So the film is most definitely worth having in the collection, but does the blu-ray serve the content well? How does the picture stack up? Well, like with Moulin Rouge this new disc comes with a new remastered picture personally approved by Baz Luhrmann. It is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is, of course, 1080p. I must say that it is always pleasing when a director takes the time to personally approve a new transfer for release on Blu-ray. It means that you definitely know you’re getting the film as it should be seen.
Having reviewed Moulin Rouge earlier this month and seen what a good job they have done with that picture and sound it is quite clear that the same effort has been expended here too. If the picture is not quite up to the standard of the Moulin Rouge disc then this is only because of differences in the source and the techniques used in filming. This is still, however, a very good disc.
It is very important, with this transfer, to start by talking about the colour. This is because the very opening scene (a shoot-out in a gas station) really shows everything that this transfer is about with the colour. The colours as represented in the image are stunningly bright. They are absolutely retina-searing, possibly the brightest colours I have yet seen represented on Blu-ray. This is obviously part of the technique used in filming. The disc has had the colour timing corrected frame by frame by Luhrmann himself, and this really shows. Compare it to the original DVD release and the improvement is stunning. I have to say that personally I am not a huge fan of the way that the colour is represented – to me it is rather overdone. However, it is testament to the disc that all my previous viewings (on DVD) have never brought this situation to my attention. Watching it on Blu is really like watching the film for the first time through the eyes of the director, and even though I am not a fan of this choice I can do nothing but give kudos for the effort gone to in order to improve the image for hi def.
There is a low level sheen of grain present throughout the transfer, and this is pleasing on the eye – giving a nice organic tone to the image. Black levels are also deep, and facial detail is also excellent. It is extremely pleasing to see that remastering to Baz Luhrmann does not involve DNRing the image to destruction.
If I had to be hyper critical, then I would say there are some areas of inconsistency within the image. There are a couple of scenes where softness is evident, but this is most likely to be a situation with the source rather than any efforts during the remastering process. Whereas I maintain that this is not as good as Moulin Rouge, I stress again that this is not down to the remastering process which is top notch. I am giving the disc an eight for picture which is at the very top end of a recommended mark bordering on reference quality.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Julietarrives on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Again, this is a competent effort which never really reaches the heights of the Moulin Rouge disc.
The dialogue is nicely anchored to the front center – with a nice wide sound stage in the front. Effects occur off screen to the right and left, accompanying the action nicely. The dialogue is not always as clear as it might be, for the reason that the bass seems over cooked. The sub really is pushed by the bass line in some of the songs, which has the effect of drowning out some of the dialogue. I cannot comment on whether this is part of the original sound mix or not, and it is certainly not prevalent all the time – but when it does occur it is rather distracting.
The surround speakers are sparingly used. There are times where you would expect far more ambience to be created and in fact the speakers are not used at all. At other times they are quite active, providing some interesting counterpoint to the action on screen. The best way to describe the surround speaker use is “showy”. There seems to be no interest in providing subtle ambience – only in underpinning action scenes with explosions and gunfire. Now, this is probably me being hyper critical. When the surrounds are used, they are used very well. I just expected a little more general atmosphere to be created in the non-action scenes.
This disc follows the same pattern for the extras as the Moulin Rouge disc. We therefore begin with Shaking up Shakespeare which is a PiP commentary. This is basically the audio commentary (which is available separately) with added text and pictures. Sometimes the added stuff talks about the music over a particular scene, sometimes it looks at the language, sometimes it just looks at general trivia. This is an excellent track, although it does rather make the audio track redundant. We then have From the Bazmark Vault which again shows footage framed in an artistic manner rather than filling the whole screen. Also, there is no Play All option here. We get a mixture of rehearsal footage and behind the scenes footage in a series of extremely brief (often 2 minute) vignettes.
By far the best extra on the disc is the 49 minute Romeo + Juliet : The Music which is absolutely fascinating. As we speak my finger is hovering over the 10th anniversary CD at Amazon, which I guess is kind of the aim. Please don’t think that this is just promotional fluff though. Far from it. It covers every aspect of the musical background to the film, and tells you everything you need to know (and plenty you didn’t even know you needed to know). The highlight may be the section on Everybody’s Free which later became a number 1 single for Luhrmann, but there is plenty to fascinate here.
Director’s Gallery is another subsection missing a “Play All” option. This basically is a section of behind the scenes and rehearsal footage of key scenes as well as some extra bits covering the pitching of the film to studio execs, and the reason for adapting the play in the first place. These really do suffer from the lack of a “Play All” option – I’m sorry to go on, but it really interrupts the flow to stop every few minutes and wait for the menu to boot up again. However, have the patience to do this, and there are some real gems in here.
Two subsequent galleries Director of Photography and Interview follows the same principle – bite size mini featurettes which impart useful background info but again without a “Play All” option. The package is rounded off with a Trailer.
This may not be the best Shakespearian adaptation out there, but it is certainly the most interesting. It has a kinetic energy which is rare on the screen, and even rarer in a Shakespeare film, but still manages to remain pretty faithful to the original play (albeit slightly abridged). The actors cope with the demand of the bard well, and the only weakness is the central relationship between the two leads. Of course, in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet this may seem crippling to the success of the film, but somehow it doesn’t here. The whole approach to the way the film is shot and edited means that it brings a fresh perspective to the play and is therefore worthy of a place in anyone’s collection. The soundtrack is awesome too.
Although there are a few very minor issues with the sound and picture that narrowly prevent these getting reference marks, this is very unlikely to be down to the effort put into the remastering process which is top notch. There is no doubt that the image in particular is light years ahead of what has been seen before, and the sound is lively at most times too.
The extras package is excellent, but the lack of a “Play All” option really does spoil things slightly.
Overall, then, this is worth a purchase for anyone who is interested in Shakespeare or Luhrmann’s career. The film is constantly interesting and vibrant – whatever flaws it may have. The disc may have some slight flaws, but I cannot imagine a DVD rendering Luhrmann’s world anywhere near as faithfully as this Blu-ray does.
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