Review by Gary W. Tooze
Audio: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, DUBs: French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Subtitles: English (SDH), French, none
• Commentary by director Joe
• 7 Deleted Scenes with optional commentary (7:33)
• Featurette: Bringing the Past to Life - The Making of Atonement (26:52)
• Featurette: From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic (5:03)
Released: March 18th, 2008
The Film:Adapted from Ian McEwan's prizewinning novel, Atonement opens in 1935 on a British country estate, where Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and her sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan, and later Romola Garai) live along with Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), a servant’s son. After witnessing something she doesn't understand, Briony makes some unfounded accusations; the fallout from those charges extends through WWII and beyond.
The hat trick of Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, Atonement, was spinning a typical English country-estate melodrama while simultaneously deconstructing trad Brit lit and equating the writing process with divine providence. Successfully translating these ideas to the screen, however, seemed as likely as Heathcliff coming to a happy ending. Which makes Joe Wright’s big-screen version all the more impressive: He’s produced a gripping, romantic yarn without sacrificing the source’s meta-examination of fiction’s power. Not even the director’s swooning take on Pride & Prejudice (2005) could have prepared folks for this.
Yet Atonement’s extraordinary qualities outweigh any quibbles. Both Knightley and McAvoy finally justify the ink spilled declaring them movie stars, and even virtuosic flourishes like Wright’s Dunkirk-by-Bosch steadicam shot avoid devolving into flashy self-indulgence. The film balances its intimate moments and epic gestures so beautifully that you’d think this stellar adaptation was single-handedly repenting for the rest of the season’s overblown, empty Oscar bait.
This dual-layered HD-DVD (Universal's last) is, just like the film, absolutely brilliant. I could have taken captures of it all day long. Perhaps its only flaw would be certain scenes look overly bright. I recall it in the SD (reviewed HERE) but obviously they are not as noticeable in this higher-grade edition. This can be corrected choosing a slightly dimmer setting on my system (NOTE: I did not dampen for my captures). Colors leap to identity in this 1080P edition which also offers the SD version on the opposite side of the disc. I own about 60 of this dying (now dead?) format and rank this in the top five which would also include Casablanca and Into the Wild. The image is so strong I might put it into the top 10 of all high-definition DVD images in my possession (include over 100 Blu-rays). It's a shame this region-free format has gone the way of the Dodo because if Universal could have kept their production at this high level (they came out with many weak offerings) it might have been more competitive than it was. If you own an HD player then purchasing this disc is a total no-brainer in my opinion. It might even be worthwhile snagging an inexpensive machine to view this and some of the titles, as mentioned above, not out yet on Blu-ray. This transfer is that good in my opinion and an awe-inspiring way to view this timeless film!
NOTE: This will, most likely, be our last HD-DVD review at DVDBeaver.
NOTE: Captures are from the French Blu-ray compared HERE
I didn't note extensive difference in the SD but this English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track is equal or slight superior. There is a similar French DUB. The film has a few dynamically separated moments and when they do appear the rear channels pick them up the more subtle ambiance as well as the bombastic. As I said about the SD - It does have moments of being tested and pass those trials adequately. The soundtrack from Debussy to Puccini blossoms subtly. In short, I have no complaints with the film's audio transfer to DVD. The dialogue is supported by optional subtitles in English (SDH) or French.
Duplicated on both sides of the disc (SD + HD) - There are some fabulous supplements including an interesting and telling commentary by director Joe Wright. He has an easily decipherable accent - there are some appropriate gaps and he talks a lot on the blocking and detailing information to the actors. With the shots of animals he does mention Laughton's Night of the Hunter. There are also 7 deleted scenes with optional commentary. They run about 1 minute each and although interesting I believe the choices of removing them was correct. Finally two featurettes - Bringing the Past to Life - The Making of Atonement runs almost 30 minutes and includes input from Redgrave and Knightley as well as others. There is a shorter one as well - From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic that has Wright input some of the adaptation process - it runs only 5 minutes. NOTE: The HD side extras are not in high-definition.
I'm constantly baffled by what some individuals expect from a film. In my eyes this is pristine cinema. I've seen it 4 times now and I succumb to its charms and precision each visitation. In my opinion it is one of the best modern films I have seen in years. As for this Universal transfer - it is even better than I was hoping for - the film leaps to life before you and makes the viewing experience that much more impacting. Universal have departed this format with an authoritative bang. Blu-ray owners may have a multitude of titles to choose... but they don't have this and I can't think of a BRD that I would trade it for. My mind has run out of accolades - I give this my highest recommendation for film fans everywhere.
THE BLU-RAY is REVIEWED HERE