Rent, Blu-ray (2005-2007)

by | Jan 30, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Rent, Blu-ray (2005-2007)

Film version of Jonathan Larson’s musical
Director: Chris Columbus
Studio: Revolution Studios/Columbia Pictures 19508
Video: 2.40:1 enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English uncompressed 5.1 PCM; English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Extras: Hour-long documentary “No Day But Today”; Delete scenes and musical performances; Commentary by director Chris Columbus and selected cast; Public service announcements for Jonathan Larson’s Performing Arts Foundation and National Marfan Foundation
Length: 135 minutes
Rating: *****

I had been reading and hearing about Rent for some years but had paid little attention to it. The gritty rock opera is one of the longest-running shows on Broadway and has won both Pulitzer and Tony Awards. I began with the excellent documentary about Jonathan Larson and his struggles to become a successful composer of musicals.  He worked as a waiter in a small cafe for ten years on Fridays thru Sundays to support himself just enough that he could spend the other days of the week composing and writing songs and shows. He had reached the point that his latest effort – Rent – was given a dress rehearsal in a tiny theater. He was interviewed afterwards by a reporter from the NY Times and was overjoyed that he was finally getting some recognition.  He went back to his bare apartment and while fixing some tea suddenly died.

Jonathan’s father was instrumental in having the show go on, as Jonathan would have wanted, and soon it was moved to Broadway, where it achieved almost instant acclaim.  After being approached over the years by various film companies, the producers of the show finally settled on Chris Columbus as director of the film version. Two of the female roles out of the eight main characters in Rent had to be replaced for the movie version, but the others came straight from the Broadway show.  The two reportedly fit in beautifully with the rest as though they had worked together from the start. There are less songs in the movie than in the original musical, with some of the plot material in certain songs changed to dialog for the movie.

The plot is loosely based on that of the Verdi opera La Boheme. Two young men live in a rent-free squat in NYC’s East Village – one a would-be filmmaker and the other a folk singer. In the space below them lives Mimi, who is a dancer at an S&M club and sometime junkie. Other characters are Maureen, who has just dumped the filmmaker in favor of a woman attorney, and Angel, a touching drag queen. The motley group of bohemian friends struggle to live day to day in spite of being faced with poverty, illness, real estate developers, addictions and the AIDS epidemic – from which several of the cast suffer. The songs and big production numbers flow well out of the story and don’t seem unduly stretched or artificial as with many musicals.  One of the more spectacular mass song-and-dance scenes is put on by the group to shock and tweak a group of real estate people in a cafe. The movie also provides the opportunity to have a couple of the songs transform their environment from that of the gritty East Side to a big Hollywood-style dance number.  Though lengthy, the show keeps up interest thruout, and I don’t think I will be a serious spoiler to mention that although one character does die, it’s not sexy Mimi – who has a miraculous recovery in time for the big finish.

The transfer is excellent, and the many dark and murky scenes are revealed in detail on the hi-def screen. The uncompressed surround track again beats the TrueHD track.  There’s plenty of LFE frequencies in the music too. The special documentary is only standard def with stereo audio but looks fine.

 – John Sunier

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