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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Pride and Prejudice [Blu-ray]

 

(Simon Langton, 1995)

 

 

 

 

 

This Blu-ray will also be released in the US on April 14th, 2009

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: BBC Production with Arts & Entertainment Network & Chestermead

Blu-ray: BBC 2/entertain

 

Disc:

Region: All

NOTE: despite being sold in the UK this Blu-ray is REGION FREE and will play on Blu-ray players worldwide.

Runtime: 327 min

Chapters: 6

Size: 50 GB

Case: Expanded Blu-ray case with flip page

Release date: January 20th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080i or 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ about 33 Mbps

 

Audio:

English DTS HD Master-Audio 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, none

 

Extras:

• Pride and Prejudice: A Turning Point for Period Drama with Andrew Davis & Costume Designer Dinah Collin. (31:10)

• Technical Restoration Featurette (5:36)

• Detailed Video Calibration Menu

 

 

The Film:

From the same people who gave us the remarkable Planet Earth series on Blu-ray, comes an important historical drama. It is important not only because it is an example of a well-produced period drama – and arguably the best adaptation of this most popular Jane Austen novel – but because it signals possibilities in restoration that we had always longed for but thought was not possible. For those of us who appreciate the kind of fine drama that was produced for television over the previous couple of decades, and particularly those series produced for the BBC and found their way to North America on Masterpiece Theatre or the A&E Network, this Blu-ray of Pride and Prejudice will astonish and delight.

For this is not merely a transfer onto high definition video of the same masters from which we watched the show on television and certainly not from whatever sources were used for the DVDs that followed. No, this is a back-to-the-negative affair, the results of which are mind-boggling – even considering that the original source is only 16mm.

 

 


It was indeed the enthusiastic popular and critical response to this production of Pride and Prejudice that cleared the way for a resurgence of adaptations of the novels of Jane Austen. Following close on its heels were Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet (1995), Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park with Frances O'Connor (1999), an adaptation for television of Emma (1996) with Kate Beckinsale, and a theatrical Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow in the same year; and later, an updated Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (2005), at least one film about or directly inspired by Jane herself: Becoming Jane, plus all manner of TV series including yet another Emma now in production. There was in fact a superb made for TV movie of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds that was first released in North America the same month that Pride and Prejudice began its run in England. But it was the smashing success of Pride and Prejudice that turned a two-hundred year old spinster, about whose personal life surprisingly little is known, into England's most popular source for movies and television dramas.

The Series : 9
While hardly unknown by 1995, it was his performance as Mr. Darcy, the snob surprised by love, that nailed the screen persona of Colin Firth for which he has become famous in roles similar and diverse in The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Bridget Jones's Diary (where he plays a character named Mark Darcy) and Love Actually (where he plays a character named Jamie Bennett).

Jennifer Ehle (pronounced "EE-lee") hails from North Carolina and studied in London. A serious stage actress, she has won two Tony's as well as critical acclaim for her work for film and television (and a BAFTA for Pride and Prejudice). She played Christabel LaMotte in the 2002 misguided film adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Possession, and recently was seen as the terminally ill wife in Pride and Glory.

 


 

Image: 5/6
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

As can be inferred by my score for the video, it is not in absolute terms that this Blu-ray is to be valued or understood. Nor do I want to rest my case with a casual defense of the original source being super 16mm (with its picture area of about 1.66:1). Cf: HERE. The image quality is not much compared to well transferred material from 35mm sources in good condition. But neither is it objectionable as we take in its full five and a half hour length. The grain that we observe is perfectly natural to the medium. But the image is otherwise sharp and rich with color, especially for the costumes and sets – which was hardly the case with the DVD. And that's an understatement.

We find bit rates that are very high – typically in the mid-30s, contrast is excellent, and flesh tones have been restored to standards that the living enjoy. The aspect ratio change is inspirational. The image on the DVD often seemed cramped or cropped of important figures on one side of the other. Well, here they are. To be fair, the Blu-ray does crop the top and bottom of the frame compared to the DVD, but this never appears in error as does the previous horizontal cropping.

No, what sets this Blu-ray apart and makes it of historical importance is how much better it is than any version anyone has seen before – on broadcast or on video. I imagine that what was seen on British television was superior to the DVD (either the A&E/Image R1 or, by reports I've read, the R2), but nothing could have come close to what we have here. Most important is the extent by which it obliterates the existing DVDs, since that has been the only form any of us have been able to watch this for the past decade, and what it portends for other made-for-TV dramas that have shared a similar fate on DVD.

In the 5-minute featurette about the hows and whys regarding the restoration we learn a most remarkable thing: that previous videos were sourced from positive prints rather than directly from the negative, and that sorting out how to master from these kinds of 16mm negatives, with their problematic joins between scenes, has only been sorted out recently – so says our guide.

The only thing I have not been able to yet confirm to my satisfaction is whether the image is 1080i or 1080p. The cover says "1080i" but my PS3 fails to indicate a change of resolution from the 1080p page before it. I shall try to sort this out with 2entertain and report back ASAP.

 Blu-ray TOP vs. original DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. original DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. original DVD BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/9
Once again, uncompressed audio rules. The new Blu-ray even benefits from the extra ambiance that the 5.1 mix provides, permitting more of the feel of those peculiarly English 18th century rooms and halls. The music blossoms forth with a radiance that the DVD never knew existed. I can't say that the dialogue is any crisper, but it does sound more natural and seems to emanate from actual people (a serious fault on t he R1 DVD) – otherwise, why bother with Jane Austen in the first place.

 

 

Operations: 7
Now this is a first – for me anyway. Both discs have selectable audio guided menus plus an audio commentary that describes the action of the entire feature. There are even audio guides to the most elaborate setup instructions and calibration test patterns I've yet encountered on Blu-ray. Remarkable! I debited one point for the infernal internal flip-page – as cheap and silly as ever.
 

 

Extras: 7
There are two extra features, one pf them in HD, both recorded last year for this Blu-ray presentation. The first is a 30-minute discussion of the series from the points of view of Andrew Davis, the person who adapted Ms. Austen's novel and Dinah Collin, who talks about costumes. Also on board are Drama Publicist Alan Ayres and TV Critic Baz Bamigboye who place the series in the historical context of contemporary media. Davis's comments are especially interesting, since I wouldn't have guessed the extent to which his adaptation included directions for how the shots were to be considered. He speaks candidly of one instance that he wished could have been staged differently, as if it were his fault for indicating the actors should be walking together instead of standing face-to-face, a decision I would have taken to be the director's. This feature is rendered in high quality 16x9 standard definition.

 

 


The other feature is a short technical discussion led by Vince Narduzzo, who has been in the business of color grading and telecine mastering of motion picture and television film since 1980. I found the visual examples he gave compelling – jaw-dropping would be more like it, but his explanation for why there were difficulties mastering direct from the negative until now assumes knowledge even the average videophile might not have. Still, his talk and demo, which also touches on the subject of film grain and how it is manifest on video, was sufficient for the purpose. I do like that the segment is presented in 1080i so that we can see the comparison to best advantage, though keep in mind that what he shows us as video made from prints is still much better than what we have endured on DVD.

 

 

Bottom line: 9
While the image quality of this release is not up to the standards we have come to expect from 35mm or HD video sources, BBC/2entertain should be given high marks and our support for bringing this superb drama series to life.

Leonard Norwitz
February 8th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

This Blu-ray will also be released in the US on April 14th, 2009

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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