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RICHARD III ($25) is an incredible cinematic adaptation of the Shakespearean play about the malformed and ruthless Duke of Gloucester, whose murderous ambition allowed him to ascend to the thrown of England. The film’s star, Ian McKellen and its director Richard Loncraine fashioned the film’s screenplay from Shakespeare’s original text, changing the film’s medieval setting to that of an alternate 1930’s England, which displays a marked similarity to that of Nazi Germany. This RICHARD III is very ambitious in its reworking of the material, however the film proves to be wonderfully successful thanks to the amazing production design, solid direction and superb performances. In this form, RICHARD III makes the entire Shakespeare experience very accessible by placing characters in settings and costumes that are far more familiar to the average viewer. Even the Shakespearean language seems simpler to understand because the story is brought into the 20th century.

Ian McKellen delivers a sly and wicked performance as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who begins to systematically eliminate everyone that stands between him and the throne- starting with his own brothers. Just watching McKellen play this wonderfully theatrical role is a joy unto itself and more than justifies the price of admission. While almost every other performance in the film is exemplary, there is no one who ever comes close to overshadowing McKellen’s brilliant turn as Richard III (although, I admit Maggie Smith has a moment or two). The cast of RICHARD III also features Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Jim Carter, Dominic West, John Wood, Bill Paterson, Adrian Dunbar, Donald Sumpter, Tim McInnerny, Kate Steavenson-Payne, Matthew Groom, Marco Williamson, Edward Hardwicke and Roger Hammond.

MGM Home Entertainment has done a fine job with their DVD edition of RICHARD III. The dual sided DVD offers viewers a choice of full screen and 16:9 enhanced wide screen. Since RICHARD III was intended to be seen in ‘scope, watching the full frame version simply won’t do. MGM’s anamorphic presentation restores the film’s 2.35:1 theatrical framing and the transfer itself is wonderful looking. The image is crisp and fully detailed, with the colors being quite strong and very appealing. Flesh tones appear natural and the image displays many fully saturated reds that are recreated without a bit of chroma noise or bleeding. Blacks are accurately rendered, plus the picture boasts strong shadow detail and excellent contrast. There are no noticeable traces of digital compression artifacts on this DVD.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a first rate mix that is well suited to the material. Battle sequences are big, loud and aggressive, while the smaller scenes are very subtle in terms of sound effect placement. In both instances, the immortal bard’s dialogue is never drowned out and the actor’s voices resonate with a natural timbre. The track has a pretty solid bottom end that enhances the sounds of tanks, gunfire and explosions. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus include music, but are otherwise quite basic. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVD’s lone supplement- a theatrical trailer.

RICHARD III is a marvelous film rendering of the Shakespearean drama that features a amazing performance by Ian McKellen. MGM’s DVD edition of RICHARD III looks and sounds great. Definitely recommended to Shakespeare fans.

Richard III



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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