Angels in America (2003)

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Released 19-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 337:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Mike Nichols
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Al Pacino
Meryl Streep
Emma Thompson
Justin Kirk
Ben Shenkman
Mary-Louise Parker
Jeffrey Wright
Patrick Wilson
James Cromwell
Michael Gambon
Simon Callow
Brian Markinson
Robin Weigert
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Hebrew
Portuguese
Swedish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Earlier this year, the miniseries Angels in America won a record 11 Emmys, including the coveted Most Outstanding Miniseries award, along with accolades in all acting categories - Best Actor (Al Pacino), Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Supporting Actor (Jeffrey Wright) and Best Supporting Actress (Mary-Louise Parker). It now stands as the most acclaimed miniseries ever created, exceeding the nine awards heaped on what many consider the pre-eminent miniseries - Roots. Directed by Mike Nichols, the creative force behind such terrific films as Wit, Primary Colours, Silkwood, The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge and the soon to be released Closer, featuring a cast of obvious class including a third Oscar winner in Emma Thompson as a less than conventional angel, it is based on the successful play penned by Tony Kushner.  HBO's epic production offers insight into the lives of a number of homosexual men, and to a much lesser extent their families and friends, living in New York during the 1980s, some of whom are afflicted with AIDS.

    It begins with a transcontinental sweep from San Francisco through the interior to New York, accompanied by Thomas Newman's haunting score, arriving in the city that never sleeps and swooping down to an angel nestled in the famous Central Park. Such grand gestures, visually stunning and audacious in their metaphorical reach, permeate Angels in America as it seemingly struggles to be many things at once - a realistic drama concerned with characters and their struggles, an avenue for shedding light on the prejudice directed towards homosexual men, who as a demographic suffered from HIV and AIDS at a disproportionately high rate, a meditation on mortality and the terror of the HIV virus, a cynical appraisal of the Reagan presidency, a fantastical exploration of religion and its symbols - never quite getting a stranglehold on any of them. Prior (Justin Kirk) and Louis (Ben Shenkman) are partners, and following the funeral of one of Louis' Jewish relatives (Meryl Streep somewhat distractingly plays the rabbi), Prior tells Louis he is dying of AIDS. Louis falls apart, and decides he cannot stay with Prior, whose care falls into the hands of Belize (Jeffrey Wright) a nurse and good friend of them both. In his desperation Louis is drawn unexpectedly to Joe (Patrick Wilson), a devout Mormon from Utah and clerk for a conservative judge, who is struggling to protect his marriage to a desperately unhappy and drugged out wife (Mary-Louise Parker) from the secret both of them have for so long chosen to ignore.

    Joe is being groomed for bigger and better things by the vicious real life Republican lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), whose secret homosexual encounters have left him dying of AIDS, debilitated in the hospital in which Belize works and haunted by the apparition of Ethel Rosenberg (also Meryl Streep), a woman whom Cohn campaigned relentlessly to have put to death for assisting her husband to conspire against the U.S. Meanwhile, with his marriage in tatters, Joe calls his mother (Meryl Streep yet again) in Salt Lake City to tell her he is gay, and in search of answers she comes to New York to see him, crossing paths with Prior, Louis and Belize without realising their connection to her son. The plot itself is not as labyrinthine as this summary may suggest, but it is made more confusing and arguably less important by interruptions in the narrative by scenes I found extraneous, in particular Emma Thompson's visitations and a rendezvous between Louis and an escapee of the Village People in Central Park. Many have spoken of the beauty and sophistication of some of these more otherworldly scenes and it is true that they do serve to highlight important themes and imbue the film with a sense of individuality, but personally I found them distracting and clunky, sometimes to the point of detracting from some very finely wrought emotional scenes. Also disconcerting was the two dimensionality of some of the lesser characters, in particular Joe's wife. In a film devoted to the experiences of gay characters I don't expect the few straight ones to take centre stage, but the estranged Mrs Pitt is a plot contrivance, and her hallucinations were hackneyed and unconvincing. And, at the risk of raising the ire of certain members of the community, I will say that I found the shrill cries about the Reagan administration's policies somewhat tiresome at times, mostly because they removed focus from the characters but in part because for all its ills (and I don't deny their existence), the administration did negotiate the end of the Cold War and the normalisation of relations with the Soviet Union. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg did commit crimes against their country, regardless of the perceived severity of their punishment. I don't ask for objectivity - art loses its impetus without taking a passionate view of something - but the polemical aspect of the miniseries I found underdeveloped and unfocussed.

    So, a mixed bag then. One review cannot hope to elucidate every facet of this sprawling project, so hats off to HBO and the creative team for producing this undeniably ambitious piece of television. It is just a shame that it possesses what is brilliant and illuminating in about equal measures with what is unconvincing and frustrating.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Fortunately, there is nothing frustrating about the transfer. Although shot for television, this high budgeted production is positively cinematic in scope and the accurately presented 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced transfer is pretty marvellous.

    Sharpness is excellent, with fantastic levels of detail. Shadow detail is always of a high standard. Blacks are clear and free of any low level noise.

    Colours are varied but realistic. Skin tones are beyond criticism. Some of the fantastical elements are shot with a distinctive colour scheme and all are well captured.

    There are nary any compression artefacts to speak of.

    Film to video artefacts were absolutely minimal with only the mildest hints of aliasing.

    Film artefacts are negligible.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We are presented with two English tracks - one Dolby Stereo and the other Dolby Digital 5.1.

    Dialogue is clear for the most part. On occasion I did feel that the sound effects overwhelmed some of the dialogue, but it is of a uniformly excellent standard. Audio sync is fantastic.

    I have already mentioned the extraordinary score of Thomas Newman, complete with one of the most beautiful themes I have ever heard grace the soundtrack of a film, in any medium!  It is given full reign in both the English 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, but is unsurprisingly heard at fullest advantage in the full 5.1 transfer, with rich bass from the subwoofer and good separation in the rear channels.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras. Not one.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release is identical, so opt for the cheaper version, unless you have a system incompatible with NTSC.

Summary

    Angels in America is well worth a look.

    The video transfer is wonderful.

    The audio is equally terrific - I could rave about the score all day long.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

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