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    Ivan The Terrible - Part 2
    Force Entertainment/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 85 mins . PG . PAL

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    Released in 1944, Sergei Eisensteinís Ivan the Terrible Part I, a thinly disguised attack on the Stalinist regime, was greeted with such fervent appreciation from the Soviet dictator, that he bestowed upon it the Stalin Prize in 1946. The accolades for Eisensteinís accomplishment ceased, however, when his criticism of the communist government became too apparent with the epicís second instalment, Ivan the Terrible Part II. Filmed in conjunction with Part I, Part II had its premiere in 1945, only to endure the indignity of having Stalin place an immediate censorship ban on it, with the Soviet leader citing that the filmís depiction of Ivanís secret police force, the oprichniks, bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Stalinís own GPU.

    On September 4, 1946, the Central Committee of the Communist Party passed a resolution on cinema and theatre that condemned Ivan the Terrible Part II, stating: ďEisenstein displayed his ignorance of historical fact by showing Ivan the Terribleís progressive army of oprichniks as a band of degenerates in the style of the American Ku Klux Klan, and Ivan the Terrible, a man of great will, power, and strong character, as a weak and feeble being, a sort of Hamlet.Ē Although Eisenstein fought vigorously against the censure, the film remained banned in the Soviet Union until five years after Stalinís death in 1958. Ivan the Terrible Part II proved to be Eisensteinís final film; afflicted with persistent health problems, the director died in 1948.

    Featuring the same cast and production crew as its predecessor, Ivan the Terrible Part II begins four traumatic years after the events portrayed in the first film. In 1564, Ivan IV (Nikolai Cherkassov) returns to Moscow after witnessing the pilgrimage of his devout supporters to his Uglich estate, situated outside the Russian capital. Ivanís political situation is extremely perilous; with his beloved Tsarian Anastasia dead and his most respected aide, Andrei Kurbsky (Mikhail Nazvanov), having defected to the Poles, the Tsar is at his most vulnerable. Continuing his relentless pursuit for a unified Russia, Ivan creates an alliance with Fyodor Kolychev (Andrei Abrikosov), and bequeaths to him the position of the metropolitan bishop of Moscow.

    However, Kolychev, now Phillip the monk, is in league with the boyars and attempts to convert the Tsar to accept the doctrine of the church. Inundated by treachery on all sides, Ivan becomes increasingly paranoid; creating his own personal circle of bodyguards, the oprichniks, Ivan embarks on a horrific campaign of terror and subjugation in an effort to cleanse the deceit and corruption which surrounds him. The boyars and nobles are subjected to the brunt of Ivanís venomous wrath as their numbers are decimated in his genocidal rampage. In desperation to save themselves and Russia itself, the boyars, led once again by Euphrosinia (Serafima Birman), Ivanís aunt and Anastasiaís murderer, conspire to assassinate the Tsar.

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    Ivan the Terrible Part II is presented in a screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is cropped from its original 1.37:1 ratio. Of course, it is not anamorphic. As the video and audio presentation for the second act is the same as that of the first, much of the following critique has been simply reiterated from the previous review of Ivan the Terrible Part I.

    Black levels are somewhat variable; there is a discernible inconsistency as they alternate between achieving great solidity, which results in good depth, and being rather opaque. Details are similarly problematic, with the transfer exhibiting moments of exceptional sharpness that allow for some beautiful definition, but are inclined,on occasions, to become softer; in these instances, details are quite poor and lack any true delineation. Shadow detail, as to be anticipated for a film of this vintage, is nothing more than serviceable.

    MPEG artefacts are present in the form of minor macro-blocking, which are most prominent in the filmís transition screens. There is also an abundance of film artefacts consisting of nicks, scratches, and some indications of significant print damage; also, too, the film exhibits frequent jumps which seem to be the result of poor editorial cuts and print deterioration. However, none of this proved to be too distracting as it was not unexpected. Perhaps the pinnacle of this disputable presentation concerns the embedded English subtitles, whose white lettering is often obscured by the filmís lighting, rendering it difficult to read and follow Ivan the Terrible Part IIís intricate political motivations.

    Despite there being no obvious film-to-video artefacts, there is an extremely perplexing khaki-coloured flash occurring at 47 minutes and 38 seconds, which is of a detrimental nature to the viewing experience. Indeed, it soured the remainder of the film.

    There is but one audio selection available, that of the Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound track. Dialogue is horribly restrictive, with no redeeming semblance of frequency range and fidelity, and is plagued with constant minor distortion. In addition, the filmís dramatic and regal score, provided by the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, sounds moderately weak and ineffectual due to the transferís poor tonal range.

    Extras are limited to a scrolling profile of Ivan the Terrible which, though somewhat brief, is quite informative and provides much-needed background on the tyrant himself.

    It should be noted that Eisenstein filmed two reels of Part II in colour, which were featured towards the filmís end in its climatic banquet scene where Part II murderous nature reaches its peak. Despite the proclamation on the DVD cover slick that these reels are contained within the transfer, this edition does not exhibit any colour, abstract or otherwise; in essence, the information is incorrect and, thus, misleading.

    While there is no denying the spectacle of Part II and the calibre of Eisenstein's solid direction, the film exhibits the same faults as that of its predecessor: it is slow, ponderous and blatantly pretentious, encumbered with Shakespearean theatrics and heavy-handed parallels to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Yet, as with Part I, Cherkassovís depiction of the devious and morally reprehensible Tsar Ivan IV is impeccable; even in his most static moments, he exudes a demonic charisma and sustains viewer interest. Part II is far more accomplished than its prequel but, unfortunately, the presentation on its disc leaves much to be desired.


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  •   And I quote...
    "The second instalment of Eisensteinís monumental epic, and his final film... Marred once more by a problematic transfer... "
    - Shaun Bennett
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