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Anna Karenina (2012) Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 4 Kevin EK

Kevin EK

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Posted March 02 2013 - 11:52 AM

Anna Karenina makes a theatrical entrance onto Blu-ray in an edition that does the best it can to show off the sumptuous costumes and design work while including some bonus features that attempt to explain the intentions behind this baffling production.  Viewers who have never read the novel by Leo Tolstoy should be cautious about jumping into this movie unprepared – the oblique style of the presentation can make it extremely difficult to follow the story, which can quickly lead to confusion.  The movie is certainly well-acted and produced, and the high definition presentation on the Blu-ray is a wonder to see.  But the movie itself is less an enthralling drama than it is an exercise in artifice.


ANNA KARENINA

Studio:  Universal/Focus Features/Working Title

Release Year:  2012

Length:  2 hrs 10 mins

Genre:   Russian Period Drama/Romance/Theatrical Approach


Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, VC-1 (@ an average 33 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.6 mbps, up to 4.2 during big scenes), Spanish DTS 5.1, English DVS

Subtitles:   English SDH, Spanish, French


Film Rating:  R (Some Sexuality and Violence)


Release Date:  February 19, 2013


Starring:  Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson

Screenplay by:  Tom Stoppard

Based on the Novel by:   Leo Tolstoy

Directed by:  Joe Wright


Review Rating:    2 ½/5


Anna Karenina is a real head-scratcher of a movie, when you get down to it.  The central story is not that complicated – it’s an examination of the aspects of love in 19th century Russia, as seen in the forbidden affair of married aristocrat Anna (Keira Knightley) and a cavalry officer, and in the more acceptable bond that forms between wealthy landowner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and a young woman who grows to accept him.   This is a classic tale of romance and tragedy, occurring in the setting of an opulent and stratified society, and it’s been told many times before.  The current production is actually the thirteenth feature film to be made from the Tolstoy novel, and that’s not counting the television and stage adaptations.   So it’s understandable that director Joe Wright did not wish to just make “another” adaptation of the novel.  However, Wright’s choice of presentation is downright baffling.  Wright’s conceit has been to place nearly the entirety of Anna’s story within the confines of a 19th century theater, with many scenes played on the stage where the side angles look into the backstage area.  Levin’s story initially takes place in the same theater but as his story diverges from Anna’s, he is seen to actually walk out into a realistic exterior environment.  There are interesting thematic ideas being presented here – of Russian aristocratic society being seen as an artificial one where appearances trump reality, of the intense theatricality of Tolstoy’s story, of even the notion of commenting on the artificiality of a modern production in English of a period Russian novel.  But these are ideas that would find better use in a thesis paper or perhaps a college stage production.  Perhaps even a student film could do some of these things on a very small scale.  But Joe Wright, who is quite a talented director, has chosen to use the thesis paper approach to mount a major feature film.  And that’s where the train, excuse the pun, leaves the tracks.   An early-ish scene set in a governmental office where the clerks all do a kind of ballet with the rubber stamps and both an accordionist and a tuba player walk through the shot while playing their part in the score, is but one example of Wright’s approach.


The result of the deliberately artificial approach and the emphasis on form over the content is that many scenes actually push the viewer away rather than encouraging empathy.   There’s almost a Brechtian aspect to this movie – in that the movie keeps telling the viewer that what is being shown is not real, thus encouraging a more clinical reaction than an emotional one.  And this is clearly the intent – Joe Wright is too skilled of a filmmaker to have a result like that happen by accident.   Of course, the production and the presentation are top notch.  The production design and the wardrobe are truly stunning to behold.  (It was not a surprise to see Costume Designer Jaqueline Durran receive an Academy Award for her work on this film.)  The cast is also strong, throwing themselves into this approach with remarkable enthusiasm.  Keira Knightley and Jude Law lead the group, but there are some great performances from multiple corners, including Matthew Macfadyen and Olivia Williams.   It’s just that the final result is less than the sum of the parts.  The viewer is left with less of a sense of the tragedy of what has occurred than a kind of clinical remove from the entire affair.  People wishing to engage in a philosophical debate about the nature of love in Tolstoy’s Russia will probably find much food for thought here.  More casual viewers who simply enjoy the movies of Joe Wright and Keira Knightly will probably be less satisfied.   And viewers who have never read the Tolstoy novel will likely be completely confused.


Anna Karenina was released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 19th.  The Blu-ray edition contains high definition picture and audio of the movie, along with a commentary, some deleted scenes, nearly thirty minutes of featurettes and a time-lapse video detailing the the set construction.  The Blu-ray comes with the DVD included in the package, as well as instructions for obtaining digital or ultraviolet copies.  The DVD contains all the same material as the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition.



VIDEO QUALITY   4 ½/5

Anna Karenina is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p VC-1 encode that presents the movie in the best possible light.  Detail can be seen in the many intricate costumes and even in the darkest recesses of the stage setting.  If anything, the high definition picture reveals even more of the deliberate artificiality of the painted backdrops and the theatrical conventions.  Colors are quite striking throughout as a deliberate statement of design, and this transfer shows them all off to dazzling effect.



AUDIO QUALITY    4 ½/5

Anna Karenina gets a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which both emphasizes the stage setting and adds in additional sounds to suggest a larger world.  There is a 5.1 DTS mix in Spanish, as well as an English DVS mix.

                              

SPECIAL FEATURES      3 ½/5

Anna Karenina comes  with a fair amount of extras:  a commentary with Joe Wright, some deleted scenes, several featurettes and a time-lapse motion study of the set construction and repeated conversions over the course of the production.  All of the special features are available both on the Blu-ray and on the DVD.


Commentary with Director Joe Wright – Joe Wright provides another one of his thorough discussions about his process and intentions.  (Wright notes right off the bat that he’s essentially picking up where he left off after the commentary for Hanna…)  Wright discusses his intentions behind the notion of setting the nearly the whole production inside the theater, and the point of the divergence between the stories of Anna and Levin.  He is generous in his discussion about the actors’ contributions, noting the various subtleties in their performances. 


Deleted Scenes (13:08 Total, 480p, Anamorphic) – Eight deleted scenes are presented here in standard definition.  Nearly all of them are just additional glimpses of Anna or added character moments with the minor characters.  Levin’s story gets fleshed out a bit more here, but it isn’t anything that the completed film truly needed.  The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.  The odd thing here is that the deleted material, unlike the featurettes, is presented only in standard definition.


Anna Karenina:  An Epic Story About Love  (4:54, 1080p) – This featurette provides a general overview of the story and the enthusiasm for the production shown by Joe Wright, his cast and his designers.


Adapting Tolstoy  (5:12, 1080p) – This featurette focuses on the work by both Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard to bring the novel to the screen for the umpteenth time.  The decision to place the production inside a theater is addressed as having been a nearly last-minute change-up, but one that actually did not affect the screenplay as such.  Stoppard and the designers express approval of this change in adding to the unique nature of this production.  Wright describes his approach here as being a nod back to his roots in puppet theater.


Keira as Anna  (4:25, 1080p) – This is a kind of love letter to the work of Keira Knightley, who has now worked with Joe Wright on multiple productions.  Both Wright and Knightley offer observations, as do the other cast members about working with her.


On Set With Director Joe Wright (5:05, 1080p) – This featurette focuses on the directorial style of Joe Wright, including his method of starting a production with weeks of rehearsals with the actors.


Dressing Anna (3:26, 1080p) – This short featurette is appropriate, given that the production just won an Academy Award for the work of this department.  Designer Jaqueline Durran discusses the look of the wardrobe, as does Joe Wright.  Durran notes that Wright asked for a composite silhouette for many of the women’s costumes, adopting a 19th Century hoop skirt look for the lower part of the dresses and a 1950s slim look to the upper half – thus giving the cast more freedom in their ability to move and breathe while maintaining a period appearance.


Time-Lapse Photography (8:16, 1080p) – A camera placed up in the permanence of the stage captures multiple looks of the theater set as it is prepared, initially lit and filmed, and then repeatedly reset to different specifics over the course of the production.


DVD – The DVD edition of the movie is included in the packaging.  The DVD contains both editions of the movie in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (@ 448 kbps), along with all the special features in standard definition.   The DVD also has a separate “Previews” menu, containing trailers for Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Jane Eyre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Debt, The Eagle, Elizabeth, and One Day.


Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.  The other side of the insert is an advertisement for both soundtrack releases.


The movie is subtitled in English, Spanish and French.  The usual pop-up menu is present, including a complete chapter menu. 



IN THE END...


Anna Karenina is a truly frustrating experience.  On the one hand, it’s a brilliant production, mounted by some really talented people both on camera and off and presented by Joe Wright, a remarkable director with a great track record.  On the other hand, it’s a baffling exercise in aesthetics over storytelling that would better be suited for a classroom discussion than the production of a major motion picture.  The Blu-ray release presents the movie in the best possible light, with great picture and sound.  Fans of the Tolstoy novel, as well as fans of Joe Wright and Keira Knightley, may wish to rent this to see how they feel about the latest approach to the novel.  More casual fans, particularly those who have not read the novel, should be a lot more cautious.


Kevin Koster

March 2, 2013


Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “ISF-Night” picture mode

            HDTV Calibrated in June 2012 by Avical

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer



#2 of 4 benbess

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Posted March 03 2013 - 12:19 AM

Very good review. But I had more of an emotional reaction to the film than you did. There have been something like half a dozen or so more traditional adaptations of this novel, and this time they decided to do something different. I'm glad they did. One of my top dozen or so films of 2012.

#3 of 4 JParker

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Posted March 04 2013 - 11:59 AM

Very good review. But I had more of an emotional reaction to the film than you did. There have been something like half a dozen or so more traditional adaptations of this novel, and this time they decided to do something different. I'm glad they did. One of my top dozen or so films of 2012.

For a different take on the film than Kevin's, see Steve Sailer here: http://takimag.com/a...r#axzz2MccsA4ab Excerpt:

Joe Wright first directed Keira Knightley in a decent remake of Pride and Prejudice in 2005. Two years later, Wright and Knightley almost hit the Academy Award jackpot with the glossy Atonement, an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s celebrated bestseller. I argued at the time, though, that Wright and his screenwriter Christopher Hampton were overly in awe of McEwan’s merely good novel, making their adaptation too faithful to truly work as a movie. Now Wright and Knightley are back for a third try, one that solves the problems I saw in Atonement. This time Wright has picked a really good book, Tolstoy’s 1870s novel Anna Karenina, and has hired the one living screenwriter able to chop the Russian giant’s 350,000-word classic down to a 130-minute movie: the great playwright Tom Stoppard. I’m probably the ideal audience for Stoppard’s terse screenplay because I’ve listened to my wife describe Anna Karenina’s characters and plot enough times over the years that I wasn’t lost watching the movie. Yet having never actually opened the book, I couldn’t be resentful—as so many better-read critics have been—that the filmmakers didn’t squeeze in all my favorite scenes. Stoppard is often attacked for his notorious cleverness, but he tries to use his brainpower to make audience comprehension as simple as possible (but not simpler). Russian novels, however, are notorious for their endless characters with endless names. For example, Anna’s husband is Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, while her lover is Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. In his narration, Tolstoy gets around this self-inflicted problem by calling the father of Anna’s son “Alexei Alexandrovich” and the father of her daughter “Vronsky.” To help Western audiences, Stoppard mostly skips the middle names... Anna Karenina has been adapted for the screen frequently, including Greta Garbo’s take, but Wright’s version is astonishing. Many will find it over-stylized and cold, but I was enraptured. First, I’ve seen many a Keira Knightley movie over the years and had come to assume that the bony beauty from Pirates of the Caribbean must have hit her ceiling as an actress. Yet her surprisingly strong performance as the adulterous aristocrat is a reminder that she’s still only 27 and may have the best of her oeuvre ahead of her. She looks great in Muscovite fashions, too, often sporting a transparent veil that casts a softening shadow on her imposing jawline. Second, Wright’s pictorial flair is close to overwhelming, reminiscent of Baz Luhrman’s in his 2001 Moulin Rouge. Luhrman’s similarly supercharged adaptation of The Great Gatsby, with Knightley’s friend and rival Carey Mulligan as the unfaithful Daisy Buchanan, was racing Wright’s Anna Karenina to the screen but has now been postponed to next year... After receiving Stoppard’s script, Wright, who grew up at his parents’ London puppet theater, came up with the Stoppardian idea of setting his film within a theater. Wright’s notion of portraying aristocratic family life as actual public spectacle is promising, but he didn’t get Stoppard to help him develop it much, so it remains half-baked. Yet even though Wright often appears to have art-directed himself into another lavishly decorated corner, he constantly comes up with segues of near-genius to keep his hyper-ambitious movie moving. Wright’s Anna Karenina is not by any means a filmed play. Instead, it’s metaphor literalized, as the aristocratic characters play out their private lives on stages made painfully public by omnipresent observers gossiping about them. Third and most remarkably, Wright’s film may be the first of the numerous Anna Karenina adaptations whose sympathies lie firmly with her cuckolded husband, the unsexy bureaucrat Karenin.

I myself prefer the more traditional approach... All a matter of perspective or taste...

#4 of 4 Kevin EK

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Posted March 05 2013 - 06:07 PM

I agree with some aspects of Steve Sailer's review.


I do think the movie engenders a fair amount of sympathy for Karenin, and I agree that the stylistic flourishes are similar to those of Baz Lurhmann.   He and I agree about the metaphorical staging and setting for the film.


But I don't agree with his take on Atonement, which I found to be a better film and one that was well-deserving of consideration as Best Picture.  Of the Joe Wright movies I have seen, I prefer Atonement.  But I also enjoyed Hanna very much.


We both agree that Joe Wright is a brilliant director, and one always worth watching.







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