"Rent" isn't the best adaptation out there, but it does have its moments. Some fans might find the film appealing, but other fans will be left cold by the flat direction and overloaded musical numbers.
Rent (2005, Blu-ray)
Directors: Chris Columbus
Producers: Chris Columbus
Writers: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay) Jonathan Larson (book of musical play)
Features: * Commentary * Documentary * Deleted Scenes * Trailers * PSAs * Dolby TrueHD
Anthony Rapp ... Mark Cohen
Adam Pascal ... Roger Davis
Rosario Dawson ... Mimi Marquez
Jesse L. Martin ... Tom Collins
Wilson Jermaine Heredia ... Angel Dumott Schunard
Idina Menzel ... Maureen Johnson
Tracie Thoms ... Joanne Jefferson
Taye Diggs ... Benjamin Coffin III
From time to time, my wife, Dana, who is a fellow lover of film and writer herself, and I will be doing reviews together with her take on the film and my take on the disc itself. Our latest installment is...
Rent Blu-ray Review
I was so excited when I first learned a film version of the musical “Rent” was being made. I saw a traveling version of the Broadway show when it came to town with my best friends when we were in high school. Before I saw the musical, I had listened to the soundtrack probably 100 times and had memorized the songs.
It was an imperfect musical, to be sure, but it held a special place in my heart during my high school years.
Unfortunately those imperfections that were easy to overlook while listening to the soundtrack or watching the stage version were highlighted like a giant neon sign when brought to the big screen. That on top of new mistakes introduced by Director Chris Columbus (a self-professed fan of the musical), and this creation ruined the sentimentality I once felt for the story.
The first issue comes during the very opening of the movie. We enter immediately with the song “Seasons of Love” sung by the main cast members, each standing in a spotlight on a stage. For those who haven’t seen the musical, the song means very little at this point, other than it is catchy. We get cuts to close-ups of each of the actors, which, again, mean nothing to viewers who don’t know who these characters are. The sequence does nothing to introduce the audience to the story and is really only even slightly meaningful to those already thoroughly familiar with the plot and the characters.
Plus the whole point of adapting a musical into a movie is to tell the story in a way you couldn’t on stage. To open the film with the characters standing stationary throughout the duration of one of fans’ favorite songs is not a good indication of what is to come. It would have been a perfect backdrop for the end credits, which had nothing special to them and were scrolled over a black screen. The opening credits could have appeared during the first official scene of the movie to allow more room for plot content, which had to be trimmed for the screen version.
It is this trimming of the story which leads to the next problem. Plot points acted as padding for the big musical numbers of the stage show. Without them, we are left with big musical number after big musical number, particularly in the middle act of the film. This in itself isn’t too big of a problem, except it really hurts one’s ability to suspend reality, a constant challenge of movie musicals.
Also I don’t think we are supposed to laugh while the character of Roger is agonizing over what he is supposed to do with his life, but some melodramatic John Tesh-worthy desert scenes toward the end of the film (absent from the stage show) had my friends and I rolling when we saw it in theaters.
I must however commend a few changes by the filmmakers, particularly deciding which elements should be sung and which should be spoken. Many of the conversations in the opening scenes are actually sung in the musical, but Columbus wisely makes them spoken dialogue to more naturally pull people into the story – a trick he should have utilized a few more times in the film.
Another shining spot was Rosario Dawson, the only newcomer to the main cast, made up of members of the original Broadway ensemble. I never cared much for the original Mimi (at least the voice I heard on my CD), and Dawson does a fine job embodying the spirit of the character. I did however have to chuckle a bit when Roger tells her she looks like she’s 16 and she sings in reply “I’m 19, but I’m old for my age.” Twenty-eight-year-old Dawson certainly doesn’t look 16, or 19 for that matter. But as we are working with the original cast from the ’90s, none of them look the proper age, so I let it slide and took it more as a fun little wink to audience members who know the history of the cast. I was skeptical of the casts’ ability to carry the story from stage to screen, but most did a fine job, particularly with screen veterans Dawson and Taye Diggs on set to help.
But none of the actors could control the worst part of the film -- something that was not the fault of Columbus, but his vision certainly accentuated the flaw.
The “villain” of the film, Benny (Diggs), is an old friend who has now embraced a corporate lifestyle in which he lives very comfortably and is trying to transform a murky lot used by some of the local artists into a corporate-run performance studio. He tells his former friends “I am the one attempting to do some good. Or do you really want a neighborhood where people piss on your stoop every night?”
My instant thought is “I certainly don’t want a neighborhood like that!”
But the characters mock Benny and sing joyously about their favorite artists and how they celebrate their own lifestyles. Really? You celebrate not being able to eat or stay warm and how you have drug addictions and many of you have HIV? How can these characters so callously belittle Benny’s lifestyle when their own is so self-destructive?
Perhaps because truly good art must be born from angst and suffering and not from corporate guidelines and studios built on the backs of capitalism, I theorize. Perhaps this is the price that must be paid to create something truly beautiful and meaningful! That must be it!
A good moral to the story I suppose, except that it just doesn’t happen. The characters have rejected working for “the man” in order to create their art, but the biggest tragedy of this story is that they just aren’t very talented.
For example, Roger is a musician who spends the whole movie trying to write his one perfect song. He tries without success until the finale when he finds his song – one so powerful it brings one of the other characters back to life. Great...except the song is easily the worst in the whole musical. I always skipped it when listening to the CD, even when I felt an affinity for the story. An entire life devoted to the creation of a terrible, cliché-ridden song – that’s just too tragic.
The other main character, Mark, leaves a good paying job in expose news to finish his personal film work. And again, we are presented with his documentary which he has been working on throughout the movie, and it’s amateur at best (to some fault of Columbus who when it comes down to it is the actual creator of Mark's film and could have just chosen not to show it to the audience). It’s merely rapid cuts of all of Mark's friends laughing and waving while music plays, with no more depth than a high school video yearbook.
Is this all that these artists have to offer? Are these ideals worth dying or nearly dying for? Is a paying job really so strenuous that these artists could not continue with their tepid pet projects and earn money at the same time?
After seeing this vision of the story, the answer is a resounding “no,” which is devastating to someone who is still very moved by “No Day But Today,” a song about living every day like it’s your last. The lyrics are inspiring to anyone who feels they are wasting their life away at a cubicle and wants to pursue his or her dreams and throw caution to the wind in the name of love. But the alternative presented by this film is devastating and nothing worth leaving a 9 to 5 for.
Some may be able to look beyond these plot faults and channel the musical’s message of truly living life and loving that touched me so much in school. But others will feel cheated and would be better just pulling out the soundtrack and allowing the lyrics to speak on a more personal level -- holding on to the dream that there really is a way of life somewhere in between corporate doldrums and becoming starving, mediocre artists.
Film Report Card:
As entertainment: B-
As a film: C-
Sony presents the film in 2.40:1 widescreen at 1080p/AVC on a dual-layer BD50 disc. While the film is hardly anything to cry home about, the transfer is quite stunning. Colors are vibrant and strong. Black levels are rock solid with nice color separation. I did spot some grain during darker scenes and some occasional noise when more lush colors were on screen, but the problem hardly mars the overall presentation, which is nearly reference level for a catalog title.
Sony presents the film in what is becoming their standard these days, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. But also included is an uncompressed PCM track. Both are decent mixes, but I found rear surround to be a bit too overpowering from time-to-time, taking away from the overall presentation the mix. The center channel also appears a bit too loud with lyrics standing out more than I would have liked. Again, both tracks are well mixed, don't get me wrong, but these tiny little mistakes in sound design knock this one away from it's A-level status. It's so weird that Sony would deliver not one, but two mediocre musical mixes in one a six month period (the other being "Across the Universe").
• Audio Commentary -- Featuring Chris Columbus and actors Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal, this track is worth a listen if you love the musical and/or love the film. Columbus is quite passionate about the material and is obviously in awe of the story he's created. Rapp and Pascal add their two cents via telephone and while they mostly offer comparison, their inclusion helps round out Columbus' comments.
• Documentary: "No Day But Today" -- This extensive documentary runs nearly as long as the film (!) and covers almost every aspect of the film from concept to pre-production to production to the film's release. There are interviews galore with the Broadway cast, the film's stars and crew as well as friends of Jonathan Larson, who is no longer with us. This is a fantastic documentary that actually makes you enjoy the film, and the musical, more after watching it. If you remotely like the film, give this documentary a spin.
• Deleted Scenes -- A batch of weak deleted scenes and two deleted musical numbers. The movie is already crammed with music so it's nice to see these on the cutting room floor.
• PSAs -- For the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation and the National Marfan Foundation
• Trailers -- You know the drill.
The film is presented in a blue "Elite" case and is pretty consistent with Sony's titles however this one gets marked off a few points for using shoddy images on the back of the box. This is supposed to be a high-def disc, so why are low-res images being used. Come on, people. Get your act together.
"Rent" isn't the best adaptation out there, but it does have it's moments. Some fans might find the film appealing, but other fans will be left cold by the flat direction and overloaded musical numbers. The Blu-ray presentation is certainly stellar, but not quite top notch. The transfer is solid, but the audio mix could have used some work. The supplemental material from the DVD is all ported over however, and what is there, is well worth watching. If you love this film, I'd suggest an upgrade.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Fans should pick this up. Newcomers should rent it first.
On Blu-ray disc: Dec. 11, 2007.
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