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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interviews with director James Ivory, Pierce-Roberts, costume designer John Bright, and actors Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands
  • Segment about Merchant Ivory Productions from a 1987 NBC television program
  • Trailer

A Room with a View

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: James Ivory
Starring: Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Rupert Graves, Patrick Godfrey
1986 | 117 Minutes | Licensor: Westchester Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #775
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 29, 2015
Review Date: September 22, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

Merchant Ivory Productions, led by director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, became a household name with A Room with a View, the first of their extraordinary adaptations of E. M. Forster novels. A cherubic nineteen-year-old Helena Bonham Carter plays Lucy Honeychurch, a young, independent-minded, upper-class Edwardian woman who is trying to sort out her burgeoning romantic feelings, divided between an enigmatic free spirit (Julian Sands) she meets on vacation in Florence and the priggish bookworm (Daniel Day-Lewis) to whom she becomes engaged back in the more corseted Surrey. Funny, sexy, and sophisticated, this gargantuan art-house hit features a sublime supporting castóincluding Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Denholm Elliott, Maggie Smithóand remains a touchstone of intelligent romantic cinema.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

James Ivoryís and Ismail Merchantís hit film A Room with a View comes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, replacing the previous Warner/BBC releases on DVD, Blu-ray, and even HD-DVD. I havenít seen the previous high-definition releases, though only heard poor things about them, but I can only imagine this offers a significant improvement based on the comments I have read. The new high-definition 1080p/24hz presentation comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. The film is then delivered on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

The notes on the transfer indicate that there is an issue with the negative because of how the film was processed, and this implies that there were colour imbalances. The notes state:

Itís believed that when the negative was originally processed, it was removed from the final ďfixationĒ bath too soon, resulting in chroma hue shifting across the entire feature. Frames were slightly different even within the same shot, causing distracting color imbalances.

I figured they wrote this comment because the issue may still be noticeableódespite the fact their notes do state that they did address itóyet nothing stood out to me, so it must have been corrected during the restoration process. The colours look rather good, actually, decently saturated if a little washed in places. Still, I thought the reds, pinks, and oranges that pop up all look rather rich, as do various shades of green, and flesh tones look accurate. Black levels are good, with some minor crushing in some darker scenes, but in general I found the black levels also pleasing.

Detail is also a strong aspect, long shots of the Florence skyline managing to deliver quite a bit, and film grain can be made out, looking natural and clean, the encode looking to be particular nice. Depth is nice and textures also register. Some moments can be a bit soft but it looks as though this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

I donít recall a single blemish popping up and the image remains stable, without any jitters or shifts. Itís very filmic and pleasing. Again, I canít compare to the previous Blu-ray or HD DVD edition, which both received rather mediocre to dire reviews from other sites, but with how this turned out I feel pretty assured that this presentation offers a vast improvement.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround track is a bit of a mixed bag, though I think it comes down to source materials. The music sounds fantastic, offering fantastic depth and range, beautifully filling the environment with subtle use of the lower frequency. Itís rich and doesnít drown out anything else.

Everything else about the track comes off as uneven. Most of the time the dialogue is serviceable and fidelity is strong enough, but there are moments where the sound turns flat and hollow, and this is most noticeable in scenes where a piano is being played. A couple of scenes where Helena Bonham Carterís Lucy plays the piano the music sounds fairly natural, if not very deep, but another where her brother (played by Rupert Graves) plays the piano the music sounds hollow and weak, with no fidelity or depth to it. Some other scenes present crystal clear dialogue, others present slightly muffled dialogue. This really feels like itís more of a product of shooting conditions, but it still makes for a very inconsistent aural experience.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Not that the previous special editions released by Warner/BBC were spectacular special editions on their own terms, but Criterionís special edition feels to be really lacking in this department, and for a film that basically launched the Merchant/Ivory team more-or-less into the mainstream I would have almost expected more analytical material on the film and the duoís work. Itís also missing the material found on previous editions for the film.

Disappointingly all we really get are a series of interviews delivered to us in two separate features: Thought and Passion and The Eternal Yes, both running 21-minutes and 36-minutes respectively. The former features the filmmakers, director James Ivory, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, and costume designer John Bright, while the latter features actors Helena Bonham Carter, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands.

On their own the interviews are fine and I canít complain about much: theyíre informative, interesting, and sometimes rather funny (Carter recalls a moment where John Malkovich was sitting on the sidelines of a shoot, knitting, which to me is just wonderful to imagine). They all share stories of the experience, shooting in Italy, Carter, this being only her second film, going over the insecurities she was feeling, especially when she had to learn to play certain songs on the piano (she recalls it being awful but Ivory praises her for her ability to quickly imitate what was needed). There is quite a bit of talk about the costumes, Ivory and Bright of course talking more about the technical aspects, with Bright basically shooting down sketches as being unnecessary much to my surprise, and the actors talking about how comfortable they were and how they helped in their performance. Pierce-Roberts doesnít get a lot of air time but shares some interesting stories about the luck he had in getting certain shots, while also talking about how they got around not showing the more modern Florence with its freeways and heavy traffic (which was all very creative).

Unsurprisingly Callow and Sands talk about the pond sequence and what it was like shooting it, while the actors also talk about their characters and a certain hesitation they had in playing them, Sands not so sure about being in a period piece and Callow, originally under the impression he was playing Sandsí character, horrified to be playing a vicar. The casting is actually one of the more interesting aspects of these interviews as we learn some of the actors initially up for certain parts, like Rupert Everett as George and even Hugh Grant in possibly either the role of George or Cecil (he was rejected within 60-seconds for both roles, though) and there are a number of horrifying revelations also made here on casting that could have been: the studios Merchant and Ivory went to for financing wanted American stars, and at one point just before filming started the studio almost pulled all funding because they wanted (good God!) John Travolta and Glenn Close.

Thereís some affectionate discussion about Ivory and Merchant (comically the actors all seem to do their own Ismail Merchant impersonation), and they also compare the styles of the two: Ivory very laid back, Merchant almost always in your face, sounding to come off like a con artist working you over. There isnít a lot about Daniel Day-Lewis, though everyone praises him of course, and I was not at all surprised to learn that a then 18-year-old Carter had trouble controlling her laughter when doing scenes with him, because his character is really too much (in a good way), so in person I can only imagine how ridiculous it would have been. Iíve admitted before that Iím not overly fond of Merchant/Ivory films, but A Room with a View is probably one of their more enjoyable productions, primarily for Day-Lewis and his concoction of Cecil (ďListen Lucy, three split infinitives!Ē) Iím not surprised he didnít participate but his absence isnít any less disappointing.

As it is the interviews are pleasing and admirers of the film will surely enjoy them, but thatís all there really is to toot on this release. There is a 4-minute segment from the NBC Nightly News on the Mechant/Ivory team and A Room with a View, that aired on March 29th, 1987, the night before the Academy Awards. Featuring interviews with the two along with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, it gives a quick overview of their work and how the film was a surprise hit, even doing well in Texas. Itís an interesting archival bit but isnít terribly in-depth: itís just nice to see the two together, and I also got a kick out of seeing Siskel and Ebert together, talking about their work.

The disc then closes with the filmís theatrical trailer and comes with an essay by John Pym, calling the film the first of Merchant/Ivoryís ďEnglish PeriodĒ that was followed by Maurice, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day.

Despite enjoying the interviews I came out of this quite underwhelmed and I am a bit surprised more didnít go into this. Iím also a little surprised that features produced for the previous DVD/Blu-ray/HD-DVD editions, like an audio commentary, didnít make it, but Iím guessing that material was owned by the BBC and Criterion couldnít get it, which is fine (it sounds like the interview here covers the same material on that commentary anyways). Still, the lack of more scholarly or analytical material is a shock, especially since this was such a big film in terms of ďindependent cinemaĒ and Merchant/Ivory, and that makes the release feel fairly average on the whole.

5/10

CLOSING

I was left wanting after going through the special features, and I wasnít completely thrilled with the audio, but the visual presentation is lovely and on that aspect alone admirers of the film will want to pick this up.


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