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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • 4 Deleted scenes - With bonus commentary
  • Audio commentary - Director
  • 7 Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette - Basketball Scene Analysis
  • 4 Interviews

O (Rental)

Miramax/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 91 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Originally filmed back in 1998, but shelved after a series of high school shootings in the USA, O is a modernised retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy, Othello. It deals with the same themes of jealousy, betrayal, loyalty, mistrust, anger, murder and revenge. Typical Shakespearean themes I guess.

The film is set in an elite high school in America's south, and centres around the school's basketball team coached by Duke 'The Duke' Goulding (Martin Sheen). The team consists of the coach's son, Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Michael (Andrew Keegan), and the team's recently crowned Most Valuable Player, Odin 'O' James (Mekhi Phifer). Sounds cool so far, huh? You'd think that Odin, being the school's only black student might be an issue, but it isn't. The fact he has a dark past is not a problem either. So what is the problem? Simple, Hugo can't stand the fact that his father, the basketball coach, heaps all the praise and attention on O, and Hugo, as the self-proclaimed star player on the team, is beginning to resent his father's lack of attention.

"Everyone's gonna pay attention to me."

Unable to stand being overlooked by his father for the MVP award, he hatches a plan to disgrace Odin, and maybe even get rid of him. Using his charm, he persuades the most hated kid at school to concoct a story, and tell the school principal that Odin has been pressuring Desi (Julia Stiles), the principal's daughter, to do things she doesn't want to do. She denies it of course, but does declare she and Odin are 'together'. Hugo then uses his frienships with the key players to plant the seeds of doubt in Odin's mind about Desi's commitment to their relationship especially now that she is spending a lot of time with her best friend, Michael.

There are none so blind as those that will not see, so the saying goes. It is also very easy to make a jealous man see things that are not there, especially if you are as devious as Hugo. As the seeds of doubt grow and bloom, fertilised by Hugo's ever more elaborate scheming, the blind indeed refuse to see, and the innocents effortlessly blunder into Hugo's web of deceit, with tragic consequences.

Although this is not a long film by today's standards, it does take a while to get cracking and most of the real action takes place in the last 15 minutes. Be patient, however, and you will be rewarded. Most of the characters are easily identifiable as those from Othello as most names are very similar. The setting may be different, but their motives and methods are the same, and although it appears as little more than a teenage drama for much of the 90 minutes, this is one of the better attempts to bring Shakespeare to a modern audience.

The cast are all familiar faces, and they are ably supported by one of Hollywood's most underrated actors in Martin Sheen. Josh Hartnett plays his part well, and it's a bit of a welcome departure from the boy-next-door roles he has monopolised. His character is likeable on the surface, yet he is devious, manipulative and scheming, as all villains should be. Hartnett almost underplays the role for most of the film, which makes the climax even more satisfying. Phifer as 'O' does an acceptable job, although looking like a beefier Michael Police Academy Winslow without the hair, meant I kept expecting him to break into a comedy routine at any minute.

Teens will love this film, Shakespeare buffs will probably grumble about something the rest of us don't understand, and serious movie buffs will be hard pressed to believe that one high school can have so many spunks in the one year. That aside, it's still worth a look.

  Video
Contract

O is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The thing that struck me first is the wonderful colouring. A wide palette of colours has been used and flesh tones are very natural and true, the early scenes of the basketball game look great, and there is no evidence of any chroma noise. Black levels are generally good and there is no low-level noise, though there were a few shots when the blacks appeared a little more blue than black. There is also some slight edge enhancement, but on the plus side there is no evidence of aliasing.

The image is sharp and well defined. There is no evidence if grain except for a flash-forward scene, where Hugo is detailing his devious final plan. This, however, is deliberate. There are a few very minor film artefacts, but this is still what I would call a clean transfer. Shadow detail is fine, with only a few scenes posing any problems and that is generally due to backlighting.

The only subtitles are English and they were true to the action on screen, except during some of the rowdy basketball games when there were many voices calling out instructions and cheering and not all dialogue can be displayed.

There is no layer change as this is a single sided disc.

  Audio
Contract

There is just the one option here and it is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Like the video, this is a good and well thought out transfer. Most of the dialogue comes from the centre speaker and it is very loud and clear. There is not a lot of obvious separation of sound, but this is not a movie that requires elaborate separation. Most of the sound is placed along the front speakers, and the rear speakers are used discretely for ambient sounds such as the basketball crowds and crickets at night. The music is mostly hip-hop or rap and is placed in the front speakers, with the orchestral score placed more obviously in all speakers. This sounds unbalanced but works very well.

Low level sounds are rich and rumble nicely during the hip-hop numbers. There are not a lot of loud noises in the film other than those songs, and the subwoofer is quiet for much of the time. This is fine, as it is the dialogue that drives O.

  Extras
Contract

For what is currently a rental only disc there are some decent extras on offer, which suggests there will be little to no difference once the rental window closes and the title is available for purchase.

Audio Commentary: This is one of the better commentaries I have heard and is both informative and easy listening. The director Tim Blake Nelson ensures there are no breaks in his commentary, and he waxes lyrical on all aspects of the film. He discusses locations, the difficulties of day versus night shooting, comments a great deal on the choice of music, and regularly highlights the parallels with Othello. He also discusses the actors' performances, the photography, why certain scenes where shot or lit they way they were, and is quick to praise his cast and crew. I guess being a fellow actor he understands both sides of the camera.

Deleted Scenes: There are four sections of deleted scenes totaling a little over nine minutes. They are presented in an aspect ratio 1.85:1 though they're not 16x9 enhanced, and come in Dolby Digital 2.0. They are accompanied by the director's commentary if thou dost desire. Deleted scenes are so much more interesting with a commentary.

Basketball Scenes Analysis: This covers three of the film's basketball game sequences and describes the filming of each, covering such things as camera angles and editing in the eight minutes it runs for.

Interviews: There are four short interviews with stars Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and director Tim Blake Nelson. Totalling less than six minutes, unheard questions are answered and would appear to be edited from longer, fuller interviews.

Theatrical Trailer: Strangely this is presented in full frame and at 2:01, and it doesn't do a great job selling the film. Had I not watched the feature first I would have expected an absolute roller coaster of an action film.

Biograpahies: There are six cast biographies and one for the director. All are text only, spanning several pages, and are not accompanied by any audio, but they are easy to read.

  Overall  
Contract

Although based on the Shakespearean tragedy Othello, and remaining faithful to the themes, there is no need to have any understanding of that story to enjoy O. By substituting a basketball game for the war, and setting the movie in an American high school, today's audiences will not miss a thing. Emotions such as jealousy, betrayal and revenge are not specific to any time or place. With a great transfer and some well thought out extras, this rental only title (for now at least) is well worth the effort.


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      And I quote...
    "One of the better attempts to modernise a Shakespearean tragedy, O features a strong cast, and explores all the central themes of Othello including jealousy, anger, mistrust, loyalty and betrayal... "
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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