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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Rent

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Feb 24, 2006.

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  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    [​IMG]
    Rent

    US Theatrical Release: November 23, 2005 (Sony Pictures/ Revolution Studios)
    US DVD Release: February 21, 2006
    Running Time: 2:14:54 (29 chapter stops)
    Rating: PG-13 (For Mature Thematic Material Involving Drugs and Sexuality and For Some Strong Language)
    Video: 2.40:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 & 2.40:1 non-anamorphic)
    Audio: English DD5.1, French DD5.1 (Extra Features: English DD2.0)
    Subtitles: English, French (Extra Features: None)
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
    Menus: Some brief transition and background animation.
    Packaging: Standard 2-disc keepcase; insert has cover art for other Sony Pictures titles on one side and a Rent poster image on the other.
    MSRP: $28.96

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5

    After a decade on Broadway, one of the biggest hits of the modern era of musical theater has arrived on the silver screen. Rent has its share of detractors, due to its glorification of characters who are, shall we say, less-than-productive members of society, but perhaps they are taking it a little too seriously. The show’s intent is to remind us to enjoy life in the face of adversity. Although it's chock-full of very dark subject matter, Rent maintains a positive spirit that leaves viewers with a good feeling.

    The story follows a year or so in the life of eight young adults on the Lower East Side of New York. It takes place between 1989 and 1991, around the time the City started its big cleanup (New York in the 21st Century is like Disneyland compared to the dirty and crime-ridden New York of the '80s). Most of the characters are living hand-to-mouth existences without steady work, several of them are HIV-positive, and the future is highly uncertain for nearly all of them. The plot is loosely based on La Bohème, and viewers familiar with Puccini's melancholy opera or the original novel will recognize a number of details lifted from or inspired by them. However, although Rent does involve tragic events, it takes a different tack than did its source material -- it is no tragedy.

    The central characters are Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal), an aspiring filmmaker and a musician who share a loft in a ratty, condemned building. The same building houses Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a junkie and exotic dancer with, realism be damned (this is musical theater, after all), Hollywood looks. Their friends include Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), a man bright enough to be at MIT but not dedicated enough to stay there, and Benny (Taye Diggs), who's married into money and now owns the property where Mark, Roger and Mimi reside.

    Also in Mark and Roger's circle is Mark's slightly flaky and very flirtatious ex-girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel), a popular local performance artist who is now seeing someone entirely different -- a buttoned-down, straight-laced lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms). No, Maureen isn't too discriminatory when it comes to her sexual preference, which does wonders for Mark's self-esteem.

    The final member of our bohemian octet is Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a cross-dressing street musician who has a knack for odd jobs and, more importantly, for spreading joy. When Mark, Roger and Tom don't seem to have anything to be happy about on Christmas Eve, Angel comes into their lives with a wad of cash and a morbidly funny song-and-dance number about a canine assassination mission. His incredible energy finally gives the guys something to celebrate. The uplifting effect that Angel has on the lives of the other characters is the key to Rent's message.

    Although Benny is given something of an antagonistic role as the oppressive landlord who's sold out his friends, the film wisely doesn't dwell on that subplot. We've heard that story before, and the villain of this tale is the tag-team of poverty and disease, not an evil person. It's not about conflicts between good and bad people; it's about complex people fighting to have loving relationships despite external and internal obstacles. Although none of Rent’s characters are without flaws, it manages to find some goodness in all of them.

    The story of Rent is told almost entirely in song. The lyrics are of uneven quality, with many of them feeling more like dialogue simply set to music than like actual lyrics. The majority of the score is at least catchy, and a few of the tunes are quite memorable. The energetic staging of the songs definitely kicks them up a notch as well. Whether most of the tracks hold up on their own purely as music is open for debate, but they all work very well within the context of the on-screen action. Years ago, when I first heard the cast album, I found most of it to be pretty forgettable, but seeing the full performances is another experience entirely. The musical numbers in the film are alternately touching and great fun.

    Without much straight dialogue between them, the characters take a while to develop and become likeable. The early scenes face a tough task in trying to grab the audience and make them care when we don't really know any of the singers yet. By the end of the film, however, the core characters are very well fleshed out, and it's easy to invest in their story. On repeat viewings, when the people on the screen are already familiar, some of the first-act numbers work a little better. The fact that some of these characters are junkies and not always working to better themselves may be too big of an obstacle for some viewers to get past, but that's one of the risks that the film isn't afraid to face. It's not trying to be everything to everyone.

    Note that I have not seen the stage production, but my understanding is that the differences in the film are minor. Six of the eight leading performers come straight from the original Broadway cast in roles that they helped to develop. Film actress Rosario Dawson holds her own with the theatrical stars (who have a number of Tony and other stage awards between them), even if her vocals aren't quite up to the level of the best singers in the cast. (Interestingly, she actually lived as a squatter on the Lower East Side, and apparently, her mother still does.) Tracie Thoms fits right in with the show’s veterans. A couple of songs have been cut (although they were filmed and portions of them are included in the set as deleted scenes), and a small amount of spoken dialogue has been added to flesh things out. Judging from the pacing, which is generally very good, these changes haven't had much if any deleterious effect. The 135-minute running time feels just about right. If there is a point at which the film stumbles a bit, it's during the extended performance art sequence in which Maureen gets very, very wacky. Fortunately, this scene is peppered with enough humor to keep it from straying into nauseating pretension-land, but it does stretch on a bit longer than it probably should.

    In the end, Rent is an uplifting story about finding strength in loving relationships in the face of life's harsh realities. The cast clearly has a lot of affection for the material and brings great energy to the screen. Director Chris Columbus has adapted a work known for feeding off of its live audience into a different but still entertaining experience. That it would work as a film was no certainty, but they've managed to pull it off nicely.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 3.5/5

    The picture is generally pretty good. There’s a decent level of detail, although much of the film takes place at night, and some shots are overly dark and murky. The original film grain shows, but there are some compression artifacts visible as well. Colors tend to be on the rich side, saturated just beyond the level of pure realism. There’s just a hint of edge enhancement, but as has been the case for most recent Sony discs, it’s much less obtrusive than used to be the norm.


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5

    The audio is pretty solid, with clear vocals and a good 5.1-channel music mix. There’s a decent amount of surround channel activity, but it could have been a little stronger in order to better immerse the viewer in the show – after all, that is one of the selling points of the stage production. The dynamic range is very wide, which may lead to some volume adjustment during quiet sections of spoken dialogue unless the system is really cranked.


    THE SWAG: 3.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Disc 1

    Commentary with Director Chris Columbus and Selected Cast (Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp)

    An informal, chatty track that covers a lot of the choices that were made in adapting the material. It occasionally devolves into giggles, but for the most part it’s very good.

    Disc 2

    Deleted Scenes And Musical Performances (11:58)

    Five scenes, including an alternate ending, are included. They can be watched with or without commentary from Columbus and Anthony Rapp, which explains why some of them were cut. Some of the music leans to the whiny side, but it’s interesting to see. One number highlights Mark in a solo song, while some of the scenes flesh out the Benny character a bit.

    Documentary: No Day But Today

    A series of six excellent featurettes that can be played separately or in sequence via the trusty Play All button. They include a lot of home video footage and interviews with people who were involved with the show and with its creator, Jonathan Larson. They cover all sorts of interesting stuff over their nearly two-hour running time.

    Introduction (1:50)

    A brief overview of Jonathan Larson and the history of the show.

    Days Of Inspiration (23:20)

    The story of Jonathan Larson’s life and the development of his musical career.

    Leap Of Faith (23:05)

    The development of Rent from original concept through several iterations to its present form. This section explains how the AIDS crisis of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and other issues that directly impacted Larson’s life became key components of the work.

    Another Day (14:30)

    The members of the original Off-Broadway/ Broadway cast tell how they became involved in the project. Some interesting photos and footage of the stage production are included.

    Without You (24:57)

    This piece covers Jonathan Larson’s final days (he died suddenly the night before the show opened Off-Broadway – you can’t make this stuff up) and how the show and the people involved with it went on without him.

    Over The Moon (24:30)

    The development and production of the movie adaptation.

    PSAs

    Two Public Service Announcements are included. They are actually pretty interesting. One talks about the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, which provides grants to struggling writers and musicians (5:52), with comments from famed composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Wicked), and the other explains the National Marfan Foundation (1:02), which fights the often misdiagnosed medical condition that was probably responsible for Larson’s death at the all-too-young age of 35. In it, Anthony Rapp explains how to look for the warning signs of the syndrome.

    Trailers
    • Benchwarmers (2:30) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Marie Antoinette (1:46) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • The DaVinci Code (2:00) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • The Legend Of Zorro (2:28) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
    • Freedomland (2:33) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Fun With Dick & Jane (2005) (2:08) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • Memoirs Of A Geisha (2:37) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)


    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5
    The Way I See It: 3.5/5
    The Way I Hear It: 4/5
    The Swag: 3.5/5


    Translating a work of musical theater into a motion picture is an interesting and challenging project, just like adapting other types of works such as novels. Should the film remain completely faithful to its source, as with some of Sondheim’s filmed plays, or should it present the music and story in an entirely fresh style, as with something like Chicago? Rent finds a happy medium between the two, maintaining the intimacy of the stage production while opening things up with a variety of settings. It’s gotten a nice DVD treatment as well, with very good A/V and some extraordinarily in-depth extra features.

    Despite the smashing success of Rent on the stage, bringing it to the cinema was a risky endeavor. With the possible exception of Chicago, audiences have not exactly been flocking to musical films in recent years. It’s certainly not going to appeal to anyone who doesn’t enjoy musicals, and elements of its subject matter may turn off some theatergoers. Unfortunately, Rent didn’t come close to making back its budget at the box office, but hopefully the DVD will find the wider audience it deserves. “Rent-Heads” as well as musical theater enthusiasts and others open to the concept should enjoy it.
     
  2. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    Sorry for the post-release-date writeup. I got a late batch of screeners from Sony.

    (Carrying the discussion over from the announcement thread.)

    Amazingly, the disc has 29 chapter stops! I can't remember the last Sony DVD that didn't have exactly 28 of them. [​IMG]

    I liked the deleted scenes, but I agree with leaving them out of the film itself. Its length felt right.

    I also prefer the ending they used, although the alternate is good too. Listen to the commentary -- the reason for choosing the ending they did makes a lot of sense.
     
  3. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Well-Known Member

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    Good review Aaron. Missed this in theaters but it was on my radar. Need to give it a rental for sure. [​IMG]
     
  4. Jason_V

    Jason_V Well-Known Member

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    Mine arrived on Tuesday and I'm giving it a spin tonight. With all the features (and a second disc) on this set, it pains me not to see the trailers. They are what drove me to see the movie when it came out (had the music and was kinda iffy on it).
     
  5. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, Tim!

    Jason, I had the same reaction to the music when I first heard it, and people told me that it worked better as part of the show -- as it turns out, they were right. [​IMG]

    Speaking of trailers, the Marie Antoinette preview on the disc is just bizarre (it's a new Sofia Coppola flick starring Kirsten Dunst as zee Queen).
     
  6. Adam_WM

    Adam_WM Well-Known Member

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    As for the songs from the deleted scenes, they should not have been removed. As a RENT purist, I really felt they should be there... especially on DVD!
     
  7. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

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    29 chapters?

    here's my list fropm the other thread. what chapter did i miss?

    chapters.

    i havent watched yet, so i dont know if titles are spoilers.


    1. seasons of love
    2. rent
    3. you'll see
    4. guardian angel
    5. one song glory
    6. light my candle
    7. today 4 u
    8. tango maureen
    9. life support
    10. out tonight/another day
    11. will i
    12. santa fe
    13. i'll cover you
    14. over the moon
    15. la vei boheme
    16. i should tell you
    17. viva la vie boheme!
    18. happy new year
    19. locked out and cleaned out
    20. welcome to corporate usa
    21. take me or leave me
    22. without you
    23. i'll cover you (reprise)
    24. goodbye love
    25. what you own
    26. searching for mimi
    27. your eyes
    28. finale
     
  8. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Thanks for the review, Aaron.

    I've been following Rent since before it won Tony awards, and have listened to the cast recording many, many times. It grows on you. The show is largely sung-through, with snippets of dialogue. I kind of like the all-singing version, but can understand the rationale of toning it down for a movie audience.

    Having seen the stage show, the greatest loss, IMO, is the number "Contact" which would have been very difficult to translate to film (and would have probably pushed it past PG-13 into R territory). As it stands, the seque from "Without You" to "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" works almost as well. It's just not as kinky.

    I also miss the full "Goodbye Love." It ties things together nicely.

    But having great renditions of "Today 4 U" and "La Vie Boheme" more than make up for the changes to the songs.

    As for the DVD...

    I liked the documentary on Jonathan Larson, but it was emotionally hard to watch when his friends and family got into Larson's death. What a tragedy.

    Thanks again for the review, Aaron.

    - Steve
     
  9. Alan Kurland

    Alan Kurland Well-Known Member

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    We watched it tonight. Very enjoyable, though we really loved the broadway show (seen twice) and the album (listened to many times) so we're biased. I wasn't keen on seeing it in the theater after so many mediocre reviews. Its better than I expected, though with the difficulty of translating a show into a movie. We didn't get to the extras disc tonight.

    Overall, I agree with 3.5 rating. The broadway show was a 4.5, and I expected the movie to be a 2.5-3. Definitely worth watching for fans of the broadway show, for others its definitely worth a Rent!
     
  10. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    That includes the final chapter stop at the very end of the program, which allows you to chapter-forward from the last substantive chapter to the end. Pretty much every other Sony disc just has 28 chapters including that one.

    Glad you guys enjoyed the review!
     
  11. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Well-Known Member

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    Looking forward to renting and watching on the projector...
     
  12. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    Question. . .if you buy a copy and watch it, are you still "Renting?" [​IMG]
     
  13. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Having listened to my music major daughter sing Rent over and over while she was still in High School (I must have listened to "La Vie Boheme" at least 300 times a week) I wanted to go see the movie when it first came out just for the music. Then it came and went at the theaters pretty fast so I picked up the DVD. While I enjoyed it I will still let down somewhat by it. I really couldn't put my finger on what I didn't like about it but somehow I expected more and it was a bit of a let down for me.

    I will have to ask my daughter when she gets home from college over the summer what she thought about it on film.
     
  14. Matthew Clayton

    Matthew Clayton Well-Known Member

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    I liked the movie, but it just felt stage-bound and never really took flight as an actual film musical, but the songs were good and the cast acquitted themselves nicely. (Yet 2004's The Phantom of the Opera didn't feel stage-bound, but save for 1-2 songs, the music was unmemorable, and Rent was the opposite.)

    I'll probably buy the movie used sometime in the future.
     
  15. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Well-Known Member

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    What's stage-bound about it? This adaptation takes advantage of a three-dimensional space far more than most.
     
  16. Matthew Clayton

    Matthew Clayton Well-Known Member

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    I don't know why it feels stage-bound, but I think it's because most of it takes place indoors (save for a couple of scenes), it just makes the movie feel confined. Not to mention the message of the movie is pretty much stuck in the '80s, anyway. (Although it still holds resonance today, the way it's delivered pretty much dates it.)

    Or maybe because I saw the pan-n-scan version of it, which made the movie feel cramped. Maybe when I see the film in all of its widescreen glory, I'll change my mind.
     
  17. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Well-Known Member

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    While I agree that AIDS as a death sentence in America doesn't have the same truth that it did in the '80s, I don't agree that makes it any more stage-bound.
    As for seeing it P&S, I'd imagine that would make a huge difference on the impact. I'm not sure if this was Super-35 or not, but the film definitely exploits the 2.40:1 frame.
    The only reason I questioned it was because one of the things that struck me from the moment we left "Seasons of Love" was how CINEMATIC it was. I mean, Mark riding through the streets on his bike and at times coming right toward the camera seemed as blatantly three-dimensional as you can get without singing on top of mountain tops (which Roger ends up doing later on anyway). "Today 4 U" and "La Vie Boheme" feel somewhat stagey just because the numbers require them to be in a confined space. By contrast "Out Tonight" is almost epic in the way it utilizes the geography of the neighborhood.

    My original reason for posting tonight though was that I've just finished watching No Day But Today. Despite being split into Featurettes to avoid the cursed documentary label with all of the royalties that entails, the complete work (available through a "Play All" option) is a true fantastic job by Automat. It says it's the story of Rent and that's what it is. A warts and all portrayal of the story from Johnathan Larson's childhood through to the movie's completion. The coverage of the movie itself was probably the blandest part. The story of how Larson's life in NYC is shockingly personal - both about him and his friends that have died and all the friends and family that haven't. Also surprising is how much the coverage of the stage era relies on interviews with Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker. I expected them to be shunted to the sidelines since they weren't part of this promotional vehicle. But they were giving and inciteful. The totality is an emotional and inspiring journey much like the film itself.
     
  18. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    Packy, I think it's almost guaranteed to be a letdown when you're comparing it to your own kid's performance! [​IMG]
     
  19. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    To abuse a tired cliche, the medium may be dated, but the message isn't. [​IMG] Although the setting of the film is the AIDS crisis of that era, because it's taken from Larson's own life (he didn't have AIDS, but a number of his close friends did), the *message* of the film is more universal -- I see the AIDS and poverty in the story as being representative of whatever adversity people may face in life.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if the cramped feeling was due to the pan&scan.
     
  20. Jason_V

    Jason_V Well-Known Member

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    ^ Exactly. Plus, there's more to the movie than just the AIDS portion. There are still poor, homeless people in every American city (let alone the rest of the world) who have it far worse than anything depicted in Rent.

    I see Rent more about a group of people coming together who have no blood relation to each other in order to prop each other up when life hits them in the balls. Yep, AIDS is an integral part of the story; but there is no way you're going to to convince me it's outdated.
     

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