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A Room With a View

The 1990s saw English "art house" films gain unprecedented popularity with audiences in North America and around the world, but everything from Howards End and The Remains of the Day to the virtual onslaught of Jane Austen adaptations must give a nod to Ismail Merchant and James Ivory's 1986 A Room With a View, which introduced a substantial group of British actors to attentive audiences (Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliot) and became both a surprise success at the box-office and a serious contender on Oscar night for nine statuettes (of which the film took home three). Adapted from E.M. Forster's 1908 novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, A Room With a View is an entertaining look at Edwardian manners, concerning the young Lucy Honeychurch (Carter), who is on her Grand Tour of Europe with older cousin and chaperone Charlotte (Smith), a coming-of-age event expected of all upper-class English youth that is supposed to be full of cultural edification, if little in the way of adventure. But when Lucy meets the spirited George Emerson (Sands) in Florence, she is nearly swept off her feet by his free-thinking ways, and a wayward kiss between the two has Charlotte packing Lucy back up for Britain, where she immediately becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse (Lewis), a bloodless bore of a man who always has his nose stuck in a dusty book and never partakes in friendly sports — even the socially acceptable game of tennis, which Lucy enjoys. But, as circumstances would have it, George and his eccentric father (Elliot) soon return from Italy and let a cottage from Lucy's family, who are unaware of her potential tryst with Emerson the younger. The situation soon forces Lucy to make a decision between the two men, and (like so many of Austen's heroines 100 years earlier) somehow forge an identity for herself in a society that frowns upon self-reliant women. With a witty, capricious script and sound performances all around, A Room With a View should easily be one of the best DVDs in its genre, but regrettably this release from Image (under license from Fox) has relegated it to the fan-only category. One can only imagine the great supplements that could round out this release (commentaries, original promotional materials, up-to-date cast and crew notes), but there's nary an extra here — not even a trailer. What's more, the entire transfer is hampered by slight video noise and the occasional shimmer on finer details. It's not so bad to be unwatchable, but seasoned DVD fans will find the transfer distracting at times, which means that letterbox formatting (1.85:1, but not anamorphic) and chapter-selection are the chief selling points here. New Dolby Digital 5.1 mix or the original Dolby 2.0 surround. Snap-case.

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