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Dorian Gray [Blu-ray]
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Audio: English 5.1 dtr HD Sub-titles: English for the Hard of Hearing.
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On the plus side it has Colin Firth on good form as Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian's guide in his descent into immorality with a bitter witticism to justify every degeneracy, and there's a good if a tad uninspired supporting cast. Unfortunately they have to work overtime to compensate for void at the film's centre courtesy of a very awkward Ben Barnes, who plays the pre-deal with the Devil Dorian like a newborn simpleton and only marginally improves once he embraces the pleasures of the flesh (he's at his best in the later scenes after Dorian realises that pleasure and happiness are very different). It doesn't help that his first shot in the film has such a bizarrely waxy appearance that he looks like an Auton, one of the killer shop tailor dummies from Doctor Who, an impression only enhanced by his unnatural movement.
Sadly Rachel Hurd-Wood, so good as Wendy in the 2003 Peter Pan, is even worse as Sibyl Vane, now an actress playing Hamlet's Ophelia rather than Juliet (so no prizes for guessing how she'll end up in this version). Giving a quite awful turn that's phenomenally stilted and mechanical, their scenes together provide the dispiriting sight of two weak performers dragging each other down rather than raising their game and feel more like something out of a bad school play than a life-consuming passion. But then even the usually reliable Rebecca Hall gives a horribly misjudged performance that's far too 21st Century to convince, leaving you with the impression that Parker is just leaving his cast to their own devices.
Then there are the inevitable changes, some to give characters more of an arc - where Wilde's Lord Henry remains resolutely irredeemable to the end, the film's version is vicariously living and destroying himself through Dorian only to be gradually appalled by what he has wrought, leading to a misjudged finale - others more for shock effect - where the 1945 version opted for bursts of Technicolor for the grotesque portrait, this version opts for CGi, live maggots and agonised rasps. There's more explicit violence, but with screenwriter Toby Findlay seeing it as a 19th Century American Psycho and Parker not doing subtext there's none of the philosophy or underlying class struggle of the novel, its homosexual undertones made clumsily overt in case we miss them (in Wilde's uncensored version it is suggested the painter's obsession with the one beautiful thing in his life gives the painting its power, something the film ignores in favour of having the two have offscreen `thank you' sex). There's no sense of Dorian enjoying the terrible pleasure of his double life either nor of his embodiment of a hypocritical society that tries to hide its own sins in the attic behind a pleasing and innocent countenance.
But overall the film's problem isn't that it's bad - it has enough strong points to hold the interest, the corrupted and syphilitic portrait when inanimate is strikingly naturalistic and it's much better at the passage of time than previous versions even if the old age makeup on the supporting characters is pretty poor. It's that it's so mediocre, so unadventurous and so lacking in screen poetry to match Wilde's words while failing to replace them with anything half as compelling or shocking.
The UK Blu-ray release offers an acceptable transfer (the film doesn't have a particularly strong visual look so doesn't really benefit much from high definition) and plentiful but uninspiring extras - audio commentary by Oliver Parker and Toby Finlay, 5 deleted scenes, various featurettes, bloopers, costume gallery, and trailer