The Tragedy of Macbeth Blu-ray Review
Tragedy begets tragedy
Polanski’s classic 1971 adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the controversial filmmaker’s early gems, and one of the best interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic play.Steeped in graphic violence and nudity, it’s hard not to draw connections to the elements that brought about this entry in Polanski’s early career: it was the first film that he made after the murder of his pregnant wife as part of the Manson massacre and it involved the graphic depiction of the murder of a wife and children; and it was funded by Hugh ‘Playboy’ Hefner (when Polanski couldn’t get funding elsewhere), and involved a sleepwalking scene which was, arguably, unnecessarily played in the nude. However the skilled filmmaker’s interpretation of the classic play rises above any connotations and remains a stylish, expertly shot feature, staying largely faithful to the original prose but also framing the dark tragedy with an arguably even darker, more conspiratorial slant that, in some ways, elevates the scope of the original to become less a standalone nightmarish fairytale and more a Caesarean reflection on repeated cycles of violence.Although the largely British cast are not universally exceptional, they do a good ensemble job, with Jon Finch taking the reins as Macbeth in the first of a number of Shakespeare adaptations that he would participate in; Martin Shaw making for a suitably sceptical Banquo; and a striking Francesca Annis as the scheming Lady Macbeth. Polanski wields them well, and indeed orchestrates one of his grandest productions, shooting some visually impressive sequences (reflected sunsets; the perfectly-framed castle on the hill; and some curiously effective effects-accentuated shots) and managing the herds of people well, whether in the banquets or the on the battlefield. Although Michael Fassbender’s recent Macbeth oozes style and moody atmosphere – and Kurosawa’s samurai-variation, Throne of Blood, is the most critically acclaimed – Polanski’s 45 year-old vision arguably remains one of the best classic interpretations.
Picture QualityThe Region B-locked Blu-ray offers up a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, sourced from a director-approved, newly minted 4K transfer, with meticulous restoration work done by Criterion themselves.
Criterion’s UK release of Polanski’s Macbeth matches up to the US counterpart in providing a strong, faithful rendition.
Although there are inherent flaws to the source material – the shoot itself was plagued by bad weather and fractious through Polanski’s own perfectionism, leaving some sequences more variable than others and even a couple of downright awful shots in the mix (the zoomed-in shot of one of the witches, in the pouring rain, was never going to clean up well) but thankfully these are few and far between, with a largely outstanding job providing a very natural-looking organic transfer that is utterly filmic in natural and has a very healthy layer of largely consistent grain pervading throughout.
Sound QualityThe accompanying audio track is just as faithful.
Similarly promoted with the same DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 track that adorned Criterion's US counterpart, the audio track, although inherently front-focussed, is a solid effort which offers up the key elements of the feature with clarity, distinction and warm richness. Sure, there's no dynamic surround work here - no disseminating effects across the array with precision - but that was never really on the cards and, instead, we get solid work on the all-important dialogue that pervades the piece (in particular the inner monologue) whilst the ethereal score provides strong support and further enriches the proceedings.
ExtrasA salvo of hefty documentaries and featurettes completes the package.
Again, Criterion offer up the same universal extras, which include not only a 45-minute archival Documentary from 1971, Polanski Meets Macbeth, which contemporaneously charts the production, but also a brand new hour-long retrospective Documentary with Polanski and a number of cast and crew members (including Shaw and Annis) reflecting on their work. There are also a couple of short archival episodes from talk shows discussing Macbeth, with Polanski on hand for the second, half-hour one, from 1972, where he talks about what inspired him to adapt Macbeth, and his take on the classic tragedy. The disc is rounded off by the film's original Trailers.
Blu-ray VerdictContinuing Criterions flagship UK salvo, Polanski's classic adaptation of Macbeth impresses.
Matching up to the US counterpart release, it's another great job from Criterion, who provide faithful video and audio and a great selection of extras. Fans who've been restricted by region should lap it up.
You can buy The Tragedy of Macbeth on Criterion Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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