Fall of 1993 found Columbia Pictures in the mood for dress-up, as their two major awards contenders, The Age of Innocence and “The Remains of the Day,” were both classy costume dramas. Eight years may have passed since these films were initially released, but watching them anew on DVD confirms them as the classic works they appeared on their initial release.
Still the better of the two is Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, which was deservedly met with ecstatic praise when it was released in September 1993. However, when it came time to nominate for the Academy Awards, enthusiasm had somehow died, and the film earned only five nominations, largely in lower-profile categories (the exception being Winona Ryder’s nod for Supporting Actress). Such is a shame, every moment in this story of forbidden passion in repressed 19th Century New York society is every bit as potent as it was when it first hit screens. Particularly wrenching to this day is when lawyer Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the scandal-ridden Ellen Oleska (Michelle Pfeiffer), the cousin to Archer’s naive fiance May (Ryder), finally own up and give in to their long-simmering attraction. The moment is electric, with the intense performances making painfully immediate the violent emotion that, whenever not expressed, is always boiling beneath the surface.
The DVD boasts a beautiful audiovisual transfer that captures the many Academy-nominated technical elements of the piece: the detailed art direction, Elmer Bernstein’s glorious score, and the Oscar-winning costume design. But anyone interested in background info on the film has to rely on the DVD booklet, for there isn’t any supplemental material on the disc–unless you count the de rigueur filmographies for Scorsese and the principal cast, and the theatrical trailer, not to mention those for Sense and Sensibility, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and “Gandhi.”
Columbia didn’t skimp on the supplements for their disc of “The Remains of the Day,” which unlike The Age of Innocence is given the “special edition” label. Perhaps this is because this Merchant Ivory production earned eight Oscar nominations, including nods for Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Actress (Emma Thompson), and Best Picture.
Hopkins’ work as Hannibal Lecter will go down in history as his most famous performance(s), but his spectacular turn in Remains will go down as his best. As Mr. Stevens, a butler whose slavish devotion to his less-than-honorable master (James Fox) denies him a chance for a real life and love with Miss Kenton (Thompson, also amazing), a young housekeeper in the same house, Hopkins is wonder of perfectly calibrated subtlety, making the subtext of the character so intimately felt. As with all the films by producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, Remains moves rather slowly, but the actors and their understated chemistry keep the film riveting, building to a climax that is absolutely heartrending.
The supplements included on the disc go beyond the typical repackaged release hype though that is not completely absent here; one of the featured documentaries is a making-of special that originally aired on HBO. There are also documentaries produced exclusive for this disc: a half-hour retrospective on the film that includes new interviews with Hopkins, Fox, Merchant, Ivory, and Christopher Reeve, who also show up in the slightly shorter other new featurette, which focuses on the historical context of the film’s 1930s setting. The only principal who doesn’t contribute to these featurettes is Thompson, whose interview segments are culled from the HBO special. However, she did put in her piece by way of the very spirited running commentary she does along side Merchant and Ivory. Her whip-smart wit keeps the conversation lively and spontaneous, which it most certainly wouldn’t have been if it were only the Merchant Ivory guys talking.
Rounding out this solid package are a selection of deleted scenes viewable with or without commentary by Ivory; filmographies; and a clear new transfer of the wonderful film itself.
Age specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English and French Dolby Surround; English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; English closed captioning. Remains specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Surround; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles; English closed captioning.