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A&E Home Video presents
Jane Austen's Emma (1997)

"It was badly done, Emma. Badly done, indeed."
- Mr. Knightely (Mark Strong)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 05, 2000

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Bernard Hepton, Mark Strong
Other Stars: Samantha Bond, James Hazeldine, Dominic Rowan
Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:47m:00s
Release Date: October 26, 1999
UPC: 733961700275
Genre: romantic comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AC+C D+

DVD Review

A young and meddlesome middle class girl, Emma Woodhouse is too engaged in matchmaking and filled with hubris that she cannot see the consequences of her ways. While it is integral to the story whether or not Emma will mature and learn from her mistakes, Jane Austen's Highbury is a condemnation of a society more concerned with level than love. Here happiness is subordinated to advantageous arrangements and dowries.

For a seemingly small town, Highbury is a hive abuzz with activity. Emma is in attempt to match Mr. Elton, the town vicar, to Miss Harriet Smith, who is of little consequence. But Miss Smith is more interested in Mr. Martin, who himself is a man of little means. Mr. Elton however, is instead desirous of Emma. The neighbor and solitary truly gentile figure, Mr. Knightely, is perhaps enamored with Jane Fairfax, who may or may not be of interest to Frank Churchill, the young man with whom Emma becomes smitten. Frank is the stepson of Mr. Weston, another neighbor whose wife was Emma's governess.

Elton, unbeknownst to Emma, soon after she turns down his proposal he goes off and marries an even bigger busybody, Augusta. Augusta is a rampant snob who cannot reverse the implantation of her nose from Jane Fairfax's business despite the latter's disapproval. Besides the comic relief she offers, I believe Austen's intent here was to create and entity that would soften one's potential disdain for Emma's immature behavior. And then there is Mr. Perry, who I can't remember who the heck he is. But I do know that Miss. Bates, the yenta dowager who has an endless spillage of dull thoughts, is played to perfection by none other than Fawlty Towers Prunella Scales. Confused? Welcome to Jane Austen's England.

But to belittle Austen as classical soap opera or Harlequin romance, or further still, A&E's rendition as a mere chick flick is not to understand the genuine brilliance of the plot, the richness of character, the virtue of its romance, and the boldness of its women in the all too restrained late 1700's. One did not do all that well as a female writer in stodgy old England, one of the reasons she published Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park anonymously. Forget all that. Austen's work is worth reading, and when preformed this well, worth watching, if for nothing else than for her pointed, unrelenting, and clever wit. Austen is just plain amusing.

It is a shame that it was not until after Austen's death that her identity was publicized, being that she is considered to have near single-handedly helped establish the modern novel. She died in 1817 of Addison's Disease (Addison co-wrote the Tattler with Sheridan, and was friend to Jonathon Swift, who also published anonymously throughout his writing career for far different reasons).

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Unfortunately, the image transfer in no way matches the high quality of the performances. Despite using it as a joke on the Monty Python sets, A&E's general transfer philosophy to this point appears to be minimalist, with due slack given to them for possible source issues. For instance this transfer appears very grainy, particularly in bright outdoor and low-lighted indoor scenes. Attributable to the same conditions, the contrast is too high outside and far too low in some indoor night scenes. One might argue that the latter are meant to feel realistic to a time of life by candlelight, and possibly win.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: There is not much to talk about here, as one might expect. With no cannon fire, there isn't much use for a surround field mix, except for the sake of ambience. The 2.0 track is utilitarian, with it being center-focused. Dialogue is clear and generally understandable, although the use of subtitles might hide otherwise at times.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. About Jane Austen (short bio)
  2. A&E's web site information
Extras Review: My second rather minor complaint with A&E's disc rendering to this point is the strangely positioned and only approximate nature of their subtitles. Whether here or on the Monty Python discs, I find it disturbing that the language has been changed, and that someone who is deaf or hard of hearing does not get the full dynamic of the spoken sentences. Austen lived in a time when words were carefully measured, when the richness of language could lift the spirit and engage the soul. It is sad but true that we live in a "snippet" society, where we get our news in sound bytes and paragraphs shorter than some 17th century literary titles. There should be no chaos when the subtitles are in the same language as the spoken word.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

I, like many of us, have two sides to my personality. One side is the one that roots for the underdog; the consumer advocate. The other side of my personality is obsessive; desirous of quality content. This is why I started doing news and reviews, why my collection grows too large for my apartment, and why I am willing to occasionally sacrifice some bit of transfer quality for the overwhelming quality of an A&E production such as Emma. "It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all." Right?

So, putting all that to one side...If you let down your testosterone barrier, I think you will be quite surprised not just by the humor and turns of plot, but by the excellent acting of a superb cast, particularly Kate Beckinsale as Emma (Last Days of Disco), and Samantha Morton as Miss Smith (A&E's Jane Eyre). Recommended.

 


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