This is the very painting of your fear.
Stylish and atmospheric, yet eminently faithful to the original text, Justin Kurzel’s sophomore mastering of the classic Shakespeare tragedy Macbeth is an accomplished, resonant piece.With but one indie flick under his belt, director Justin Kurzel takes an impressive leap to tackle one of Shakespeare’s most elusive plays as an intriguing stepping-stone on his way to the long-awaited adaptation of the popular video-game series Assassin’s Creed, which will reunite him with his very own Macbeth, Michael Fassbender. And if this is anything to go by, hopefully Assassin’s Creed will be more than just a Christmas-released summer blockbuster. Rising to the challenge of interpreting the murky Scottish bloodbath, Kurzel reworks and refashions the source text into a lyrical narration of largely visual events, playing out the rich material in all its bloody glory, but also streamlining it into a more accessible, abbreviated form (although arguably losing some memorable moments) which retains the core components of betrayal and murder and destructive ambition, played out within an eminently authentic period setting.There’s no doubt that the end result is a visual work of art, boasting some visually striking set-pieces that even the most devout Shakespeare expert may not have thought imaginable from this tale, and bringing the best out of a dedicated core of performers who seem veritably comfortable expressing their anguish and woe in what is all-but a foreign tongue. Fassbender towers over the proceedings, bringing tragedy and madness to the lead role, with able support from a suitably consumed Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, Paddy Considine as his brother-in-arms, Banquo and Sean Harris, on fire-spitting form as Macduff. With a haunting score (from Kurzel’s brother, Jed) and impressive cinematography from Adam Arkapaw (True Detective), it’s a magnificent attempt at tackling the evasive material and, whilst it requires of audiences a dedication to understanding the near-impenetrable dialogue, it rewards such patience richly.
Picture QualityMacbeth hits UK Region B-locked Blu-ray complete with a largely beautiful 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Although steeped in suitably thick period atmosphere, the presentation still looks largely impressive.
Detail is excellent almost throughout, whether on the over/under-cranked stylish battle sequences, or the more intimate close-up shots of the increasingly distressed cast, taking in the pain, the anguish and even the sickly pallor that affects them; skin textures are intricately observed, whilst clothing weaves look suitably weathered and the Scottish setting (filmed, in part, on location) looks tangibly authentic.
The colour scheme has too been heavily stylised, affording the opening battle sequence an almost bloodless monochromatic hue which is all weathered rags, muddied bodies slashing and heaving in the bleak setting, whilst later feasts boast rich golden decadence and the final conflict a blood orange mist that is highly evocative of the lead character’s plight. Black levels are marginally variable, occasionally affected by the natural lighting style adopted – candles lend the image a slightly less consistent look, and a few of the darker shadows aren’t as deep or rich as you might have liked, instead trading in a questionable shade of gray. Overall, though, this is an impressive presentation which highlights the striking cinematography on offer.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is almost impossible to fault.
Although the spoken words of the lead characters take on a questionable clarity in some sequences, this is more to do with the thicker accents and source text than the observation of the track, which otherwise promotes dialogue clearly across the front and centre channels. Battle cries can be heard across the array, and the bigger conflicts bring the stage to life, whilst blazing fires crackle all around you and the howling wind threatens to take you off your feet. Clashing swords ring out, and even the most minute effect is well-observed, from the fluttering candles to the crack of snapping twigs underfoot in the woods. It’s the score, however, that truly stands out, delivering some palpable LFE rumble and evoking a sense of haunting pain and impending doom, channelling the emotional core of the movie and often portending events to come. Superb.
Steelbook ExtrasThis new interpretation of Macbeth boasts a quartet of solid extras fleshing out the behind-the-scenes workings of the production, with the 8 minute Reimagining a Classic having the cast and crew on set to talk through the process of bringing this new, yet still eminently faithful, adaptation to the Big Screen. They talk about the meaning and beauty of the text and the difficulty in making it accessible for a modern audience and we get plenty of on-set footage too. Macbeth: Casualty of War spends 7 minutes looking at the central character, and how Fassbender brought him to life, whilst Lady Macbeth does the same for Marion Cotillard over the same period of time. The disc is rounded off with a 4 minute interview with Director Justin Kurzel, who talks about how daunting it was making an original language period Shakespeare piece as a second film, and a series of trailers that play on startup.
Macbeth hits UK shores with a solid selection of background material encased in an impressively designed steelbook package.
Although simple, the almost monochromatic images used for Fassbender’s Macbeth and Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth that adorn the front and back cover, respectively, are perfectly chosen as artwork for this steelbook release. And whilst it may not boast any rich gloss or textured embossing, the art is still quite striking and will sit well in your collection.
Blu-ray VerdictThe poetic but dense text may tease with its frustrating elusiveness but the meaning is both visually and emotionally conveyed as clear as day, for those who want to see.
Nonetheless, original-language Shakespeare productions – particularly period ones – will, by their very nature, always be somewhat niche fare, whose unfamiliar dialect alienates much of the potential target audience even before they’ve given it a chance to get through. For those prepared to brave, and commit to, comprehending such an elusive quarry, this superior Macbeth adaptation richly rewards the time invested, and its impressive Blu-ray release, enshrouded in an equally impressive Steelbook package, certainly does justice to the classic tale.
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