Here's news about high-definition video recordings of opera, ballet, classical music, plays, fine-art documentaries, and paintings. I call these recordings "HDVDs." In the journal below are independent (and hard-to-find critical) reports on hundreds of HDVDs. Pick the best titles for your excelsisphere.

October 15. We are getting again into symphony titles and the existential issue of DVDitis. I just posted a story on a Mahler 2 recording at the Gewandhaus that might be considered DOA from the dread plague.

I recently put up a story about the 3rd version (!) of the same Giselle production published by Opus Arte. I recently posted a story about the Ekman Midsummer Night's Dream ballet (which has nothing to do with Shakespeare). I also just posted two stories about Shakespeare's The Tempest. The first is a definitive stage play version by the RSC. The second is an updated review of The Tempest movie staring Helen Mirren as Prospera (the female version of Prospero). The movie is streamlined - try it first. Then move on to the RSC "real deal", which is probably the best The Tempest ever made for home viewing.

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Entries in Warner Bros. (1)

Tuesday
Sep132011

Hamlet

Shakespeare Hamlet play. Kenneth Branagh directed this 1996 motion picture. Stars Riz Abbasi, Richard Attenborough, David Blair, Brian Blessed, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Briers, Michael Bryant, Peter Bygott, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Charles Daish, Judi Dench, Gérard Depardieu, Reece Dinsdale, Ken Dodd, Angela Douglas, Rob Edwards, Nicholas Farrell, Ray Fearon, Yvonne Gidden, John Gielgud, Rosemary Harris, Charlton Heston, Ravil Isyanov, Derek Jacobi, Rowena King, Jeffery Kissoon, Sarah Lam, Jack Lemmon, Ian McElhinney, Michael Maloney, Duke of Marlborough [playing Fortinbras's General], John Mills, Jimi Mistry, Siân Radinger, Melanie Ramsay, Simon Russell Beale, Andrew Schofield, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Tom Szekeres, Ben Thom, Don Warrington, Perdita Weeks, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet, and David Yip.

There's a lot of information on this single disc. The movie lasts 242 minutes and there are several mildly interesting extra features. The default language setting is an English soundtrack in 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround. There is a French soundtrack in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. In addition, there are German, Castilian, and Spanish sound tracks in Dolby Digital stereo. So take your pick of sound tracks and then you can also have subtitles in English, French, German, Castilian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish! Finally, you can watch the whole show with a running commentary from Branagh and expert Russell Jackson, a feature that is popular with motion pictures but unusual for fine-art HDVDs.

Nowhere on the package or on the disc we have is there a statement made about region restrictions. (The disc has legal warnings in about 30 different languages including Hindi, Albanian, and Arabic.)  However, the posting on amazon.com in the U.S. says that Amazon Item B000Q7ZNDG is restricted to "Region A/1." Warner Bros. has released separate German and French language versions for the German and French markets. So buyer beware. It appears the U.S. version will only play on a machine that works with Region A only discs.  Grade: A+

This stupendous movie is Hamlet heavy. It has, I take it, every line of the play that is found in any Shakespeare source. I don't have expert knowledge of Shakespeare, but I've probably read and seen the play as many as 15 times. There was quite a bit in this movie that was new to me as well as scenes I know of that are often cut. So this version is likely to be the reference for all of us Shakespeare amateurs in the future. The movie is exemplary in every way and still looks and sounds great after 14 years. It's fun to try to spot all the famous actors that appear. This came out in DVD a few years ago, and about 350 amazon.com customers in the U.S. wrote reviews, mostly highly favorable. But there was also criticism of Branagh's acting and the length of the work. I have reservations about the updating to the era of the Industrial Revolution; I find modern times inconsistent with plot elements such as the ghost, the poisonings, the sword fight, and the executions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by the English based on a letter. I prefer Hamlet to be set in the 16th century. But these are quibbles. It's a dream come true to have this epic movie in high-definition for showing in a home theater. So this HDVD should be in the collection of anyone who wants to tackle Shakespeare, and I give it the grade of "A+."