't really hold up to scrutiny, although I suspect that many will still fall for its superficial charms.
Being generous and going with the great overall hue and tone of the image, I am awarding Dorian Gray a 7 out of 10.
Other than the Audio Descriptive track that is also on offer, Dorian Gray sports just the one audio option, in glorious DTS-HD MA 5.1. And it is a pretty good one, as well.
Whereas we normally enjoy the bombast and the aggression from a lossless track, sometimes it is genuinely rewarding to revel in the subtlety of a soundscape, and Dorian Gray has a terrific way of sliding effects around you and smothering you with the warmth of its score that is gentle, deceptive and irresistible.
All the channels are properly utilised and the resulting aural environment, whilst never demonstrative, is frequently acutely rendered. Okay, so there isn't any sub action to speak of, but the bass levels are natural and keep things like impacts, city hubbub and travelling carriages grounded. The mid-range is warm and enveloping and although high-ends really aren't tested too stringently, they are clean and vivid. Rain effects creep across the floor with precision. Thunder and wind are also keenly observed. But it is the creaking of the house and the sinister groanings and utterings that emanate from the painting that court around the environment with the most finesse. The fluttering of the gas lamp on the wall outside the attic room is very realistic and provides an early, and distinct example of how well steered from speaker to speaker the sound effects are. As I say, the track is subtle, but effective. Gunshots ring out and there are some nice metallic ricochets pitched into the mix, as well. I like the well-placed and authentic sound of broken glass crunched underfoot when Dorian steps on a couple of shards from the mirror, and then when he picks them up and replaces them.
Perhaps the fiery finale lacks power - considering how well organised and delivered the sound design is elsewhere, I would have expected more oomph! and detail than we actually get - but my only real gripe would be that the dialogue can sometimes be whispered or hushed to a degree that you just can't properly make it out. Having said this, though, I do remember something similar occurring with the cinema presentation, too, so I can only assume that this is intentional. But there are a couple of lines that subdued and almost mumbled that, even during replaying, I could barely understand and I'm sure Oscar Wilde wouldn't have approved of that.
All in all, this is a strong 7 out of 10.
The main extra on offer is the combined commentary from director Oliver Parker and his screenwriter Toby Finlay. Together, they dissect how such a difficult and dialogue-heavy novel, very much of its time, came to be translated and adapted for the screen and for modern audiences. They tell us about the different drafts of the script and of some of the elements that they changed. We hear about the censor-baiting moments and how the UK lost some of the gore - although, to my knowledge, the blood-spurt they talk about was not in any other version either. But this track is one that is brilliant at remaining scene-specific and going in-depth at the inner workings of the characters, their motivations and their mechanics. Unlike many chat-tracks, you really feel as though you are watching the film alongside them - which I like.
A series of tiny featurettes come next. With none lasting more more than four minutes and two being the norm, these aren't exactly comprehensive, but they are pretty to look at, I suppose. We get Make-up And Wardrobe - a nice look at Pip Torrens getting aged for his role as Victor here - and Smithfield, which shows off the horses and carriages and the set design for a large sequence. Plus, we get to see how the visual FX brought us into Victorian London and how the painting of Dorian came to life, almost literally.
The Making-Of is composed of on-set interviews with cast and crew. Everyone is enthusiastic about the literary source, however it was that they came across it. Finlay, quite correctly, makes the point that it is like a “how-to” for being a sociopath and likens its style and theme to American Psycho. They all deliver their take on the story and its continued relevance to today's celebrity and beauty fixated society. Pleasantly, all the major players get to participate, although Parker only crops up at the very end. Whilst there is a lot of footage from the film and the documentary only runs for 19 mins, I was actually quite pleased with this. It gives away absolutely nothing about the actual production, I should point out, but it is the fact that each speaker supplies some genuine and articulate and informed opinion on the tale, the adaptation and the film, that makes this brief behind-the-scenes exploration worth while.
The 9-minute Blooper Reel is sadly not very good, I'm afraid. The line-fluffs and the prop faux-paus on display here don't really lend themselves to the type of guffaw you would normally associate with outtakes. Although there is a cute shot of an enthusiastic young girl ruining a tracking shot during Dorian's piano recital.
A 6-minute series of Deleted Scenes run as one montage of unfinished and unresolved ideas and subplots. There are some interesting things here. A peaceful death-scene reveals something of Dorian's fascination and abhorrence at mortality, a tense moment of threat betrays an element that was totally dropped from the finished film, and there is a great and evocative sequence that has Dorian track down some mystic shaman to seek advice about his condition. I'm not sure if the film would have been better if these elements had been retained, but they remain an intriguing set of ideas.
A brief costume gallery and the film's trailer complete the roster of special features. Oh, and let's not forget the ad for Maltesers, eh? You know it is bad enough to have to put with commercials on TV, but on Blu-rays now, as well - you're 'aving a larff, ain'tcha?
A handsome production that benefits from a beguiling Barnes and the sideline poison of Firth, as well as great mood of slow-seeping dread. The shortcomings of the slight story are addressed with more sex and death, but Parker is not always successful in how he pulls them off. Also, despite some fine Old London sets and reasonable CG embellishments, the film can often feel quite small, betraying its parlour-room roots. However, these are only tiny gripes in what is an effective retelling of a story that everyone thinks they know, yet few have ever really bothered to properly acquaint themselves with. Parker and Finlay manage to dust off the arch theatrics of the tale and boost some gusto into it with a couple of nice set-pieces and a slow-seeping build-up of darkness and dread.
Momentum's disc carries a great little commentary and a reasonable, if brief, themed making-of, and the deleted scenes, for once, actually hint at a deeper, more convoluted narrative. The transfer, though, is a great one on the surface. Scratch a little deeper and, as with Dorian, himself, you'll find some dirty little secrets lurking just below. But, on the whole, the image is seductive and the sound nicely organised without being flashy or overt.
Dorian Gray is no masterpiece, but it is a lot more enjoyable and more elegantly structured than many have claimed. This is a good and occasionally exciting adaptation of a very difficult work of classical literature. With Barnes and Firth involved, it becomes Wilde for the masses, but this cannot be a bad thing. Classy and ambitious, Dorian Gray comes easily recommended for lovers of dark gothic characters and their decadent misadventures amidst all that sumptuous décor.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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