William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice—Sony Pictures
This big-screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's enduring work forgoes the usual dramatic gestures and blustery soliloquies in favor of nuance and subtlety. Writer/director Michael Radford takes full advantage of the intimacy that film offers over stage productions. He coerces a restrained performance from Al Pacino as Shylock and allows the moments between dialogue to resonate as strongly as the words themselves. The formidable cast also includes Jeremy Irons (Antonio), Joseph Fiennes (Bassanio), and Lynn Collins (Portia).
The DVD's 2.35:1 anamorphic picture has natural-looking colors and incredible contrast, with shadows and light portrayed in equal detail. In fact, between the carefully composed cinematography and the stunning high-definition mastering, many scenes resemble the moodiness and aesthetic appeal of a 16th-century painting.
As in all of the bard's work, the words are the thing, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack skillfully delivers every line of iambic pentameter with clarity. Although music plays a background role in most of the film, both the instrumental and vocal performances sound gloriously rich.
Extras include an adeptly produced making-of featurette and a lively commentary track from Radford and Collins, in which the British director describes the many seemingly meaningless cuts he had to make to the film for American television-most notably, a benign kiss between Antonio and Bassanio.
All in all, this disc is well worth adding to any DVD library.