Mrs. Harris appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer ranged from pretty strong to not so hot.
Sharpness was up and down, though the movie usually offered good delineation. Softness interfered with moderate frequency, as occasional shots appeared less than well-defined. Still, much of the time, matters were reasonably concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but light edge enhancement showed up through the film. Source flaws also caused a few distractions. Grain was heavier than expected, and I also noticed a few specks and marks.
Colors varied as well. Some exteriors demonstrated nice vivacity, but most shots seemed a bit flat. The colors were acceptable but rarely better than that. Blacks were reasonably dense and firm, while shadows were inconsistent. In general, low-light shots came across as somewhat thick and lackluster. This was a watchable transfer but not one that excelled.
Similar thoughts greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mrs. Harris. The soundfield failed to deliver a lot of pizzazz. Most of the information focused on the front channels, where music offered decent stereo imaging and general ambience. A few scenes such as a thunderstorm opened up the spectrum and used the surrounds to fine effect. Otherwise, this was a restrained soundfield.
Audio quality was satisfying. Speech always came across as concise and distinctive, and I noticed no edginess or other issues. Music seemed clear and vibrant, as the score and songs were reproduced with good vivacity. Effects played a minor role but were clean and accurate. This was an unexceptional track.
When we check out the DVD’s extras, the main attractions come from two separate audio commentaries. The first presents actors Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. Though their pairing sounds like a dream, it starts as a nightmare. During the movie’s first act, the actors have very little to say. Dead air dominates, and their few remarks simply state the obvious.
Happily, things eventually improve. The actors talk about their roles and their performances. We get some info about research – or a willful lack thereof on the part of Kingsley – and other aspects of the production. The characters remain the focal point, and we learn some nice notes in that realm. Bening dominates in this insightful piece. You’ll have to suffer through a boring spot to get to the good stuff, but this ultimately turns into a pretty good commentary.
For the second audio commentary, we get notes from director Phyllis Nagy. She also gives us a running, screen-specific discussion. Nagy chats about the opening credits and their connection to the flick, costumes and makeup, editing, tone and pacing, casting and working with the actors, music, research and the script, photographic styles and visual design, sets and locations, cinematic inspirations, fact vs. fiction and a few other production notes.
That’s a lot of material, and Nagy usually makes this a good commentary. She drags at times, as occasional dead spots occur. Nonetheless, much of the piece works well. We get a very nice overview of the production and all the important issues. I can’t call this a gripping discussion, but Nagy does her job.
Lastly, we find a featurette. Mrs. Harris for the Record: Firsthand Accounts runs four minutes, 51 seconds as it presents archival comments from the real personalities behind the film. We hear from Jean Harris (in 1993 and 1991), defense attorney Joel Aurnou (1999), criminologist/defense witness Prof. Herbert MacDonnell (1999), assistant prosecutor Thomas Lalla (1999), presiding judge Russell R. Leggett (1999), police Chief Willis Harris (1980), author Diana Trilling (1981), and Dr. Herman Tarnower (1978). We also get some remarks from Bening, Nagy, and executive producers Elizabeth Karlsen and Christine Vachon.
“Record” acts as a teaser, really. It tosses out short tidbits from those involved but doesn’t provide any substance. That’s too bad, as this DVD would benefit from a true documentary examination of the Harris/Tarnower situation. That would’ve been a great supplement to offset the dramatization. Unfortunately, this quick featurette doesn’t give us much to satisfy those cravings.
I maintain similar feelings toward Mrs. Harris itself. The flick boasts an excellent cast and intrigues us with its bizarre story of love and death. It just doesn’t prove truly fulfilling. The DVD offers mediocre picture and audio, but it tosses in two generally interesting audio commentaries to add value. This is a rental-worthy release.