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Sam Mendes
Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth
Writing Credits:
Sam Mendes

Depressed middle-aged Hilary's life gets a boost when she meets lively younger man Stephen.

Box Office:
$10 million.
Opening Weekend:
$163,405 on 110 Screens.
Domestic Gross:

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/21/2023

• “Creating Empire of Light” Featurette


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Empire of Light [Blu-Ray] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 9, 2023)

Back in 1999, Sam Mendes made his debut as a feature film director with a bang. American Beauty snagged a bunch of Oscars and made him a force in cinema.

Over more recent years, Mendes created two Bond films and 2019’s 1917, a World War One tale. With 2022’s Empire of Light, Mendes returned to the smaller, more character-focused approach of American Beauty.

Set in the coastal England town of Margate circa late 1980, middle-aged Hilary (Olivia Colman) works as a manager at the Empire, a golden-age movie palace. However, hard economic times take their toll and the Empire struggles to stay afloat.

In addition, Hilary lives a lonely existence – punctuated solely by a joyless sexual affair with her married boss Donald (Colin Firth) - and suffers from psychological issues that damage her outlook on life. All this starts to change when a bright, charming younger man named Stephen (Micheal Ward) joins the Empire crew and adds a glimmer of hope to Hilary’s dreary existence.

Many know of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, the female who comes along and lifts the male protagonist out of his doldrums. Though less dominant, a male strain exists as well – think Jack Dawson from Titanic, for instance.

Add this movie’s Stephen into that category. While Light manages to give Stephen some arc of his own, mainly related to the racism he experiences, the tale mainly focuses on Hilary and how her time with Stephen draws her out of her shell.

Which is fine, but I don’t think Light manages to find anything particularly interesting with this well-worn theme. Granted, the movie doesn’t make Stephen a cure for all that ails Hilary, but the story still lacks a lot of real inventiveness or introspection.

Indeed, even when Hilary’s tale takes a sour turn, Light does so in a melodramatic manner, and one that revives Stephen as that Manic Pixie Dream Boy to boot. These developments feel less organic and more like an attempt to give Colman some big “Oscar moments”.

Colman and the others in the cast do fine, but I can’t claim the movie gives them especially rich characters. Even Hilary – who dominates – tends to feel thinly-sketched and without much more to her than clichés related to folks with psychological issues.

Light tosses in aspects related to racism as well, but these tend to feel as though they come from a different movie. The story mixes in Stephen’s side in a clumsy manner that fails to connect and leaves the end product as disjointed.

Add clumsy metaphors and Light fails to connect. Despite a lot of talent, the film meanders and never gets into the necessary groove.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D+

Empire of Light appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a strong visual presentation.

Sharpness looked appropriate. Delineation remained satisfying, so the image seemed accurate and concise, with nary a bit of softness along the way.

No issues with jaggies or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Source flaws also remained absent.

In terms of colors, the movie opted for amber/orange and teal, though it kept these subdued, so they didn’t go crazy. The low-key palette seemed satisfactory.

Blacks were pretty dark and tight, and low-light shots displayed solid clarity. Overall, the visuals appeared positive.

I wouldn’t anticipate fireworks from the audio for a character piece like Light, and its DTS-HD MA 5.1 track gave me the expected subdued affair. Music became the most prominent aspect of the soundfield, as the score used the five channels fairly well.

Effects had less to do. Ambience ruled the day, so not much more gave the track pop. This seemed appropriate, though, as the flick didn’t come with obvious opportunities for sonic sizzle.

Audio quality appeared fine. Music was full and rich, while effects came across with appropriate accuracy, even if they lacked much punch due to a lack of ambition.

Speech came across as distinctive and concise. Nothing here excelled but the soundtrack fit the material.

Called Creating Empire of Light, a featurette spans 18 minutes, 12 seconds. It involves notes from writer/director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, co-producer Lola Oliyide, producer Pippa Harris, executive producers Michael Lerman and Julie Pastor, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, production designer Mark Tildesley, Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley, location manager Emma Pill, and actors Olivia Colman, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Tanya Moodie, Micheal Ward, Crystal Clarke, Hannah Onslow, and Tom Brooke.

“Creating” looks at story/characters, cast and performances, elements that reflect Mendes’ life, photography, sets and locations, and related topics. Occasional insights emerge, but a lot of the featurette emphasizes praise and happy talk.

Despite a strong pedigree behind it, Empire of Light becomes oddly superficial and trite. Though we get occasional glimmers of potential here, the end result feels less than involving. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, adequate audio and minor bonus materials. The movie never becomes overtly bad but it fails to satisfy.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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