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SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise
Director:  Ang Lee
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1, 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes                
Release Date:  August 24, 1999

Film ****

Oh, happy day for me, that one of my favorite films of the 90ís, and probably all time, finally makes it onto DVD after months and months of delays.  Iíve heard the extra time was largely to accommodate Emma Thompsonís commentary track, and if so, it was worth the wait.  More on that further down.

Sense and Sensibility is a sumptuous, classic love story told with passion, charm, and wit as only Jane Austen could deliver.  For this movie, it given a stellar (and Oscar winning) screenplay adaptation, the kind with passion, charm and wit as only Emma Thompson could deliver.  She also plays Elinor Dashwood, the Ďsenseí of the title, with Kate Winslet as her younger sister Marianne, the Ďsensibilityí.   As the title suggests, they are opposites.  Elinor is practical and reserved.  Marianne wears her heart on her sleeve.  They love each other immensely, but do not fully understand what makes the other so.

Soon, men enter into their lives, but can it be happily ever after for either sister?  Both are practically penniless, and Elinor, though certainly young and beautiful by todayís standards, is rapidly approaching old maid status in her time.  She becomes taken with the shy, charming Edward (Grant), a man who seems trapped by an engagement he made long ago.  Meanwhile, Marianne is swept off her feet by the dashing Willoughby (Wise), who seems the perfect match for her hopelessly romantic nature.  Itís a shame that lovely, young innocents like her have to become acquainted with the cruel nature of reality, but sooner or later, they always must.

Director Lee has created a gorgeous and fully believable world for this romantic period piece to unfold.  Using natural lighting throughout, the cinematography is breathtaking, but always supports, rather than overtakes, the story at hand.  The cast is simply perfect, with Oscar nominations going to Winslet and Thompson for their heartfelt, fully realized performances.  And again, Emma Thompsonís screenplay is superbly comical and touching, and radiates the warmth of genuine human emotion.  Ms. Thompson has stated that her biggest influences are Shakespeare and Monty Python, and I think both would be pleased by her work here.

To me, this is about as perfect as a film can get.  Iíve seen this movie more times than I can remember, and I honestly cannot find one flaw, one complaint, one thing I would have changed.  In addition to the accolades Iíve already mentioned, the musical score by Patrick Doyle is one of the most beautiful Iíve heard, right from the opening notes.  Every shot, every motion of the camera, every scene shines forth with not only visual beauty, but real feeling, be it funny or sad.  With all due respect to Mr. Mel Gibson and his remarkable film Braveheart, I believed at the time that this was the film that should have won for Best Picture.  Four years later?  I still do.

Video ****

Glorious.  What Columbia Tri Star did wrong with their transfer of Howards End, they did right with this movie.  Freeze frame just about any single shot on this disc, and youíve got an image that could be textbook for DVD authoringóseriously.  From the brightly lit and colorful outdoor scenes, to the darker indoor ones with only candles for light, there is not a moment to be found of grain, bleeding, distortion, compression, or colors that look anything other than truly natural and well defined.  I saw this film multiple times in the theatre, and believe me, this DVD looks even better. 

Audio ***1/2

By nature, this isn't a system rattling soundtrack.  The 5.1 mix features selective use of the rear stage, mainly for crowds and galloping horses and such, but I have to say...this score by Patrick Doyle is one of the most beautiful I've ever heard.  I have the soundtrack CD, and on DVD, it sounds even better, bringing the music to full dynamic fruition and enhancing the viewing experience tremendously.

Features ****

There are three trailers, two deleted scenes, Emma Thompsonís acceptance speech at the Golden Globes (a treat), production notes, and two commentary tracks, one with director Lee and co-producer James Schamus, and the other one with producer Lindsay Doran and Emma Thompson.  The latter is sheer joy to listen to, as Ms. Thompson is an unabashed and witty storyteller.

Summary:

A perfect movie, a perfect DVD.  You canít ask for more.  This is a must own.