"Macbeth" reminds audiences how proficient and daring director Roman Polanski was in the 1960s and early 70s. Collaborating with renowned and infamous British drama critic, Kenneth Tynan, Polanski co-adapted "Macbeth" and transplanted the violent play to Scottish locations and intricate sets.
Cinematographer Gil Taylor ("Star Wars") seems to have photographed much of the film at 'magic hour', where exterior and interior scenes use authentic or recreated moments in which the sun rises or sets, bathing characters in an orange-red hue. Nighttime interiors offer a calculated balance between natural and stage lighting, offering a hint of theatricality, but maintaining the illusion of a more ancient time in pre-Christian Scotland. Taylor's lensing, however, wouldn't be so compelling without Bryan Graves' extraordinary set décor: numerous period objects, colours, and primitive wall patterns and textiles maintain the production's illusion of authenticity, and the flawless use of sets at Shepperton's immense studios ensure every lighting detail was under strict control.
Atmosphere is key with Polanksi's film, and Columbia's DVD offers a transfer that isn't ruined by the hideous grain and uneven colours which plagued the old full screen version. Occasionally the Todd-AO 35mm wide angle lenses are a bit soft on edges, and there's two awkward cuts (past the hour mark, and during the final siege sequence) which fuzz a little - most likely the result of bad splices in what's otherwise a lovely print. Polanski's deliberate colour shifts - from the filthy grey beach prologue, to the green and amber highlands - are masterful, and the night scenes at Spartan, rocky outcroppings, or the mildew-infested witches' coven, have solid blacks and natural shades.
Though in mono, the film's mix still holds up extremely well, since Polanski strove for organic sounds to evoke the locations, and the Third Ear Band's acoustic score (the group specialized in creating soundscapes with a wide array of non-electronic instruments and exotica) evokes the physical and occult elements that affect the castle's inhabitants.
The only extras are the film's sonically minimalist trailer - either deliberately trippy, or just plain arty - and the more uplifting (yet strangely included) trailer for "Sense and Sensibility."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan
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