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MACBETH
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Elaine Ferguson
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Starring: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Nicholas Selby
Director: Roman Polanski
Audio:  DTS HD 3.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:   140 Minutes
Release Date:
  September 23, 2014             

“What’s done is done. Things without all remedy should be without regard.” - Lady MacBeth

Film ***

In 1970, when it was rumored that Roman Polanski was directing and Playboy Production with Hugh Hefner at the helm was producing a screen adaptation of MacBeth, speculations ran rampant.  Many expected a film filled with nudity and sex, instead the team produced a graphic X-rated movie --- of the violent variety.  The film has now been reissued with an R rating, which seems appropriate.  While there is a good deal of nudity, including the famous Lady MacBeth nude sleepwalking scene, very little of it is of the Playboy bunny sort.   This DVD is not for the squeamish; Polanksi’s production does an excellent job of displaying the look and the feel of the barbaric era, filled with many bloody scenes and beheadings.  However, the film never feels over the top with the violence, it all is well done within context of the story.

Shot on location in rugged North Wales, the terrain plays a key role in establishing the ambiance of the film.  When we meet MacBeth (Jon Finch) with his friend, Banquo (Martin Shaw), he is triumphant and powerful. The two come upon three witches, who prophesy that MacBeth will become king and Banquo’s descendants will also serve as kings.  As an aside they mention that MacBeth will not only hold the Glamis title, but Thane of Cawdor as well.  Yet, because the Thane of Cawdor is alive, the two warriors do not take this claim seriously.  So in the morning when they receive word that MacBeth is now indeed the Thane of Cawdor, the two men are stunned.  From here as a result of his ambition, the prophecy of the witches and the goading of his wife, the seeds of destruction are deeply planted in the mind of MacBeth.

When MacBeth is passed over by the King for the title Prince of Cumberland, he returns home dejected to prepare for a visit from King Duncan (Nicholas Shelby).  While talking to his wife, Lady MacBeth immediately makes the stunning proclamation that the King shall not see the morning light.  Francesca Annis’ performance as the powerful and evil Lady MacBeth is very well done in the first half of the movie.  However, the second half of the film begins to focus less on the characters and more on the violence.  So, as a result the downward spiral of her character is treated rather ineffectively.

Video ***1/2

This is a solid director-approved Blu-ray transfer that looks quite good; a little grain here and there, but overall, natural looking colors, solid detail, and striking clarity.  The 4K digital restoration is nicely done!

Audio **1/2

The uncompressed 3.0 surround track is decent; dynamic range is fairly minimal, but spoken words are cleanly delivered.

Features ***

There is a new documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Roman Polanski, Martin Shaw, Francesca Annis and others, plus the original 1971 documentary...nice contrast.  There is also a 1972 British television segment about the film, and an interview with writer Kenneth Tynan from The Dick Cavett Show.  Rounding out is some trailers.

Summary:

This is not your high school play version of MacBeth.  Likely some of the violence was influenced by the fact that Polanski had recently lost his beautiful wife, Sharon Tate, whom Charles Mansion and his family butchered.  There are many great moments in the film and the special effects are rather well done for this era.

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