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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Bleak House



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#1 of 3 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted May 29 2009 - 05:29 PM

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MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURESVideo1080i high definition 16x9 1.78:1Standard definitionAudioLPCM: English 2.0Dolby Digital: English 2.0SubtitlesEnglishNone

The Series: 4.5/5
England's 19th Century Court of Chancery has become notorious for its ineffectiveness, with no case more representative of its shortcomings than the inheritance suit of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Certain individuals could stand to acquire quite a sum of money, if the court ever determines who the inheritors should be. But the case drags on, raising and dashing hopes from one generation to the next.

John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson), having lost an uncle to suicide over the endless dispute, has more or less relinquished his claims to the inheritance, choosing instead to place his energy into helping those in need. When the Chancery makes him legal guardian to two young beneficiaries - Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy) and Ada Clare (Carey Mulligan) - he is more than eager to help. To provide companionship to Ada, he invites to live with them another of his wards, Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin), a young woman who lost the godmother who raised her years ago but who knows nothing of her real parents. Esther, the eldest of the three wards, becomes the Jarndyce housekeeper, while Richard is quickly put on a career path of his choosing, though he too becomes vulnerable to the empty promises of the Jarndyce suit. His developing romance with Ada looks to be the only thing that will keep him grounded.

Local aristocrat Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) is also a potential Jarndyce v. Jarndyce beneficiary, but has no interest in the matter (or in much of anything). It's not until her husband's attorney, Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance), brings them a set of transcribed court documents that something cracks in her icy demeanor. She recognizes a familiar hand behind the documents' lettering and, if it belongs to who she thinks it does, it will not only bring to the fore a past long since buried, but also jeopardize her current circumstances. With Tulkinghorn obviously keen to her secret, and learning more about it each day, it seems she may soon have no options for avoiding scandal for herself and the others connected to her past.

Gathering a multitude of disparate characters, "Bleak House", skillfully adapted from the Charles Dickens novel by Andrew Davies, spins an impressive web of intrigue, melodrama and personal tragedy. Though the core cast consists of six primary characters, there are easily three times that many once all the supporting and periphery parts are included. Though some of the connections can seem a bit too coincidental, by the time they are presented, it would actually seem strange for the ties not to exist, having seen so many other connective strands prior. With such a sizable cast and complexity of relationships, one would expect the show to bog down in exposition, but the production tells the tale in record time and with an absence of tedium. Though the first episode runs an hour, the subsequent 14 are limited to half-hour blocks, giving viewers an additional feeling of momentum. It also helps that this is a Dickens tale, with all his signature trappings and tropes wonderfully intact, providing a familiarity that will help some quickly settle into the narrative arc.

The big draw to the series is of course Gillian Anderson, best known for her role as Dana Scully on "The X-Files". Her portrayal of Lady Dedlock is excellent, layered and moving, putting more distance between her and Scully than time away from that role ever could. But a uniformly impeccable cast, skillful editing and storytelling, and the effective use of modern, stylistic flourishes ultimately make the production what it is. And that would be a series at turns compelling, emotionally touching and very much recommended.

"Bleak House" on Blu-Ray includes all 15 episodes that aired on BBC One in England and subsequently on PBS (in a slightly altered form) in the United States.


Video Quality: 4/5
The series is accurately framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080i with the VC-1 codec. Originally shot on HD cameras, fine object detail is often quite remarkable - skin and fabric texture being the most notable. Contrast can be variable however, largely a result of some notable black crush throughout the series. However, colors look accurate and suitably deep, though the palette tends to be quite dark with few instances of truly colorful scenes. Finally, there are no signs of either excessive digital sharpening or noise reduction; in fact there are moments of noticeable noise in the tight patterns of things like brickwork in many of the wide shots.


Audio Quality: 4/5
The LPCM stereo track is suitably expansive, making it easy to forget this is strictly a two-channel mix. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible, but moments with directionality and/or sense of atmosphere are effective as well. Being a dialogue-driven drama, there's not much of a "wow" factor to the mix, but it shows that a properly done stereo mix can be both functional and engaging.


Special Features: 3/5
The special features package is a bit slim in terms of quantity, but there's some good depth in both the commentary tracks and the interviews with a few of the actors.

Scene Description Audio Track for the Vision Impaired

Audio Commentaries: For the first episode, Producer Nigel Stafford-Clark, Writer Davies, and Director Justin Chadwick (who directed the first 10 episodes) discuss the book-to-television adaptation process, character portrayals and interpretations, and last minute script changes. Director Susanna White, who directed the last five episodes, joins Stafford-Clark and Davies for commentaries on episodes 11 and 15, which focus more on particulars of those installments than the series as a whole.

"Bleak House Conversations": Actor interviews, spread over the three discs, include Anderson on Disc One (16m43s), Lawson on Disc Two (19m36s), and Dance on Disc Three (16m41s). Each spends some time explaining how they got involved with the project, how they approached their characters, and their personal work style and acting philosophy.

Photo Gallery (2m04s): Behind-the-scenes stills set to the series theme song. Located on Disc Three.


Recap

The Series: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

A complex, but thoroughly engaging, British television adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel gets a very good technical presentation and a decent set of extras.
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#2 of 3 Roger_R

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Posted May 30 2009 - 05:11 AM

So it is actually in 1080p24 and not 1080i? Since it's a BBC production, I expected it to be in 1080i50 and converted to 1080i59.94 for Blu-ray. They did that with Torchwood.

#3 of 3 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted May 30 2009 - 05:25 AM

You are correct Roger, it is 1080i. The review has been updated.
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