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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Age of Innocence (1993)

"Does no one here want to hear the truth, Mr. Archer?"
- Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 14, 2001

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
Other Stars: Alec McCowen, Mary Beth Hurt, Stuart Wilson, Miriam Margolyes, Jonathan Pryce, Joanne Woodward
Director: Martin Scorsese

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG for Thematic elements and some mild language
Run Time: 02h:18m:08s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 043396526372
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-B+B D+

DVD Review

Edith Wharton's ironically titled novel of 19th century New York, The Age of Innocence, won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the first time that a woman won that award. The classic novel here is realized in an equally classic manner by Martin Scorsese, a director one would expect to be more at home with his usual films of urban crime than in 19th century drawing rooms.

Wayland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) has just become engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder). They live in quite straitlaced New York uppercrust society, where societal custom and influence control everything. Their staid way of life is disrupted, however, with the return to America of May's cousin Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), a free-spirited woman who carries on with lovers despite remaining married to the dissolute count. Before long, Archer finds himself falling deeply in love with Ellen, and must face the possible ostracism and scorn that would surely follow if he acts upon his desires.

The three leads all do a superb job with the material. I have no particular liking for Day-Lewis, but found him to be believable and sympathetic here. Pfeiffer and Ryder are both charming in very different ways; while Pfeiffer's range is well-known, Ryder in particular turns in one of the best performances of her career thus far, filled with nuance and sensitivity.

Scorsese's camera seems out of control at times, with wildly sweeping pans and movements that draw attention to themselves. In particular, the dramatic flourish leaving the opera house, where the camera sweeps back from inside the building to across the street. Several notable overhead shots are marvelous as well, such as the ball sequence, filled with waltzing couples over a grand parquet floor. At times, the camera seems drawn more to the opulence than anything the characters are doing; the lens is consistently drawn to paintings, dishware, table settings, costumes and even wallpaper designs. The technique also makes itself known in odd wipes and dissolves that have an exceedingly retro feel to them.

The screenplay (by Scorsese and Jay Cocks) deserves mention as well. The intermittent settings of the opera house and the theater nicely set up the artifice of these dramas against the artifice of the society, where no one dares to say what they think but makes their suspicions and hypocrisies clear. May Wellman is written not as the pure innocent that she is at first declared to be, but displays a growing perception that is still kept just under the surface, just merely hinted at. One of the delights is Mrs. Mingott (Miriam Margolyes), obese grandmother of both Ellen and May, who reigns over society like a 19th century Jabba the Hutt, except with slightly less drool. She has wit and cleverness here much like an armchair detective, with her tentacles out in society to keep an eye on everything whether it pertains to her or not.

The production design is incredible (no doubt part of the reason why the camera keeps being drawn to it). One can hardly watch the film without longing for such gorgeous opulence. The tradeoff, of course, is the rigidity of the life that comes with it. Though passions may seem to be irrepressible, they may not be as powerful as the bonds of custom and society.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is quite attractive. Colors are deep and rich. Black levels are solid and display no notable artifacting. Many of the scenes are very dark, due to Scorsese mimicking candlelight, so I would strongly recommend viewing the film in a very dark room in order to not miss the detail. The picture is crisp and sharp. There is some minor edge enhancement, but I did not find it distracting until near the end, where a tree by Archer's park bench has great white and dark halos about it. A yellow line appears for a few seconds at 2h:11m:47s. The print is otherwise nearly flawless, with only a handful of speckles through the entire running time.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Columbia provides the original Dolby Surround track (only the French DS track is advertised on the case, but both French and English are present), as well as a new 5.1 remastering. They don't sound terribly different, however. The surrounds are used almost exclusively for music. The one notable advantage of the 5.1 track is that there are a few very low bass notes that come through more clearly, giving slightly more depth, but both are quite pleasing. There is a persistent high pitched hiss on all of the audio tracks, however, which can be slightly distracting in quieter moments.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sense and Sensibility, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Gandhi
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:31m:26s

Extras Review: Not much for extras, I'm afraid. One-page selected filmographies for Scorsese, Day-Lewis, Pfeiffer and Ryder, a pan-and-scan trailer for the film, and nonanamorphic widescreen trailer for three other pictures. A brief set of liner notes is useful but more would have been welcome.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

A sumptuous production, with a fine cast, given an excellent transfer. Not much in the way of extras, but a very worthwhile disc nonetheless.


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