The Age of Innocence: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

February 21, 2018 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

After the widescreen triumph of Cape Fear, director Martin Scorsese looked to adapt a classic novel to screen and he looked to work it with the same studio but when Universal asked for a lesser budget, the support came from Columbia to make his film. From an tale of forbidden love and the high class of early 19th century New York, Scorsese scores his first collaboration with Daniel Day Lewis and a cast of many to a time of the costumes and the manners. It was a time for arrangement and The Age of Innocence.

Newland Archer (Daniel Day Lewis) is a lawyer who has been invited to an opera ball. There he views along the woman who he’s engaged to, May Welland (Winona Ryder) and her cousin the Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the same box. It seems that the Countess is looking to move forward to divorce the Count which the society frowns upon and her view from the others are not taken well even when invitations to an occasion in her honor are not honored themselves. Newland takes a stand and wants to help her in her proceedings but within those lay a love for her that both try to sort amongst their lives.

When it comes to genres, this viewer is not one for costume dramas, but with that in mind in the hands of Scorsese, this is a spectacular looking, ambitious and creative effort with all tricks such as irises and circles on used greatly to illustrate some wonderful scenes amongst all the principles in this film. Many plusses go to the cinematography and set direction done beautifully by Dante Ferretti and Michael Ballhaus in what is the second in the turning on the lights to the scene trilogy (the others being The Last Waltz and The Aviator).

The acting by all is superb with solid performances by all three main principles juggling the emotions of guilt, lust, secrets, manipulation and betrayal all in one. It’s also a huge reminder to me how much I miss the great work of Michelle Pfeiffer as she gives a stirring performance in this one. Look for director Scorsese in a key cameo as a photographer as well. On top of that is the second of three title designs by Elaine and Saul Bass that work so well with Elmer Bernstein’s superb score.

When I had first viewed this in high school, I didn’t know much what to make of it, but as this viewer matured, films that might have been passed off as dry fare were given another chance and worthy of good advice to all up and coming filmgoers out there.

This is a happy surprise and another reminder as to why Martin Scorsese is still one of our best filmmakers as he can tackle any subject matter and do justice with it cinematically. The use of color and setting makes this for one of the best shot movies I’ve ever seen and another solid effort by Scorsese to add to the long list of wonderful scope presentations. The Age of Innocence is one for the ages and has a flow like no other keeping in tune with creative shots, narration and an approach unlike any other.

Video: How does it look?

Anyone who’s seen this film or any of Scorsese’s films knows what to expect. Couple that with the efforts that Criterion imparts on their Blu-ray’s and, well, you’ve got a literal thing of beauty. For the techs out there, here’s what’s included in the booklet regarding the transfer:

This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a wet-gate Oxberry film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Cineric in New York City. The color grading, approved by Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, was done at Sony Colorworks in Culver City, California. The director-approved 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered by Sony from the original six-track printmaster at Chace Audio in Burbank, California.

I don’t know what all of that means, but it sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Kidding aside, the 2.39:1 AVC HD image has simply never looked better. This movie is beautifully-shot and the costume design is amazing. Details, fine textures, landscape and atmospheric shots are all wonderfully lit, look sharp as a tack and any other positive adjective I can put in. This is one of Scorsese’s swan songs when it comes to visuals and it shows in nearly every frame.

Audio: How does it sound?

With the solid transfer of this film, the same can be said for the new DTS HD Master Audio track that utilizes the nominated score of Elmer Bernstein and some of the little effects of the piece throughout the outer channels. Every bit of dialogue come out clearly throughout all channels as well as the wails of the operas that are featured in the film as well. It’s a marked improvement from the previously-released Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the DVD for sure.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Of the five major supplements on this disc, four of them were filmed in 2017 exclusively for this release. How cool is that? Let’s dive in.

  • Martin Scorsese – Scorsese discusses history of the project alongside writer and filmmaker Kent Jones. He tells of the influences of some of the films that had an impact on this film and we get a nice, overall look at the making of the film from Scorsese’s perspective.
  • Jay Cocks – Screenwriter Jay Cocks discusses his inspiration from Edith Wharton’s novel as well as how the look and feel was translated from script to screen. Cocks and Scorsese also collaborated on 2002’s Gangs of New York as well as Silence.
  • Dante Ferretti – Production Designer Dante Ferretti with thick Italian accent discusses his influences of Wharton’s novel (which he was not familiar with) and how it reflected the design and overall look of the film.
  • Gabriella Pescucci – Costume Designer Gabriella Pescucci explains her collaboration with Scorsese, some of his expectations for the look and feel of the film and its overall visual appearance (in regard to costume design). And it must have worked as Pescucci won the film’s only Academy Award in this category.
  • Innocence and Experience – This “vintage” documentary from 1993 originally aired on HBO when the film first came out. It’s more of an extended production with interviews from the cast and crew as well as some candid commentary from Scorsese.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Booklet – Film critic Geoffrey O’Brien contributes an essay about the film along with some production stills.

The Bottom Line

The Age of Innocence might not be one of Scorsese’s most critically-acclaimed films (though it was nominated for five Academy Awards), but it’s probably one of the most beautifully-shot in his arsenal. Criterion, per usual, has knocked it out of the park with the transfer. The new supplemental material is the icing on the proverbial cake.

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