Blu-ray Review: EMMA - Solid Literary Adaptation Receives Poor HD Upgrade

Emma is an entertaining period drama that proficiently mixes the right amount of drama and comedy to remain engaging for contemporary audiences. The performances are also strong, making this one of the better – if not memorable – costume dramas produced in the 1990s.

Literary adaptations proved extremely popular back in the 1990s and Emma is a fine example of this trend. Finding its way on to Blu-ray for the first time today, read on for our review€ In rural 1800s England, Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) spends her idle time as a matchmaker for those around her. Constantly trying to match people who are entirely incompatible, Emma spends so much of her energies meddling in the lives of others that she refrains from thinking about her own feelings. Things turn sour for her, however, after she unsuccessfully tries to pair up visiting, shy socialite Harriet (Toni Collette) with the pleasant Mr Elton (Alan Cumming), only to find that the gentleman€™s true desires lie with her€ Cue heartache and woe, but also an epiphany of love as Emma turns her attentions to her own feelings for Mr Knightley (Jeremy Northam) at last! Will everyone end up with exactly who they yearn? As costume dramas go, Emma €“ based on the Jane Austen novel €“ is a spirited and rather comedic romp that is both socially and romantically critical. Emma€™s matchmaking efforts provide equal amounts of comedy and drama, as well as suggesting that she is in fact the centre of the village she calls home (she appears to be admired by all, despite her meddling). However, in reality she is a judgmental woman who lacks the foresight to see that her efforts in finding others a love could potentially have repercussions. For all her labours to match the shy Harriet with Mr Elton, she is oblivious to the fact that it is her he is truly in love with. When he does reveal his passions she simply dismisses him as if their pairing was the most unnatural thing on the Earth. Throughout these escapades she pushes people closer and closer together (despite their true feelings), without a care in the world as to whether she is doing them any kindness. Despite this rather large character flaw, Emma remains just on the right side of likeable for audiences as she comes across as passionate and enthusiastic in her matchmaking abilities, but ultimately she is chronically naïve €“ too naïve in fact to notice her own feelings. The film exudes production costs, with its lavish sets and beautiful costumes, transporting viewers directly back to the period of the setting. A lushness and flamboyance is evident within the film and therefore, Douglas McGrath€™s direction is simple but manages to capture the innate beauty of the locations and characters through sweeping shots and well placed close ups. Gwyneth Paltrow embodies the spirit of her character, ensuring that viewers don€™t stray too far from liking her: even when she ruthlessly humiliates the frightfully dull Miss Bates in public. Paltrow manages to maintain a steady British accent that rarely wavers from the distinctly upper class drawl that she evokes, which helps make the character far more realistic. The actress manages to capture a sprightly, youthful effervescence within the character and seamlessly shifts between her insinuations of a wise matchmaker and the reality of a hopelessly naïve romantic. Toni Collette as Emma€™s associate and devoted pawn is similarly proficient. She manages to portray the character€™s unfaltering shyness with ease, making Harriet an immediately likeable and sympathetic character. When it transpires that Mr Elton €“ whom Emma has convinced her that she loves and should marry €“ is actually holding a candle for Emma, Colette perfectly captures Harriet€™s gut-wrenching agony and pain at the let down of him not proposing. Stellar support comes from a variety of British talent, with Alan Cumming as Elton, Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates, Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley and Denys Hawthorne as Mr Woodhouse offering solid performances in tandem with those of Paltrow and Colette.


The visual quality of this release is far from acceptable, with an incessant grain making the film appear as if it is being played on a well-loved VHS rather than a Blu-ray! The poor quality of the images is relentless and becomes irritatingly distractive, making the film almost unbearable to watch. For a film that is certainly not regarded a classic piece of 90s cinema, it seems strange that Universal would happily release such a poor quality transfer rather than avoiding a Blu-ray version altogether. The low-grade definition means that colour schemes, whilst attractive, are not particularly vibrant or noticeable. This is disappointing, as the beautiful rural landscape and the regency styling of the sets could potentially have looked incredible. The audio quality fares better on Universal€™s disc than the images, with dialogue clear and intelligible for the most part. Far less disturbance is evident with the audio than the visuals, which means that ambient sound and dialogue work harmoniously to submerge viewers into 1800s English life. The original score sounds deep and expressive and is put to good use during the film, sounding full and robust on the release here.


No extras are supplied at all, which further reinforces the question of why exactly Emma was submitted for a Bluray release!? Film: 3 out of 5 Emma is an entertaining period drama that proficiently mixes the right amount of drama and comedy to remain engaging for contemporary audiences. The performances are also strong, making this one of the better €“ if not memorable €“ costume dramas produced in the 1990s. Visuals: 1.5 out of 5 Extremely disappointing, Emma would have been left on a DVD release alone due to the unremitting grain and distortion. What Universal were thinking considering this a worthy HD transfer is anybody€™s guess? Audio: 3.5 out of 5 The sound is possibly the Blu-ray€™s only redeeming feature. Dialogue is clean and clear and the ambient noises and soundtrack are equally dexterous. Extras: 0 out of 5 No special features accompany the film, making this a very poor release. Presentation: 2 out of 5 The front cover image of Gwyneth Paltrow in character is dull and certainly representative of Universal€™s half-hearted efforts to release the film on Blu-ray. The static menu is equally dull, but is at least easy to use. Overall: 2 out of 5 With poor visual quality and no additional material on this release, Emma is one Blu-ray release that simply isn€™t worth purchasing or even renting€ Emma is out now on Blu-ray.

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