While GOSFORD PARK ($27) is a film that I like very much, I recognize that this movie isnt going to appeal to every taste. Even fans of director Robert Altman will find GOSFORD PARK to be more Merchant Ivory than M*A*S*H, but if you are drawn to interesting character studies and meticulous recreations of bygone eras, this film has a lot to offer. Of course, I should also mention that this is a sharply written film that did receive an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, so I am not alone in my opinions about this wonderful film.
GOSFORD PARK is billed as a murder mystery, but this aspect of the plot really takes a backseat its story of class distinction set at an English country manor during a weekend hunting party circa 1932. We see the world above stairs amongst the petty squabblings of the self-absorbed aristocracy, but the real life of the house happens below stairs in the realm of the all seeing and all knowing servants. Once the audience spends an hour becoming acquainted with all the little idiosyncrasies of everyone in the household, someone is murdered twice. To say anymore about the mystery would certainly spoil it for those not already familiar with GOSFORD PARK.
The huge ensemble cast of GOSFORD PARK is uniformly excellent and had it not been for the fact that Robert Altman was the director, it is doubtful that so many superb performers would consented to performing in the film, especially since many of them took on what amounted to glorified bit roles. Of course, amongst so many characters, there are certain roles in film that allow a few excellent performers to truly stand out. Maggie Smith got one of the plum roles as the snooty Countess of Trentham and earned her self an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Helen Mirren was also nominated for the same award for her outstanding portrayal of the housekeeper Mrs. Wilson, who keeps everything running with the utmost efficiency. The cast of GOSFORD PARK also features Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Eileen Atkins, Derek Jacobi, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry and Ryan Phillippe.
Universal Studios Home Video has made GOSFORD PARK available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. GOSFORD PARK has a decidedly antiqued looked that I would imagine were achieved through filtering and other photographic processes. For this reason, some individuals may not be happy with the overall look of GOSFORD PARK on DVD. The image can sometimes be a bit soft and fuzzy, but I think that the look of GOSFORD PARK works exceedingly well to create the films atmosphere and bring its period setting back to life. For the most part the picture is well defined, which allows one to appreciate the meticulous detail of the films sets and costumes. There is some film grain in the picture and some of the photographic filtering allows the image to come across as somewhat noisy on DVD.
Colors lean a bit towards yellow, as if the filmmakers were trying create the look of an aged photograph of the period. Much of the time hues can be a bit subdued and even a little cold, which also works well in creating the films appropriately reserved atmosphere. Interiors are decidedly warmer, especially those that are below stairs, where the warmth and life of the house truly emanate. Blacks are accurately rendered, contrast is generally smooth and the level of shadow detail is just fine. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed throughout the film.
As a dialogue driven film, GOSFORD PARK doesnt allow its Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack to stand out very much. There are few opportunities for active sound effects, with the opening storm and the shooting scene being amongst the sequences in the film when they are truly noticeable. The rest of the time, the track is fairly quiet, with only ambient sounds and film score being the most notable sound elements to make use of the peripheral channels. Patrick Doyles enjoyable score is well recorded and nicely integrated into the sound mix. As for the bass channel, only the storm and shooting sequences, as well as the films score seem to take real advantage of it. Dialogue is crisply rendered throughout the course of the film with excellent intelligibility. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English and Spanish.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDs interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDs supplemental materials. GOSFORD PARK includes two separate running audio commentaries; the first with is with director Robert Altman, production designer Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy, while the second track features screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Both talks are interesting and take a look at the material from different viewpoints. Altman and company look at GOSFORD PARK from an overall filmmaking aspect, while Fellowes delves deeper into the realm of class distinction.
Roughly twenty minutes of deleted scenes are also provided on the DVD, with the option of directors commentary. None of the deleted scenes change the film in any significant way, but they do flesh out characters even further. The featurette The Making of Gosford Park runs shy of twenty minutes and gives the viewer a look at Altmans filmmaking process, as well as offering interview footage with members of the cast & crew. The Authenticity of Gosford Park is an eight-minute featurette that introduces a trio of elderly technical advisors that were in service on English estates during the period that the film depicts. Actually, it is very interesting to see these experts instruct the cast and crew in the proper way that servants did various things during that period. A Cast & Filmmaker Q&A Session that took place after a screening of the film at The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences has been provided on the DVD as well. Running twenty-five minutes, the program allowed Robert Altman, Julian Fellowes, David Levy, Bob Balaban, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam and Ryan Phillippe to answer questions about the film in front of a live audience. A theatrical trailer and cast & filmmaker filmographies close out the DVDs supplemental materials.
GOSFORD PARK is a meticulously crafted, superbly written and beautifully acted film. I found the movie to be incredibly entertaining, but I realize that this look at British social hierarchy and class distinction in an English manor home isnt going to be to everyones liking. Still, the DVD doesnt have any technical flaws and accurately recreates the films antiqued look, so fans should be more than pleased with the presentation. That, along with the fine array of supplemental materials, makes this a DVD that fans will want to own.
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