Richard III: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

April 15, 2013 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

King Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke) is nearing the end of his life, which means a replacement needs to be found soon. Of course, the position is desired by countless men of power, most of whom have legitimate claims to the throne. The crown comes immense power and holdings, so the man who is crowned will hold most of the world in his hands. One man is desperate to be given the throne, so much so that he will stop at nothing to ensure his coronation. He is Richard the Duke of Gloucester (Laurence Olivier), a dark hearted man who is determined to take control, even if it means deception, betrayal, and even murder. In order to make his run however, he must set a chain of events into motion that is no small task. He must first divide the existing royals, so that their loyalties will be broken, then he must eliminate the blood heirs to the throne. Richard soon begins his plot, going after the heirs one by one to clear his path, then gaining approval by whatever means he can, even if blackmail is involved. He kidnaps and holds ransom at allegiance for some, then denounces his own family to further his cause. In the midst of all this chaos, Lord Dorset (Douglas Wilmer) manages to escape Richard’s grasp and returns with reinforcements. But will Richard be stopped, or will his evil plan be executed to perfection?

This is the kind of treatment we’ve come to expect from The Criterion Collection, a classic film restored to its original version, given a sparkling new visual transfer, and loaded with insightful supplements. Laurence Olivier’s Richard III was trimmed by almost twenty minutes when first released, but Criterion has scoured existing materials and for this special edition, the missing footage has been restored. The film itself is an epic that must be seen by anyone with a casual interest in film, as it is a bold, well crafted picture. Olivier not only turns in perhaps his greatest performance, but also produced and directed Richard III. His role is played out with intense passion and emotion, a level of excellence that will always dazzle audiences. Even at over one hundred and fifty minutes, Richard III never seems slow or dull, though the change in tone when the film shifts to the battleground is a little out of touch. Olivier brings the material to the screen in grand fashion, but remains faithful to the source, which means Shakespeare’s magic is intact. At times, the film does have a staged texture, but the performances are so superb, you’ll never notice. The story is timeless, the performances are incredible, and Olivier’s direction is top notch. In other words, Richard III is given our highest praise and Criterion’s treatment warrants a purchase.

You couldn’t ask for more out of a performance that Laurence Olivier’s work here, as he brings his best game to the table in Richard III. Olivier is one of the screen’s all time finest thespians and in this film, he pulls out all the stops. He starred in other Shakespeare adaptations, all superb efforts, but in Richard III, Olivier hands in his best work of all. Olivier seems to take great pleasure in being the villain, as it affords him the chance to showcase his darker side, which we hadn’t seen much of up to this point. This role could be overplayed however, as a lot of actors would take the part over the top and lose much of the impact in the process. Olivier lets loose and performs in grand style, but he makes sure to remain behind a certain line. He wants to be evil and ruthless, but not so much so that the character seems almost comedic. The level of passion and energy is noble, as you can tell he poured his heart and soul into the performance. This is just an elite level effort that deserves an endless amount of praise, as Olivier is simply flawless here. Other films with Olivier include Rebecca, The Boys from Brazil, Marathon Man, Spartacus, The Prince and the Showgirl, Hamlet, and Wuthering Heights. The cast also includes John Gielgud (Gandhi, Chariots of Fire), Claire Bloom (Clash of the Titans, Three into Two Won’t Go), and Cedric Hardwicke (Around the World in Eighty Days, King Solomon’s Mines).

Video: How does it look?

Criterion has always given a top notch effort to their films and I’m pleased to say that their new 4K restoration of Richard III is nothing short of amazing. Thousands of nicks, scuffs, and other debris were digitally removed, giving the film literally a new look. Detail has been improved even more which enhances the visuals. I found no real troubles with colors either, as the hues look bright and bold, with minimal fades. On the same note, contrast is deep and stark at all times, no concerns there. Once again, Criterion has worked magic with a classic film and made it look better than ever before. While the DVD looked good, this Blu-ray is simply stunning.

Audio: How does it sound?

In addition to the new visuals, we also get a new uncompressed monaural soundtrack.  Yes, granted, it’s only one channel but it does sound pretty good, and certainly better than its DVD counterpart.  Obviously with only one channel there is some moderate distortion but it never becomes extreme or distracting. When it sounds good though, it sounds good and crisp vocals and distinct effects emerge. This release also includes optional English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Criterion has offered up many of the same supplements found on the previous two disc DVD and we start out with the audio commentary by Shakespeare experts Russell Lees and John Wilders. The two discuss Olivier’s adaptation of the material, touching on what was left out and the impact the removal had on the production. Both seem to be quite intelligent and manage to provide an informative, never dull session. The BBC series “Great Acting: Laurence Olivier” is an interview conducted in 1966 and Olivier covers his entire career in detail, but he spends ample time on each step, so this is not a fluff piece. This release also includes an extended television trailer (12:00), a selection of production photos & promotional materials, and the film’s theatrical trailer. New to this release is a restoration demonstration, which I always love, this is hosted by Martin Scorsese.  A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Amy Taubin is also included.

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