The Red Violin (1998) - Meridian Collection

Genre(s): Drama / Foreign
Lions Gate || R - 130 minutes - $26.98 || June 3, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-05-28


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director:
Writer(s):
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Greta Scacchi, Jason Flemyng, Don McKellar


Theatrical Release Date: June 11, 1999


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Filmmakers' Commentary
  • Featurette: The Auction Block
  • Featurette: The Oscar Winning Chaconne
  • Theatrical Trailer


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Beautiful music and an intriguing story propel The Red Violin, a tale of tragedy, heartbreak, lust and envy. Released theatrically in 1999 (USA), Le Violon rouge (a.k.a. The Red Violin) received luke-warm reviews though John Corigliano’s haunting but stunning score did take home the Best Original Score Oscar that year.

The story centers on a special violin spanning three centuries making the way from its creator in Italy to an orphan child prodigy to a group of gypsies and so on and so forth before finally it is rediscovered in present day Montreal about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, is it the real deal? Each storyline has its own tale and the effect the violin had on the owners, most ending not so well. And save for maybe one story (Communist China), each are just as fascinating as the previous leading to an excellent conclusion.

Co-writer and director Francois Girard weaves a tale much the same way as Chris Nolan has done with movies like The Prestige and Batman Begins. Girard opens the film in 1600s Italy before taking us to 1998 Montreal where we are briefly introduced to Charles Morritz (Jackson) entering an auction hall abuzz with the prospect of this unique violin up for sale. We get the different perspectives of all interesting in acquiring this instrument in between other stories that help show the tragic history behind it. From Cremona to Vienna to Oxford and Shanghai, a story unravels like none other with finesse and enchantment.

The well-rounded cast does a fantastic job. No one particular takes charge and overpowers one over the other but instead complement one another. Obviously Samuel L. Jackson is the “face” of the picture and indeed the limited amount of time he has is used effectively, but even an A-lister like Jackson is able to contribute rather than dominate. If there was a standout performance, it goes to Greta Scacchi as a scorned woman jealous of the violin’s influence over her lover (Flemyng).

Le Violon rouge’s finale is surprising and suspenseful as the violin’s origin is revealed. Not a twist per se, but one that explains the power it seemed to have over the centuries making its way around the world.

One might think the history and journey behind a violin would not warrant 125-minutes of screen time but I can attest that I could’ve watched the stories unfold for another good 15 minutes. The Red Violin is not a movie that will interest many viewers, in fact it takes a good amount of patience between subtitles -- I still know people who show disdain for subtitled features -- and just a slow moving narrative, but for those who appreciate classical music and interesting/unique stories, this is a movie for you.

Short answer to the question of recommending The Red Violin or not: An astounding yes. I found this film fascinating from beginning to end. This isn't going to be a movie for everyone as it takes its time to develop but if you have the patience and appreciate director Girard's style, you'll love this movie.

Also, look for character actor Colm Feore as the auctioneer.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

In 2000, Universal and Lions Gate released a basically barebones edition (which only had a “Soundtrack Presentation”, “Production Notes”, “Cast and Filmmakers Bios” and the “Trailer”) but now under a new collection called the “Meridian Collection”, The Red Violin finally gets a much needed makeover. Not a ton of features, but at least we got something this time around.

Feature Commentary – Co-writer/Director Francois Girard and co-writer/actor Don McKellar provide an informative, though fairly slow commentary track. The two keep things moving by pointing out how the movie was filmed or casting decisions (like the fact Morgan Freeman was originally approached for the Sam Jackson character).

Featurette: The Auction Block (17:51) – Interesting look at how popular the violin is at auctions and also features an interview with the woman who owns the violin that inspired this story. I should note, however, the red coloring on hers was more than likely from Ox blood.

Featurette: The Oscar-Winning Chaconne (16:00) – As a big fan of the score I’m glad it got its own featurette. Composer John Corigliano is featured in what looks like a new interview. Joshua Bell, who was the solo violinist, only appears in archive footage.

Lions Gate was also kind enough to include the theatrical trailer (2:27).



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

This is not a perfect transfer by any means, but doing a comparison between the 2000 release and this one, it is obvious they’ve digitally remastered the video as the back cover states. First, it would seem they have fixed some framing issues as the new one evenly has the sliver of black bar on the top and bottom while the older transfer is irregular and actually crops a bit on the sides, not much but looking at ‘em together, it is noticeable.

The older transfer is much warmer in tone while the new one is much brighter at times. I don’t know what the director’s intentions were in terms of tone or style, but I kind of prefer the old transfer in this area.

I guess to accommodate the features and a commentary track; Lions Gate has sadly dropped the DTS track for this release. Why? Heck if I know. With a film so dependent on the score, one would want the best surround sound available and while the Dolby 5.1 track is serviceable, it did not blow me away at all.



.::OVERALL::.

Throughout the years The Red Violin has only gotten better. It features excellent casting, great locations and an engrossing story that pulls you in from the beginning. This isn’t a classic but enjoyed it quite a lot and glad it is finally getting some features. The only drawback I could find was that the DTS track was not ported over, and that is one big caveat to those who own the Universal release.