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John Madden
Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson, Imelda Stuanton, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Rupert Everett
Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard

A comedy about the greatest love story almost never told.
Box Office:
Budget $25 million. Opening weekend $224,012 on 8 screens. Domestic gross $100.241 million.
Rated R for sexuality.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Actress-Gwyneth Paltrow; Best Screenply; Best Supporting Actress-Judi Dench; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design; Best Score-Stephen Warbeck.
Nominated for Best Director; Best Supporting Actor-Geoffrey Rush; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Makeup; Best Sound.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 122 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 12/7/1999

• John Madden Commentary Track
• Commentary Track with Cast & Crew
• Shakespeare in Love and on film
• Television Spots
• 1998 Academy Award-winning costumes
• Deleted Scenes
• Shakespeare Facts
• Theatrical Trailer

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Shakespeare In Love: Collector's Series (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Try as I might, I still can't quite get over the fact that Shakespeare In Love won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1998. I don't feel this way because I thought it was a terrible film or because I thought any of its competitors were significantly better. No, I just still remain somewhat shocked because while SIL is unquestionably a well-made and entertaining picture, it just doesn't have "Oscar gold" stamped all over it.

Actually, that should be a good thing. I've bemoaned the Academy's stiff tastes for years, since they seem to prefer somber historical epics over most other offerings. That's why we've witnessed such atrocities as Gandhi's victory over ET and Chariots of Eggs's defeat of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although only loosely based on actual events, SIL had the historical part, but no one would ever call it "somber" or an "epic"; it's a fairly light romantic comedy, which is not the kind of movie that usually wins Best Picture honors. In fact, the last two true comedies to win Best Picture were Annie Hall in 1977 and Tom Jones in 1963! (Some might also include Forrest Gump in the comedy category, but I think it's too much of a drama to apply. Still, the case can be made. I guess that to win, a comedy has to have a name in the title.)

Anyway, I will recognize that it was nice to see the Academy make even this minor break with their tradition through the recognition of a light romantic comedy, but it still startles me just because SIL is so light that it's a miracle the images stuck to the film. This movie is Hollywood high concept at its best. It's one thing to create a romantic comedy about a struggling writer and his love affair, but to make it about Shakespeare takes the whole thing to another level.

A dangerous level, I might add, for SIL could quickly have become campy and silly. As it stands, I witnessed far too many clever-clever in-jokes, such as the way Shakespeare's lines are inserted into parts of the character's regular lives; there was something little too cutesy about that for my liking. And the increasingly absurd escapades of the film's climax always struck a false chord with me; I won't reveal what happens, but the events hearken to the intentionally-goofy revelations of the end of Tootsie.

Still, I must admit that SIL has grown on me to a degree. I thought little of it when I saw it theatrically - something I did just because I like to see as many Best Picture nominees as possible prior to the awards - and only gave it another shot because I love special editions and I got this one for little money. On second review, my opinion of the film didn't change radically, but I could see its charms a little more clearly. Make no mistake: SIL is a very well-crafted, clever film that benefits from fine execution; I just can't help but continue to see it as somewhat over-rated, even if it is a very good movie.

(By the way, am I the only one who thought that while in drag as "Thomas Kent", Gwyneth Paltrow looked an awful lot like Bowie? Its not a perfect likeness, but the resemblance is eerie nonetheless!)

The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B- / Bonus A

Shakespeare In Love appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite all the abuse Disney take from DVD fans, they do crank out some excellent film transfers, and this one absolutely shines.

Sharpness appears virtually flawless from start to finish. Whether a scene used close-ups or extremely wide shots, everything looked crisp and clear. I noticed no evidence of moiré effects or jagged edges, though I saw some very slight artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print itself seemed wonderfully clean and free of any defects such as grain, speckling, or scratches.

In a picture full of strengths, it's hard to pick a favorite, but I'd have to say I most enjoyed the sumptuous hues of SIL. The film uses a rich palette - mainly through the gorgeous costumes, but also via the sets, particularly when we visit the various estates - and the colors come across beautifully here. From start to finish, these hues appear bold and appropriately-saturated with no signs of bleeding or noise; the colors are a true delight.

Also excellent are dark tones. Black levels looked terrifically deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed nicely opaque but not distractingly so. SIL offers an absolutely first-rate picture.

Less pleasing but still decent is the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As one might expect from a character-driven comedy/romance, the soundfield seems modest, with little emphasis on creating much of an effect. The forward soundstage appeared pretty good; while it focusses on the center channel, a fair amount of ambient effects emanate from the sides, and the movie's score also takes advantage of the stereo sound. The rear speakers are used consistently but lightly; I think a noticed maybe one or two actual effects the came strongly from the surrounds, but for the most part they simply gently bolstered the music and ambience.

Audio quality is acceptable but somewhat thin. I noticed this tone in all aspects of the sound, but it seemed to affect the music most strongly; while the score seems fairly smooth and bright, I thought it lacked substantial low end and appeared weaker than it should. Dialogue suffers to a degree; although speech was consistently clear and intelligible (with the accents occasionally making some lines hard to comprehend), dialogue rarely sounded natural to me. Effects weren't harmed to the same extent mainly because they were the least important part of the mix - this isn't Saving Private Ryan, after all. Ultimately, I found the soundtrack of SIL to be relatively good but somewhat disappointing.

SIL is part of Miramax's Collector's Edition line, and it does pack in some solid supplements. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes just from director John Madden and offers a compelling look at the film. Madden ably covers a variety of issues about the movie, crossing from technical elements to discussions of the picture's structure to the various Shakespeare references. It's an entertaining and informative look behind the scenes.

The second commentary comes from a huge group of participants. We hear from actors like Ben Affleck, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush and Judi Dench plus folks on the other side of the camera like writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, costume designer Sandy Powell, a bunch of producers and others. These folks weren't recorded together; instead, all of their comments seem to come from different interview sessions. Normally I prefer commentaries like this over the extemporaneous single-speaker kinds like Madden's; the extra participants usually add zest, and the editing makes these pieces more coherent. That's not the case here. This commentary is definitely good and I learned a lot about the picture - the remarks of writer Norman were especially useful - but I thought maybe a few too many speakers were tossed into the mix; we don't get much substance from most of them, and it can become confusing at times as I lost track of who was who. Ultimately, it's not really that important to identify each speaker, but I reflexively expended thought on that issue with each new voice, and I found it distracting. The track is definitely worth a listen, but I thought it was a little disappointing.

SIL features a number of other extras as well. We find a decent 22-minute documentary called Shakespeare In Love and On Film. This program spends most of its time discussing the movie itself, which it does through a combination of film clips and brief interviews with the actors and other participants. It also includes a brief overview of a number of movies that were based of Shakespeare's work; this section came as a surprise if just because it offers clips from so many of these films, and I didn't expect them to get the rights to do this. Anyway, it's a fairly superficial documentary but it's worth a watch.

We get about ten minutes and 40 seconds of deleted scenes. Actually, the final 40 seconds offer a mildly funny outtake that is discussed during the second audio commentary that includes an inside joke; the other ten minutes are comprised of true deleted scenes. Two of these are actually extended versions of existing segments. One shows more of the fight that takes place during rehearsal and it lasts about three minutes, 45 seconds; the other runs 85 seconds and it expands upon the bar scene in which we meet Marlowe. The former is truly excessive and makes the scene dull, so it was justifiably removed, while the latter adds little since it barely differs from the final shot.

The main scene we find is the first, a four minute and 50 second segment that provides an alternate ending. It goes from the point not long after the completion of the play all the way through what would be the start of the credits. While the ending they used probably works better, this one actually has some merits and might have been successful as well.

If you like advertisements, you'll be in heaven with this DVD. Not only does it include the film's theatrical trailer, but we also receive no fewer than 21 TV spots. That has to be the record, doesn't it?

A section called 1998 Academy Award-Winning Costumes provides a brief discussion of those outfits. It shows us scenes from the film intercut with some behind the scenes footage and offers interview narration mainly from costume designer Sandy Powell. The piece only runs for about two minutes and fifteen seconds, so it's fairly superficial, but it still provides a little bit of good information. (Note that some of what Powell says also appears in the second audio commentary, so don't be surprised that these redundancies exist. For that matter, the 22-minute documentary also repeats some quotes, but it seems less problematic in a longer program.)

Finally, we get some text materials on the DVD. Shakespeare Facts provides just what the topic describes; a few pages of information about the Bard. Actually, these combine tidbits about the man himself with details of theatrical productions of the day, so the title doesn't complete cover the topic. We also discover a subcategory in this area, "Biographies" of different real people upon whom SIL characters were based. From Queen Elizabeth I to Christopher Marlowe, this section features eight brief biographies in all. Though they're pretty brief and lack detail, I liked this area because it helped add to the experience.

Actually, most of the supplements contributed to making me enjoy the movie more, and since that's really the point of good extras, I'd have to say that the Collector's Edition of Shakespeare In Love is a success. It remains a rather light trifle with little real substance, but it's still a fun, clever and well-made piece of work that seems likely to stay entertaining over repeated viewings.

Although the sound is relatively weak, the picture is first-rate, and the extras made me more fond of the film. The "movie-only" DVD of Shakespeare In Love offers a list price $10 less than this $40 MSRP set, but I think the quality of the supplements makes this package worth the extra money; if you're interested in the movie, the CE is the way to go.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3448 Stars Number of Votes: 58
3 3:
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