The Scarlet Letter (Blu-ray)

January 9, 2019 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlett Letter is probably best left as a novel. The film was widely criticized upon its theatrical release in 1995, and for good reason. The story is slow and plodding and the two leads (Gary Oldman and Demi Moore) have zero chemistry. This is an essential ingredient in a film featuring two characters involved in an affair. If you have only vague memories of the novel, it involves a woman named Hester Prynne (Moore) who begins an affair with the town’s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). When their affair results in a child, Scarlett is forced to wear an A for adultery. Robert Duvall plays Roger Prynne, Hester’s husband who is believed to have been killed, but eventually returns. Things only get more complicated upon his arrival.

I remember very little of the novel, but it deserves better treatment than this film version. It was required reading for me in High School and this just doesn’t work and simply won’t cut it. I mentioned the lack of chemistry between Moore and Oldman, and that’s one crucial element. We never quite see why Hester would have such strong feelings for Arthur when they haven’t shared a genuine moment. She sees him swimming nude one day and later offers him some reading material, but the spark just isn’t there. There’s also a red bird which can be interpreted to represent the devil, but it’s not very subtle at all, making it just feel forced.

It’s hard to pinpoint just exactly what went wrong with this film, but it fails to make us care about the characters. Perhaps Demi Moore was just too well known to make us feel sympathy for her character, but we don’t. There needed to be some vulnerability I think to help make us feel more towards her character. Instead, the film is just off and very misguided. Interestingly enough, the film Easy A is essentially a modern day update of this story, and it works much better than this. Keep in mind, that it’s very light on its feet, but it keeps things fresh and entertaining, all while adding a modern twist. Skip this film and give that one a shot.

Video: How’s it look?

Having recently upgraded my system with a 4K TV, I was excited to check this one out. While the disc itself is standard Blu-Ray, the image is quite pleasing to the eyes. With an AVC encode and 2.35:1 ratio, we get a virtually flawless image. While a bit darker than I might’ve expected, it does bring us into this world nicely. The print shows no obvious wear or other flaws. Details are evident throughout and day and night scenes have the clarity I expect. I didn’t care for the film, but the transfer does it justice.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS HD track, while more subdued, still works well. Vocals have the clarity and background noises add to the track. Whether it’s townsfolk working or music being played, the track keeps us engaged. The climax also kicks things up a notch. This track suits the film well.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary -Director Roland Joffé provides his thoughts on the film, which are honest and upfront. There are some gaps of silence, but it is worth listening to just to see exactly what he hoped to achieve with the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

Make no mistakes about it, Scarlett Letter is a real stinker. It lacks chemistry between the two leads and a true reason for existing. The premise shows promise, but it never digs deep enough, we never really get inside these character’s heads and the guilt they may or may not have. It was widely criticized when it was released theatrically, and I can see why. It just doesn’t work. It’s a slow, plodding film that fails to engage the viewer. Skip it. I’d advise readers seek out the film Easy A, starring Emma Stone which is a modern day update on this very story. I didn’t love that film, but it works much better than this misfire.

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