The Ultimate Sense & Sensibility

Boy, I've gotta get in gear - my list of discs I plan to cover on this site is outpacing the posts I actually get done.  I've got so much I want to do here!  There are so many compelling new releases coming out, but I don't want to get trapped into only covering new releases.  So let's jump right into A Pair of Twilight Times, starting with Sense & Sensibility.  Specifically, this is the 1995 Academy Award winning feature film version adapted by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee.

Update 6/21/19 - 10/20/21: I never would've thought we'd see the day where Jane Austen made it to 4K Ultra HD (well, barring Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, I suppose...), but here we are!  Sony have included 1995's Sense & Sensibility in their impressive 'Columbia Classics Volume 2' 14-disc set.  And is my reviewing this a spoiler of five other Ultra HD discs in the very near future?  Ohhh, could be.  😉
Sense & Sensibility is Jane Austen's first novel with surprisingly clear themes - one sister represents the sense (pragmatism) and the other the sensibility (romanticism).  You don't exactly need an advanced degree in literature.  But it's still such a rich, layered and funny story, and Thompson expertly compresses the novel to feature length without compromising any of the wit or heart, while Lee presents us with sweeping vistas and gorgeous locales.  The cast is perfectly charming and marvelous, from leads Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and of course Thompson herself, to the brilliantly selected supporting players like Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs.  I could go on and on about the merits about this film, but I don't think I need to.  1995's Sense & Sensibility is pretty widely recognized as classic desert island material.  You know, for a while a thought my DVD would be good enough, but no, this requires a proper upgrade.
Sense and Sensibility debuted on DVD all the way back in 1999 with an anamorphic special edition which held up well throughout all of the SD days.  As such, the DVD was reissued multiple times over the years, once packaged with a paperback copy of the novel, once with a hokey Sense and Sensibility-branded diary and pen, and once as a double-feature with Remains Of the Day.  But it was always the same DVD.  It's the HD era now, though, so we needed a blu-ray.  And this was just the kind of high-profile title you could count on Twilight Time to license from Sony.  And so in 2015, thankfully, instead of their standard barebones editions, they came through with a proper special edition.  It seemed like that would be the final, definitive release for this title, but not so!  In 2021, it's been updated to UHD in a new, even fancier 2-disc set, available (to date) only as a part of the 'Columbia Classics Volume 2' 14-disc boxed set.
1) 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2015 Twilight Time BD;
3) 2021 Columbia Tri-Star BD; 4) 2021 Columbia Tri-Star UHD.

Twilight Time's blu turned out to be an even bigger bump than I was expecting.  Naturally, the DVD being from the 90s has a lot of chunky compression that I was confident our 2015 BD would tidy up neatly.  And we advance from a slightly pillar-boxed 1.76:1 to a letterboxed 1.85:1.  That amounts to us losing a dollop along the top; but gaining a sliver on the right.  It's really less about picture information than just graduating to a proper, more natural AR.  But beyond those predicted improvements, we can also see that the DVD had a red hue over the whole image, which the blu lifts off, allowing the colors to really pop as a result.  Whites are now truly white instead of pink, and the sky is gently blue instead of scary purple. Grain is rather finely captured.  Say whatever else you want about 'em; you always get good scans when you deal with Sony.

Which is why they apparently didn't feel the need to re-scan it in 2021.  According to accompanying book, this the new BD and UHD are taken from the same 2012 4k scan of the original picture negative as the previous blu.  But they have re-color timed it for HDR, with input from the editor and final approval by Lee, plus additional dirt and scratch clean-up.  That means, for the two BDs, there's barely any difference at all.  But the colors are richer on the UHD, and the higher resolution means a more natural, less blocky/ pixelated image, though it's the sort of thing you'll need a big screen to appreciate.

Columbia actually gave us a choice between the original Dolby stereo mix and a newly created 5.1, not to mention Portuguese and Spanish dubs.  It also had English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai subtitles.  Twilight Time has kept both audio tracks, and bumped them up to DTS-HD in the process, but cut the subtitles down to just English.  And the new UHD?  Oh boy, it has an all new Atmos mix, and the previous 5.1 DTS-HD plus a bajillion dubs (Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Turkish) and even more subtitle options... I'm not going to list them all out, but yes, English and English SDH are amongst them.
So one reason I held onto the DVD for so long was because it is nicely furnished with extras.  We get two audio commentaries: one with Thompson and producer Lindsay Doran, and the other with Lee and producer James Schamus - and they're both very good.  Not enough discs let us hear from the screenwriters, and it's all the more rewarding when said screenwriter is Emma Thompson.  We also get two brief but amusing deleted scenes, Thompson's clever acceptance speech at The Golden Globes, the trailer, a four-page insert with notes by an uncredited author and some bonus trailers.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Twilight Time not only carried over all the old DVD extras, which they definitely don't always do (*cough, cough* As Good As It Gets *cough*).  But I was even more delighted when I realized that they were also including several vintage but previously unreleased featurettes.  There are five in total, and grant us interviews with many of the cast and crew, and some tantalizing glimpses behind-the-scenes.  There's also Twilight Time's ever reliable isolated score track, an additional international trailer and an 8-page booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo.

The Columbia Classics retains nearly all of that, including the additional Twilight Time featurettes, except they seem to have misplaced the Golden Globes speech.  Whoops!  I can't complain, though, since in its place they've added a 25th Anniversary Reunion, where the Lee, Thompson, Winslet, Doran, Staunton, Imogen Stubbs, Greg Wise and Myriam Francois all jump on their webcams for a roughly half-hour conversation.  The set includes an impressive, full-color hardcover book about all the included films, but specifically with notes on Sense & Sensibility by Den of Geek's Kayti Burt and an excerpt from the screenplay.  It's an elaborate fold-out box with all the other films and their extras, of course, and the case for each of the individual features, including Sense, comes in an elegant slipcover.
Hey!  While I'm here, why don't we take a quick look at all the other versions of Sense & Sensibility out there.  Yes, I know... this is why my "plan to cover"s are outpacing my "covered"s, but let's do it anyway.  All told, there are four direct adaptations of Sense & Sensibility, not including this ridiculous thing and the modernized Kollywood adaptation.  Memorably, there is one for each decade.  We've just been over the 90's one, so here are the other three.
2009 2 Entertain/ Warner Bros/ BBC DVD.
The 70's Version - Originally aired in 1971 and divided into four 45-minute long episodes.  Being a series rather than a single film, the expectation is that now we're finally going to see all the parts cut out book for the film's screenplay in this much longer version.  And there is a little of that, but really, this is only about 40 minutes longer, so it's not a revelation of restored characters and plot points.  Indeed, this version trims out Margaret, the youngest of the three main sisters.  The additional bits we do get are nice, but hampered by the far more constrained production.  Sir John is played by an actor too young for the part, hamming it up like a school play's Mr. Fezziwig, and pretty much every scene is necessarily "stagey."  Certainly, there's enough here to recommend it to the committed Austenphiles - Keeping Up Appearance's Patrica Routledge steals every scene she's in.  But this is certainly the most forgettable entry out of the lot, remarkable mainly only for being the first.

The BBC's DVD is appropriately full-frame (it was a 70's television production, after all), at 1.31:1.  It's also interlaced, though that may be less of a PAL to NTSC conversion thing than just a baked-in trait of a vintage TV tape master.  But less forgivable is the strong edge enhancement, which would've been the sort of thing you could get away with more easily in the smaller screen days of standard definition, but really looks poor on modern televisions.  The disc is completely barebones, though it does offer optional English subtitles.
2004 Warner Bros/ BBC DVD.
The 80's Version - First broadcast in 1981, this adaptation is broken up into seven short (22-23 minutes long) episodes.  When you consider the fact that means we're getting seven sets of opening and closing credits, that makes it only slightly longer than the movie.  Indeed, poor Margaret gets the chop here, too.  Still, they manage to find some excellent moments and memorable exchanges the 90's version neglected, and generally does a much better job of drawing out the comedy than the 70's version.  For instance, they get some of the best use out of secondary characters like Robert Ferrars and Mr. Palmer.  Admittedly, a handful of moments get overwrought in this one, but the way it's broken into such shorter pieces, make it uniquely pleasant to casually graze on over time rather then binge in a single run.

Curiously, this release is a flipper disc with a blank side.  It's fullscreen, too, as it should be, at 1.32:1, but it's also interlaced and a bit hazy, though at least not as tampered with as the 70's version.  I assume this was shot on tape, too, so there are no film elements to go back to, meaning this is probably about as good as it possibly could look.  Showing this off on your big-screen TV definitely won't impress your neighbors, but Warner describes this as "lovingly remastered" and I believe them.  Optional English subtitles are included, but nothing else.  This one's available separately, but if you're a fan, I'd recommend getting it as part of the 6-disc Jane Austen Collection, which includes a strong 70s-80s BBC adaptation of each of Austen's novels.
2008 2 Entertain/ WGBH/ BBC DVD.
The 2000's Version - From 2008.  I was excited for this one, as it's by Andrew Davies, the man who gave us the ultimate Pride & Prejudice, not to mention a wealth of terrific Dickens and other masterpiece adaptations.  It might sound corny, and admittedly he's had one or two misfires in his storied career, but I'd say his name is a genuine hallmark of quality.  Well, I can't say he quite matched his Pride, but this is a strong version in its own right, with some slightly shameless attempts to make this production a little more risque.  It opens with a sexy fireplace love scene and features a fit Edward chopping wood in a wet, transparent shirt.  Comprising just three, longer episodes, this series' noteworthy casting includes The Walking Dead's notorious Governor as Colonel Brandon and an excellent Sir John, plus it's also got a very seductive score that sticks with you.  In a vacuum, I'd recommend this version, but living in a world that's already presented us with three previous Sense and Sensibilities, this one doesn't give us too much that we don't already have.  I'd say the 90s version is the most engaging watch, and the 80s adds a lot from the book that the later editions let slip away.  So once you've got those two, there isn't so much value left to extract from the 70s and 2000s versions.

Still, it's good enough that you may well want to pick this up.  And if you do, well, it definitely looks more modern with its widescreen 1.78:1 framing and clearly high def source.  But of course it's been brought down to a standard def DVD, and an unfortunately interlaced one at that  And a film this new really has no excuse to be interlaced, so it doesn't get the pass I'm giving to the previous to editions.  Apart from that, though, it looks nice enough.  The colors are vivid, and it doesn't feel like we're many generations removed from the source film.  Oh, and yes, English subtitles are an option here, too.
Miss Austen Regrets
In fact, this is also a nice little special edition.  Each episode gets an audio commentary by a revolving team of cast and crew: director John Alexander, producer Anne Pivcevic, Hattie Morahan who plays Elinor and Dan Stevens who plays Edward on episode 1, then Alexander, Charity Wakefield who played Marianne and Dominic Cooper who played Willoughby on episode 2, and finally the episode 1 team again for the last one.  Then there's a half-hour interview with interview Davies and Pivcevic, who spend a surprising amount of time talking about the Thompson film, and a photo gallery.  And that's just disc 1.  A second bonus disc includes the fine, feature-length dramatization of Jane Austen's real life, Miss Austen Regrets.  It's letterboxed to an unusual 1.81:1 and is also interlaced, looking generally as good as Sense, and also includes English subtitles.  In addition, there's a substantial audio-only extra: Remembering Jane Austen, a 70-minute, four-part radio play based on the memoir of James Austen-Leigh, the only written account of somebody who personally knew her.

This 2-disc set is available separately or in an attractively boxed Collector's Set box that pairs it with the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion.   There is also a Japanese 2-disc blu-ray release, which hopefully(!) clears up the interlacing issue and sharpens up some of the fine detail, but it's hard to find any concrete information about it online, and from what I gather is missing all of the special features, apart from the Davies/ Pivcevic interview and the photo gallery.
So the 90's version has been given an essential blu-ray release by Twilight Time.  And then they topped it with the new 2021 UHD.  But unless you're prepared to spring for the whole Columbia Classics Collection, the TT might still be your best bet (and used copies will probably start pouring into the market as people who did upgrade offload their previous edition).  As for the other Sense & Sensibilities?  Well, I'd start with the one from the 80's, then possibly add the 2000's and 1970's versions, in that order, depending how Austen-mad you are.  Oh, and actually you could squeeze that Kollywood version in there ahead of the 70's version, too.  It's pretty neat and the musical numbers are beautifully filmed.  The Kino DVD has English subs.

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