The classic Shakespearean play about a murderously scheming king staged in an alternative fascist England setting.
How many times have we seen a version of Shakespeare's 'Richard III'? Probably more times than we can count. In 1995, director Richard Loncraine and Sir Ian McKellan wanted to adapt 'Richard III' into a modern film. And since McKellan was already in the stage play, which he helped get off the ground, this seemed like a match made in heaven. McKellan even served as a consultant and writer on this unique adaption of Shakespeare's work.
Over the past twenty years, a lot of Shakespeare enthusiasts and followers have expressed negative reviews of this film, because it is not true to Shakespeare's work. Even in college, I remember discussing with my fellow film and theatre peers why this version of 'Richard III' is so good and unique. Most people seem to forget that the real Richard III was alive more than a century before Shakespeare came along and started writing about him. This tells me that Shakespeare was in the game of entertaining and captivating his audience, rather than telling something of historical fact from top to bottom.
First and foremost, most movies are here to entertain us, and if they're based on true events, which most films are these days, there are usually some part of this realistic story that actually happened. However, a lot of these films or stories have been embellished and created to entertain us. If we really wanted to adapt the real life story of Richard III or even just take the exact story from Shakespeare's words, we'd be in front of a stage or screen for hours and hours on end, which is why most adaptations we've seen have excluded many scenes and characters from the play.
This 1995 film does that, but plays out like a cohesive WWII film with the same overall characters from Shakespeare's mind. It's impressive feat and film for sure with stellar performances from McKellan as Richard the Duke of Gloucester, Robert Downey Jr., Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and a young Dominic West. This film takes place in a fictional fascist England, where Richard (McKellan) is on a destructive path to destroy almost everything. What is so interesting about this film is the strange social and political climate it instills that happened during these years, as it doesn't quite go with Shakespeare's original vision or even history.
But that's the point here. 'Richard III' is a creative adaptation of what some veteran Shakespeare scholars wanted to portray for a modern audience. I know it's weird, but I'll compare 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' to this. That iconic horror movie was based off a couple of real life serial killers, specifically Ed Gein. In order to tell a story of something that might have happened in actual history, an indie filmmaker decided to take elements of these true events and turn it into a crazy family in Austin, Texas, but still showed some of the facts of this killer's life.
It made for a brilliant film that still scares audiences today. This 1995 version of 'Richard III' is far from the 1955 version that starred Laurence Olivier, but it still stands on its own. It's a fantastic war film with brilliant performances and set pieces, and is a very welcome addition into the Shakespeare realm.
'Richard III' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This 20-year old film still looks amazing and with this glorious new transfer, the detail and colors look remarkable. The detail is fairly vivid and sharp throughout with excellent closeups that reveal every piece of mud and dirt on the actor's faces, as well as individual hairs and beads of sweat and blood quite nicely. The WWII costumes look amazing as well here as every thick stitch and scuff mark comes through very well.
The wider shots also look great, but come through a tiny bit softer. Colors pop everywhere, specifically with the reds in the blood and uniforms. There is nice layer of grain as well that keeps with the movie's filmic look, however there are some small moments where the grain fluctuates, leaving some of the picture with a foggy look. The black levels are always deep and inky and the flesh tones are natural. There are some minor issues with video noise, but other than that, there were no compression issues.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. For being a movie based on a Shakespeare play, you'll be surprised that this isn't all dialogue. In fact, there are quite a few heavy war sequences complete with massive explosions, a ton of gun blasts, tanks rolling in, and several other big war sounds. Luckily, these sound effects are robust, loud, and pack a surprising punch. The directionality is great here as well. Each sound effect is well balanced and never sounds unrealistic or muffled.
Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any cracks, hiss, shrills, and pops. The score is flawless and always adds to the emotion and suspense of each scene, right up until final climactic moment that ends the film. The bass rumbles during the heavier action sequences nicely as well. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is excellent, leaving this audio presentation with top marks.
Isolated Music and Effects Track - You can listen to the movie with out the dialogue only if desired.
Trailers (HD, 5 Mins.) - Trailers for the film.
Booklet - Much like Criterion's booklets, this one comes with a 6-page color booklet with images from the film and an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.
This 1995 version of 'Richard III' is a fantastic film. It's one of the more original adaptations of Shakespeare's work and the performances are all top notch from start to finish. The video and audio are both excellent, but the lack of extras is disappointing. That being said, 'Richard III' comes highly recommended!