Beginning as an independent feature, "O" was subsequently slated for distribution by Miramax, only to be indefinitely shelved after the Columbine Massacres, in April, 1999. After a lengthy period in limbo, Lions Gate acquired the film's distribution rights, and after a brief theatrical run, "O" now appears in a generous 2-disc release.
The film transfer beautifully preserves cinematographer Russell Fine's red-white-and-blue colour scheme. Shot in Charleston , South Carolina , the production used diverse locations, and both cinematographer Fine and Production Designer Dina Goldman succeeded in capturing a natural, non-stylized timbre. The DVD's colours are consistent, the low-key, deep-focus cinematography sharp, and there's little visible artifacting in the overall film.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix kicks in during the key basketball sequences, where cheering crowds, rap music and Jeff Danna's sensitive score are well-balanced. There are a few spots where the dialogue is fairly quiet - particularly Josh Hartnett's opening narration - but the overall sound field is very good.
In spite of the film's rocky road to a final release, the director's commentary doesn't dwell on the past, and Tim Blake Nelson focuses on the film's production aspects, offering standard facts on the film's locations, tight shooting schedule, and talented actors. Many scenes were shot with a closed set, allowing Nelson and the cast to create a comfortable atmosphere to explore and successfully realize some of the film's more controversial sequences, and the actors similarly express appreciation in the included interview segments form the electronic press kits, which cover their respective characters, the film's main message, and drug use in the story.
4 deleted scenes are included, offering a balance of material that was removed because of time, tone, or repeated information. "Basketball Scene Analysis" presents 3 sequences, and like the deleted scene gallery, can be viewed with optional director commentary. Cinematographer Russell Fine joins director Nelson in explaining the combined lengthy crane and hand-held shots which the two used to follow various basketball players, and show their skill without cliched cutaways and camera trickery.
Rounding out Disc 1 are various Lions Gate trailers - some teasers, other straight video publicity - with only "State Property" appearing anamorphic. "O's" full-screen trailer is aimed at the teen exploitation market, advertising the film more as a straightforward revenge drama, hyping the sex and violence combos, and ignoring the more poetic imagery and careful pacing that characterizes director Nelson's film.
Disc 2 replicates the same interviews, deleted scenes, basketball analysis and trailer galleries as on Disc 1, but includes a 1922 German version of "Othello," starring silent star Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti, Werner Krauss, Friedrich Stifter, Ferdinand von Alten, and Ica von Lenkeffy. Directed by Russian Dimitri Buchowetzki, the silent film runs an economical 80 minutes, and though the camera is bolted firmly to the floor, the editing is fairly brisk, with several sets ranging from stagy, intimate, and occasionally grand (with large crowds). Although the film is highly watchable, many of the performances consist of grand gestures and epic facial rubbery, and one can't help but chuckle a few times. The silent film's inclusion is a bit of a curiosity, since the movie is still available from Kino on DVD (with an essay by Douglas Brode, and 4 Shakespeare shorts from the Library of Congress). The Lions Gate print is soft & very worn, but the digital artifacting isn't as pronounced as one would fear, since there's a lot of scratches and wear to keep the bit rate active. (The digital flaws are most evident during the static inter-titles.) Carwin Knowles' synthesized orchestral score is functional, but overall far too busy, missing the proper level of subtlety during key scenes. The print from the National Film Museum , Incorporated, at least approximates the film's original speed, so the actors movements are more natural, and their performances are preserved.
Lions Gate's 2-disc set remains a solid release, but an isolated score track for "O," initially announced with early publicity materials and screeners, has been dropped from the final product.
Note: This 2-disc edition has since been replaced by a single disc Signature Series edition, which basically dropped the bonus silent film.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan