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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Pan&Scan
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 90.14)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer

Jude

BBC Films/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 117 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Taking a famous moment in literature and turning it into a feature film has always been part of cinemaís staple diet, and while the truly epic adaptations of really, really big books tend to be found on television, thereís an undeniable appeal in staging classic literature for the cinema screen. Not least, the sheer scale of trying to recreate the past convincingly means that a fairly solid budget is required; then, to get a distributor and a wide audience, youíre going to need one or two ďnameĒ stars, and theyíre going to cost money as well. Little wonder some big-screen literary adaptations come across as visually sumptuous vacuums where the dialogue has all the passion of a BBC news broadcast from the 1920s and the emotional range of it all is defined by whoís wearing the beige dress today.

Okay, so we jest a little, but thereís undoubtedly nothing worse than sitting through a misfired literary adaptation waiting for it to engage your interest. Thatís the risk thatís taken when the balance is made between being faithful to the text and keeping things moving on the screen. Itís not so much a problem with adaptations of modern novels - screenwriters happily hack away entire chapters and even rewrite the entire story on occasion, and nobody complains. But when it comes to classic literature, the eyes of the world are eagle-sharp. Everyone has their own vision of what the book should look like and how it should be presented on screen, and what they end up seeing often simply isnít it.

Those who cherish Thomas Hardyís last novel Jude the Obscure are probably, on seeing this 1996 film adaptation of it, going to wonder who fed the screenwriter the thousand cups of coffee and made him dash through a great big chunk of the book in the first 25 minutes of screen time. Because thatís exactly whatís done here - and itís done with a reason. Hardyís novel, as the title suggests, was about Jude (played in the film by Christopher Eccleston, whoíll be very familiar to those who saw Shallow Grave), a stonemason in the 1800s who dreams of a more enriching life but never quite seems to get there, always happy with his lot but hoping that something of greater purpose awaits him. In the film, Judeís character is set up quickly, his marriage to Arabella (Rachel Griffiths) accounted for speedily and with a minimum of fuss, and his cousin Sue Bridehead (Kate Winslet) introduced. Itís here where the movieís story really begins; for the purposes of this adaptation, itís a love story on a suitably epic scale with an unexpectedly dark edge. And it works very well as such, so long as youíre not expecting a blow-by-blow retooling of Hardyís book.

The craft throughout is superb. Directed with assurance and a keen visual sense by Michael Winterbottom (whose recent 24 Hour Party People just screened at the Melbourne Film Festival), beautifully photographed in Panavision (more on this in a moment) by the uncommonly talented Eduardo Serra and flawlessly acted by all the principal cast (Eccleston in particular is brilliant), Jude is visually sumptuous and dramatically sound; thanks to a fast-paced script and Winsletís determinedly irreverent performance, itíll appeal greatly to those who like their melodrama done with more than a little bit of intelligence.

  Video
Contract

Jude was, as we mentioned above, beautifully photographed by Eduardo Serra in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. And as the opening credits sequence of the film unrolls on DVD youíre going to be quite gobsmacked by the sheer loveliness of it all, the black and white opening sequence looking like finely-composed still photography in the expansive Panavision frame. And then the credits end, and the ugly truth is revealed. Itís a full-screen, pan and scan transfer. Thatís six video points deducted even before weíve gotten to the five minute mark.

Sadly, this DVD of Jude has been mastered from an old analogue video transfer - probably done for television and home video back in 1996 and inherited by Universal as part of their PolyGram legacy - and the carefully-composed images throughout have been just about sliced in half and blown up to fill the shape of an old-school TV screen. This bastardisation of the director and cinematographerís artistic intentions takes on comic proportions at times - watch for shots where, faced with a composition where two characters occupy opposite sides of the frame, the telecine operator has had to continually (and clunkily) zoom from one side of the frame to the other, or cut between the two (effectively re-editing the film in the process, putting scene changes where there were previously none). At other times you can see a noticeable judder as the telecine frame is gradually shifted across to follow characters and keep them in shot.

Grain runs rampant - an inevitable result of zooming in on a small subset of the frame of a 35mm print - and detail and colour is reasonable but noticeably lacking compared to the state of todayís art. Itís not an awful transfer, just a dated one, and while a mostly workable job is made of keeping everything thatís important on-screen, the sense of visual cramping is often unbearable and always frustrating.

Video encoding has been done at a constant bitrate, a sure sign of a production-line authoring job that nobody especially cared about. Not surprisingly, various compression problems appear on occasion, most of them the usual picture-breakup-in-detail-packed-scene syndrome.

Most annoying of all is the timing of this release. While this same pan and scan transfer appeared on DVD in the UK last year (the UK video labelís logo appears at the end of the film on this disc as well), a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer was used for the recently released US version of the disc. Seeing as that release was done by Universal, we were hoping their sister company would be using that same transfer here. No such luck.

A dual-layered disc is used, though itís a mystery why - the data here would have comfortably fitted onto a single layer. The layer change is clumsily placed at the end of a scene rather than the start of one.

  Audio
Contract

In common with all DVD releases of this film worldwide, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of the theatrical release is squished into a matrixed Dolby Surround audio track thatís offered here without the correct flag being set to tell decoders that understand such things to bring on the Pro-Logic.

Itís a terrific, detailed audio mix, and weíd love to have had the chance to hear it in 5.1. Thereís a lot of multi-channel activity throughout (not least in the form of rain sound effects - it seems as though it rains for a good 90 percent of the filmís running time!)

Dialogue is mixed a little low at times but is generally well recorded, and the music score - which incorporates a few licensed recordings of well-known classical pieces - sounds fine. Thereís a lot of analogue tape hiss throughout, though, which only serves to remind you that youíre enjoying a video transfer from the pre-digital age.

  Extras
Contract

An overblown trailer is included, and nothing more.

  Overall  
Contract

A terrific film that takes some liberties with the book on which itís based, but which succeeds on its own merits thanks to solid directing, much visual savvy and some fine actors, Jude is well worth your time - itís an underrated gem of a film.

Universalís region 4 DVD, though, is a pan and scan travesty that should be avoided unless you actually want to get rid of ďthose annoying black barsĒ (in which case, what are you doing visiting this site anyway?)

Fans of the movie who want a decent DVD of it will have no choice but to import the recent US or Canadian release.


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      And I quote...
    "A stylish literary adaptation... and a terrible pan and scan transfer"
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
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    • Audio Cables:
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    • Video Cables:
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