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The Merchant of Venice [DVD] 
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Adaptation of the classic Shakespeare tragedy. Set in 16th-Century Venice, the story follows the lives of a group of Christian noblemen and their interactions with the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino). Antonio (Jeremy Irons) borrows money from Shylock but when his shipping business is wrecked and he can't afford to pay back the loan, Shylock claims his forfeit in the form of a pound of Antonio's flesh.
Rarely has The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare's most complex plays, looked as ravishingly sumptuous as in this adaptation, directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino). In a decadent version of renaissance Venice, a young nobleman named Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) seeks to woo the lovely Portia (Lynn Collins), but lacks the money to travel to her estate. He seeks support from his friend, the merchant Antonio (Jeremy Irons); Antonio's fortune is tied up in sea ventures, so the merchant offers to borrow money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock (Al Pacino). But Shylock holds a grudge against Antonio, who has routinely treated the Jew with contempt, and demands that if the debt is not repaid in three months, the price will be a pound of Antonio's flesh. The Merchant of Venice is famous as a "problem play"--the gritty matters of moneylending and anti-Semitism sit uncomfortably beside the fairy tale elements of Portia and Bassanio's romance, and some twists of the plot can seem arbitrary or even cruel. The strength of Radford's intelligent and passionate interpretation is that he and the excellent cast invest the play's opposing facets with full emotional weight, thus making every question the play raises acute and inescapable. Irons is particularly compelling; kindness and blind prejudice sit side by side in his breast, rendering the clashes in his character as vivid as those in the play itself. --Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
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Perhaps the greatest surprise is the choice of Al Pacino in the role of Shylock. In the event he delivers a performance that easily crosses the Atlantic divide and which shows Shylock as a member of a biased society which is prepared to make use of his wealth but with no return of social acceptance. Ultimately his essential crime is that of wishing to extract the terms of the original commercial agreement and not yielding on those terms. In this he is as unyielding as the society that is prepared to use him but will not accept him. Ultimately he becomes the inevitable victim and loses all but, not perhaps in this presentation, the modern audiences complete sympathy as he becomes outcast from all society without either family or wealth. In this presentation it is possible to feel pity although other less extreme options are rejected. This is very complex with many conflicts to consider and it is a measure of Al Pacino's quality that he is able to convey these various considerations with such conviction.
Jeremy Irons delivers an equally fine performance retaining a sense of proportion and essential humanity even when faced with dire consequences. All the remaining cast deliver at the same exalted level and this amounts to a very fine version indeed.
Inevitably, with such a controversial plot, there will be a range of conflicting responses representing viewers' personal starting and concluding viewpoints but it is not the purpose of this review to take sides in that sort of discussion.
However, this review is not intended to discuss the actual film as by now it will have both its supporters and detractors. Entering into those conflicts is not the purpose of the review which is aimed squarely at the many supporters of this film.
Essentially, for all of those who are keen supporters of this film and who have bought the previous DVD version of this disc, the only issue of vital importance will be whether the Blu-ray offers an improvement technically sufficient to justify the additional expense.
For this reviewer the answer is a clear affirmative. The upgrade offers a clear advance on both image and audio quality with the imaging being a marked improvement. The colours are firmer and there is an increase to the perceived depth of the imaging. The whole film simply becomes more 'real.' The film, which is so concerned with close characterisation, benefits considerably from this enhancement of reality.
The degree of improvement experienced from this BD will also inevitably depend on the replay equipment used. The following technical information is intended to be a guide to aid in assessment.
The screen used for this review is only of moderate dimensions being a 40 inch television screen. However, the television is a high performing 4K unit which delivers a compensating positive effect. The moderate screen size lacks the impact of larger screens but is less critical of film faults.
However, the contributing player is, unusually, able to separate the audio and visual HDMI signals before they leave separately to the television and pre-amp. That feature enhances both the visual and audio elements of the output. The audio, not so critical in the case, delivers an unusually wide-ranging and revealing performance. Its precision is equally revealing of film scores.
Readers with alternative equipment will have to interpret this review bearing in mind their own equipment and its comparative advantages and disadvantages.
The disc offers purchasers with suitable replay equipment a substantial improvement over the previous DVD.
In summary this BD is a transfer from good quality recent 2004 film stock and has responded well to the upgrade and well worth considering. In summary, it offers an enhanced viewing experience to a playback experience that should give great satisfaction to many supporters of this film.
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