Roman Polanski has brought to the screen a graphically violent if undoubtedly gripping interpretation to the already-soaked-in-blood tragedy that is William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Never considered quite on par literarily with the other great tragedies in his canon like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, the Scottish Play (as it's known among theater denizens who have long held superstitious beliefs about the bad luck omens its title portends) is, however, just as well known as those others and has been an educational and dramatic staple from high school and beyond for centuries. This is one of the most admirable and undoubtedly successful attempts to bring the play to real cinematic life emphasizing its themes of ambition, guilt, and folly.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 3.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 2 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/23/2014
Macbeth (Jon Finch), victorious Scottish soldier and Thane of Glamis, along with his close friend Banquo (Martin Shaw) is confronted on a heath by three witches. They prophesy that he will become first Thane of Cawdor and then ultimately King of Scotland. It’s also said that although Banquo won’t ascend to the throne, his offspring will. Once Macbeth surprisingly is dubbed Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan (Nicholas Selby), he and his young wife (Francesca Annis) become obsessed with seeing the rest of the prophesy come true and murder the king on his next visit to their castle. As the two ponder the remaining facets of the prophesy, Macbeth is launched on a bloody path to prevent Banquo and his son (Keith Chegwin) from ever nearing the throne, but his bloodlust begins to lose him followers as both Macbeth and his lady are plagued with guilt for their crimes and begin hallucinating thus alerting those around him to his treachery and deceit. Now Macbeth finds he must defend the crown he so violently seized for himself.Adapted by director Roman Polanski and theater entrepreneur Kenneth Tynan, the screenplay remains mostly faithful to the play with some additions to the script for cinematic reasons (Banquo’s murder, for instance, is only spoken about after the fact in the play but shown excitingly on the screen). At the time of its initial release, there was some criticism over the amount of nudity in the movie: Lady Macbeth’s famous sleepwalking scene is done in the nude and Macbeth’s second encounter with the witches is in an underground coven where a roomful of naked old hags do their incantations around a cauldron, but those arguments seem specious today, and both scenes play beautifully just as they are. By casting young actors to play the title character and his wife, the play takes on a new dimension: these are people whose ambition is more fully understood because they want a long life of power and prestige without waiting for it to come naturally rather than having a middle aged man with only a few years left trying to seize power. It also makes Macbeth’s success as a great warrior and leader more believable with the strength and stamina of a young, charismatic man. If the writers put a few too many of the earlier soliloquies into the minds of the characters rather than having them spoken aloud (Laurence Olivier used this technique to great, if controversial, effect in his 1948 film of Hamlet), it’s understandable why the director is doing it: to make Shakespeare on film less stagy and more cinematic. Polanski also makes sure to show us the extensive vistas of the coastline and the heaths of Scotland to give the film great sweep, and his way of showing the Macbeths’ hallucinations is likewise very cinematic and most effective.Jon Finch wasn’t much liked as Macbeth on the film’s initial release, but he’s certainly comfortable with the language, handles the moments of doubt, rage, guilt, and swagger with confidence, and fights with abandon. He’s a fine Macbeth. Francesca Annis obeyed her director’s wishes and played a more kittenish Lady Macbeth, more whiny than steely in her manner and ambition. It’s not certain the characterization quite works that way and is possibly the film’s one major flaw, but it’s no fault of the actress who looks lovely and does as well she can with the director’s interpretation. Martin Shaw is a subtle and effective Banquo, and Terence Bayler makes an electric Macduff whose climactic battle with Macbeth is one for the ages. John Stride is a stalwart Ross, and Nicholas Selby’s Duncan is as kingly as can be.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Sony’s Grover Crisp supervised the 1080p transfer of this Todd-AO 35 production using the AVC codec in fashioning the 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. It’s a gorgeous transfer that holds up through all the gray, overcast weather due to the constant cloudy skies and rain that the Wales locations offered. Color is solid and true with believable skin tones. Contrast is consistently maintained throughout, and black levels are rich and inky. There are two or three soft shots that are surely part of the original photography and not a fault of the transfer, but no age-related artifacts spoil an otherwise pristine picture. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 sound mix features exceptionally crisp and clean recording of the dialogue which has been relegated to the center channel. The sparse music score by The Third Ear Band gets threaded through the left and right fronts with an occasional cracking sound effect or dramatic musical cue coming into the surrounds to make one blink. The mix is not burdened in the least by hiss, crackle, or any other age-related problems.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Toil and Trouble: Making Macbeth (1:00:29, HD): an entertaining 2014 documentary on the making of the movie featuring interviews with actors Francesca Annis and Martin Shaw, director Roman Polanski, and producers Andrew Braunsberg and Victor Lownes.Polanski Meets Macbeth (47:31, HD): a 1971 documentary film directed by Frank Simon featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production focusing some of the important scenes in the film: the approach of Birnham Wood, the banquet scene, the final fight, and filming some inserts of the witches’ prophecies along with sound bites from Hugh Hefner (who executive produced through his Playboy magazine), the stars, director Polanski, and co-writer Kenneth Tynan.The Dick Cavett Show Interview (13:33, HD): in London in 1971, Dick Cavett interviews Kenneth Tynan on the two most controversial items on his plate at the time: his play Oh! Calcutta! and the film of Macbeth.Two Macbeths (30:03, HD): in 1972 for London Weekend Television, host Humphrey Burton interviews Roman Polanski about his filmed Macbeth and director Peter Coe about his all-black stage version called The Black Macbeth set in Africa.Theatrical Trailers (3:40, HD): two trailers are shown in montage.Enclosed Pamphlet: contains the cast and crew lists, information on the audio and video transfer, and an essay on the movie by film critic Terrence Rafferty.Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
A superb screen version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous and studied plays, The Tragedy of Macbeth is offered on a beautiful Criterion Blu-ray with outstanding picture and sound and quite wonderful bonus features. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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