Plot: What’s it about?
Inside an elite, private high school, it would seem as though the students have all they could want, but some don’t fall into that line. The school has excellent teachers, bright students, great sports programs, and is a lock for students in terms of getting them into the colleges they’re interested in, but some darker elements still remain. Perhaps the most displeased student is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), a good student and one of the starters on the basketball squad, as well as a young man with working class roots. He is not like most of the students at the school, because he is not from a rich family and instead, his father Duke (Martin Sheen) earns his living as the team’s coach and while he is a blue collar man, his white collar team always listens. This is where Hugo’s real problem dwells, as his father is a good man and he knows he loves him, but Duke seems to be more taken with Odin “O” James (Mekhi Phifer), the star of the basketball team, the most popular student, and the sole black student on campus. In an effort to win back his father, his fellow students, and his own sense of self worth, Hugo devises a horrific plan that if unfurled, could change the lives of everyone around him forever…
This film was completed in 1998, but ended up shelved for a couple years when the rights holders were nervous about the social climate, thanks to a rash of high school violence that swept through America. But the film soon wound up with Lions Gate and while the theatrical run was short, they gave “O” a chance and now we have a special Signature Series release. Is “O” as controversial as we’re led to believe? I don’t think so myself, but knowing how the masses can be, I am sure some folks would have cried foul if “O” landed smack dab in the middle of all the school violence. But “O” still deserved a release, as it is a tremendous piece of filmmaking and for the first time in a long while, an updated take on Shakespeare works as well as it should. The dialogue seems natural in the modern situations, but remains true to the original material, quite a feat in and of itself. Yes, “O” has some minor flaws, but in the end I think it rises up above them all and I would like to commend director Tim Blake Nelson, as this take on Othello is a powerful, very memorable one. This new Signature Series release contains all the supplements from the previous two disc edition, even the ones from the second disc. The bonus version of Othello has been removed however, as has an option for a full screen edition. So if you don’t have the two disc release, this Signature Series rendition is recommended.
I’ve never hated the work of Josh Hartnett, but I’ve also never been much of a fan of his, that is until I was able to view this picture. In “O”, Hartnett turns in his finest performance to date and often carries the film on his own shoulders. Yes, he is surrounded by talented workers on all sides, but Hartnett rises above the others to command the screen and he really enhances the material, which in turn enhances the entire movie. Perhaps he just clicked with the material or just loved playing a darker character, but Hartnett comes to life in “O” and won me over as a fan, which I wasn’t expecting, to be sure. Other films with Hartnett include Blow Dry, Pearl Harbor, Here on Earth, Black Hawk Down, Town & Country, and Halloween: H20. The cast also includes Julia Stiles (Save the Last Dance, Down to You), Mekhi Phifer (Soul Food, Uninvited Guest), Rain Phoenix (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues), John Heard (Home Alone, The Pelican Brief), and Martin Sheen (The American President, Apocalypse Now).
Video: How does it look?
“O” is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image here is quite good and presents no real problems, though the print does show a little more wear than expected. This could be due to the time the film spent in limbo, but since the grain & print defects are minimal, I won’t worry about it too much. The colors come through in bright, bold hues and never streak or smear, while flesh tones look natural and consistent too, no errors in the least. I found black levels to be on the mark also, as detail is high throughout and no balance issues arise. I do wish the print was a little cleaner, but aside from that, this is a great treatment and it leaves little to complain about.
Audio: How does it sound?
I was quite impressed by the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as it took the material to much higher levels than I had expected. The music is potent and puts the speakers to good use, but I was surprised by how much surround presence there was outside of the musical soundtrack, especially subtle, but effective touches. In some scenes, just the smallest of background audio enhances the experience to no end, since the environment is that much more immersive. You shouldn’t expect a powerful, floor shaking track here, but it is a very well made one and it more than does the material justice. This disc also includes subtitles in English and Spanish, just in case you might need those at some point.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Aside from the 1922 version of Othello, this disc has all the supplements from the original two disc release. So we’ll start with an audio commentary track with director Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson (who is perhaps most memorable as Delmar in O Brother Where Art Thou?) provides a comprehensive, but sometimes slow commentary and a lot is covered, though not in the most energetic of approaches. Even so, Nelson’s comments are rich with behind the scenes tidbits and a healthy dose of technical information, so fans of the flick will not want to miss this track, to be sure. This disc also houses a selection of interviews with Tim Blake Nelson, Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, and Julia Stiles. The interviews are brief, but contain some good information and as such, shouldn’t be overlooked. I would have rather had a more traditional featurette, but I’m still glad these interviews were tacked on. You’ll also find four interesting deleted sequences, which you can view with or without comments from Blake, but make sure to spin his words at some point, to better understand why each scene was trimmed. Nelson also provides insight into the movie’s basketball sequences, which are analyzed and explain by himself and director of photography Russell Fine. Rounding out the extras is the film’s trailer.