Onegin (1998)

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Released 5-Dec-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Onegin EPK
Interviews-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 101:41
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:34) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Martha Fiennes
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Liv Tyler
Toby Stephens
Lena Headey
Martin Donovan
Alun Armstrong
Harriet Walter
Irene Worth
Case ?
RPI ? Music Magnus Fiennes


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    I was expecting something a bit special with this film, being an adaptation of the Russian literary classic by Alexander Pushkin and with Ralph Fiennes in the title role. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I really enjoyed the experience, and found myself longing for the closing credits. Whether this is a commentary on the film or me I'm not qualified to say.

    The story traces the experiences during the early 19th century of Evgeny Onegin (Fiennes), a particularly wealthy playboy and heir to his recently deceased uncle's estate. Onegin is chronically tired of life, and appears incapable of deriving any real happiness or contentment from his advantaged position or from the people around him. In many ways he appears to be an emotional void, yet presents a cultured and polite, if slightly eccentric, face to the world. Punctuating this general description are unexpected and isolated shows of real emotion - in his personal drawings, in his knowledge of literature and in his obviously deep affection for Vladimir Lensky (Toby Stephens), a young man who shares few of Onegin's personal traits.

    While visiting his newly acquired estate Onegin meets the young and beautiful Tatyana (Liv Tyler), sister to Lensky's fiancee. Tatyana is, herself, unorthodox in many of her views of contemporary privileged society, in fact proposing many ideas that we would find common today. She is drawn from the outset to Onegin and ultimately reveals to him in a passionate letter that she loves him. Believing that he feels nothing in return, he rejects her love, insisting that it will pass as quickly as it arose. It is this thread that forms the crux of the drama, and it leads several years down the track to Onegin returning to St Petersburg where he finds Tatyana married to his cousin and a member of royalty. It is now time for a reversal of roles, as he begins stalking and ultimately confessing his own love to her. There is no doubt that he has great feelings for her, and there is evidence that these were present even from the outset. However his love has been distorted into something quite strange, almost pitiful by the otherwise emotionless character that he has generated for himself. This is the tragedy that the film sets out to portray.

    In my simple way I could not interpret many of the ideas that the director (Martha Fiennes) was apparently trying to convey with this film. I've certainly never read, and probably never will read, Pushkin's original text, so I've no base to compare the film to. However, it seems to me that the real questions are why the characters are and act the way they do. Why is Onegin so indifferent to the world? Why does Tatyana love him so passionately while others view him as a vapid and generally unpleasant personality? These unanswered questions left me feeling as if the characters had only been half-painted, and meant that the tragedy of the piece was not all-encompassing, as I felt it should have been. Then again, maybe I'm a philistine with no contact with my feminine side...?

    This was Martha Fiennes' first feature film, having previously worked on music videos and television commercials. This project was essentially a collaboration with her brother Ralph (the film's executive producer), and along the way they managed to sweep along with them brother Magnus (composer) and sister Sophie (actress in an unnamed role). The film has been produced with a very strong artistic bent - do not expect the natural real-world imagery of the likes of Pride and Prejudice here. Personally, I think this has been overdone, and seems to have left no room for some of the character and location development that might have made the film more accessible. No doubt one's appreciation of it would benefit from multiple viewings and much academic discussion, but without such rigour you may be somewhat disappointed.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The disc is presented in its proper 1.85:1 (i.e. NOT 1.78:1) aspect ratio to be consistent with its theatrical release. It is a 16x9 Enhanced transfer which also carries Auto Pan & Scan encoding.

    The picture quality can be described in a single word - dark. Being set in Russia during the 19th century, and presumably to enhance the feelings of emotional isolation that form the context of the film, internal illumination has been designed to resemble rather dim candlelight, while external lighting hardly ever rises above the equivalent of extremely overcast skies. Much of the lighting is further abstracted - one of the lighter moments featuring Onegin and Lensky fishing from a lake is set with the characters directly between the camera and the sun, producing very harsh shadows and contrast. This contributes to the general tiring effect of the film as a whole.

    Notwithstanding these general comments, the picture is very clean and sharp. Backgrounds are predominantly in shadow, yet their detail shines right through the general gloominess of the picture. In comparison, the characters are frequently swathed in heavy black cloaks, and these tend to reveal little detail, being rendered more as solid blacks. Liv Tyler was often well lit or presented in bright external scenes. This was perhaps done to highlight her relative innocence in comparison with the dark personality of Onegin. In these instances, again, picture detail was wonderfully revealed. Low level noise was never detected. This type of colour palette can really test out the contrast and picture resolution abilities of your display device.

    Colours were generally drab and sombre. One outstanding exception to this was the penultimate scene in which Onegin proffers his love to Tatyana. He is framed in the same dark colours as is the rest of the film, while she is set against an entirely white background dressed in white, almost in a Faustian comparison between purity and evil (of course, I may be wrong here). The choice of lighting makes it difficult to comment on the colour quality, especially where objects are predominantly backlit. However, close-ups of faces did reveal true and lifelike skin tones.

    I found no film artefacts, and only a small handful of contenders for MPEG artefacts. Given the lighting conditions, this speaks volumes for the quality of the transfer.

    There are no subtitles available.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change occurring at 78:34.

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

Audio

    Being essentially a dialogue-based film, the sole English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack is satisfactory. The dialogue is always clear - indeed, there is very little ambient noise to interfere with this, and the audio was in sync with the picture.

    As I write this I can't actually recall the musical score - just as well Magnus is part of the family, because on the strength of this he will have to keep his day job.

    I noted only very little activity from the surround speakers - generally early on in some very dark and atmospheric scenes. They were silent during the numerous ballroom scenes, almost as if the director didn't want us to feel part of the drama, but to be a rather distant observer. Similarly I never noticed any action from the subwoofer.

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

Extras

    The extras consist of two "Electronic Press Kits". The first comprises 19 minutes of a series of production shorts and interviews while the second, of 23 minutes, contains 22 interview bites, some of which are included in the first extra, and many (especially the Liv Tyler and the Producer, Ileen Maisel's, comments) are full of the typical "Oh, he/she is so -pause- {superlative inserted)" that seem to characterize modern film marketing. Much of the time is spent telling us that the Ralph/Martha Fiennes collaboration was actually a good idea, while little of it is all that useful. I was fascinated to learn, though, that one scene apparently of people ice-skating in St Petersburg (with the city's landmark buildings in the background) was actually set in an English field in mid-summer, using miniature buildings and little people to aid in the illusion of perspective and depth.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     We seem to have been a little under-provided for here, and this is one of the rare cases where I would suggest going to R1 to purchase your copy.

Summary

    I don't enjoy this style of overly artistic filmmaking. There are many who do, however, so if you are among that number you can at least view this disc sound in the knowledge that the quality of the transfer at least is up to scratch. If you are like me, you will find it slow and unnecessarily tedious. If you enjoyed Godzilla, I'm surprised you've read this far.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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