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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers."
DVD ReviewWilliam Shakespeare, had he lived 400 years later, would in all likelihood have had an outstanding career as a screenwriter. Combining a felicitious turn of phrase and timeless rhythm of language with a brutality and gusto that plays to the cheap seats, he also leavened his scripts with a healthy does of understanding of the human psyche. Roman Polanski here presents a properly blood-soaked rendition of one of the shortest of the Bard's plays, Macbeth.
Set in the Scotland of about 1000 years ago, the play features the thane Macbeth (Jon Finch), who is battling in the service of King Duncan (Nicholas Selby). When he runs across three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will hereafter be king of Scotland, Macbeth and his lady (Francesca Annis) decide to help fate along by murdering Duncan in his sleep. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, especially one got in such a fashion, and the circle of killing must grow ever more and more. This classic play of unfettered ambition also delights in the guilt that torments both Macbeth himself as well as his wife, who is the driving will behind his deeds.
Filmed shortly after the vicious knife murder of Polanski's wife Sharon Tate by the Manson Family, this picture seems to be an exorcism of sorts for the director. The picture runs free with gore, with much hacking and stabbing with knives, often in uncomfortable reenactment of the Tate murder. It is of course appropriate for this play, however, and the subject matter no doubt drew Polanski's attention for this reason. Since it was funded by Hugh Hefner, there was no doubt a nudity clause requiring a certain amount of bare flesh. However, Hef probably didn't count on the aged, obese and deformed coven of witches fulfilling that clause for him.
The cast is quite understated for the most part. Jon Finch plays Macbeth as sullen more than anything; he does get in some good moments just after Duncan's death and again right near the climax. Francesca Annis seems rather frail and feminine to make a proper Lady Macbeth, but she does add a bit of spunk at times. Terence Bayler's Macduff tends to stick out as far more animated than the rest of the cast, which helps to compensate for the very short screen time that he occupies.
Polanski adds a number interesting touches to the text. In a literal foreshadowing, the shadow of Duncan's crown falls over Lady Macbeth's face as she plots his slaughter. After Duncan's murder, the sounds of ordinary life—roosters and hogs included—continue unabated, underlining the frailty of human dominance. The sword battles are energetic (and include some hand-to-hand fighting in armor to boot) and quite entertaining. The effects, including decapitations, get the job done without looking desperately fake or phony. The settings are striking, most notably Castle Macbeth perched atop an outcropping like an enormous stone vulture.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The widescreen Todd-AO picture is presented in anamorphic manner, even though the keepcase neglects to mention this point. For the most part, this looks fabulous, with excellent and sharp detail, bright and vivid colors (set against the foggy greys of Scotland) and fine solid blacks with plenty of shadow detail. Unfortunately, the first five minutes or so look absolutely terrible. Covered with dirt, damage and scratches (including a green scratch on the right side that lasts for several minutes), the opening sets one up for a hideous viewing experience. Thankfully, it gets light-years better, but one must wonder at why Columbia would start this picture off with such a thud.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track sounds quite good. There is hardly any audible hiss or noise, and there is plenty of detailed sound. The swordfights have a clanging presence that sounds wonderful. The music by The Third Ear Band is rather atonal and not to my tastes at all, but it comes through fine, without significant distortion.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sense and Sensibility
Extras Review: The sole extras are a pair of 1.85:1 nonanamorphic trailers. The first is a hissy and rather beaten-up trailer for the principal film; the other is a very pretty one for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility. One wonders at exactly who at CTHE thought this was an appropriate pairing...."If you liked the gorefest that is Macbeth, you'll love the twisted swordplay and extreme violence of bloodthirsty Jane Austen's senses-shattering epic!" Yep, I can see it now. The chaptering is the usual 28 stops from Columbia.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsA bloody rendition of The Scottish Play, with some good choreography and visual interest. The transfer is quite good, except for a shabby first few minutes, but little is to be had in the way of extras.
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