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Elizabeth: The Golden Age DVD Review

Elizabeth: The Golden Age movie poster Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Theatrical Release: October 12, 2007 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Shekhar Kapur / Writers: William Nicholson, Michael Hirst

Cast: Cate Blanchett (Queen Elizabeth I), Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), Clive Owen (Sir Walter Raleigh), Jordi Mollà (King Philip II of Spain), John Shrapnel (Lord Howard), Aimee King (Infanta), Susan Lynch (Annette), Samantha Morton (Mary Stuart), Abbie Cornish (Elizabeth Throckmorton), Penelope McGhie (Margaret), Rhys Ifans (Robert Reston), Eddie Redmayne (Thomas Babington)

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By Christopher Disher

Nine years after the critically acclaimed biopic Elizabeth comes a continuation of the story, with an added touch of flair and intrigue, in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
One might assume that nearly a decade is long enough for a film's presence to become stagnant, or at least settle into movie history. Yet, this sequel follows with equal aspiration and succeeds and fails in many the same ways.

Successes and failures aside, there are numerous other similarities. Again taking the helm is director Shekhar Kapur, who would be relatively unknown in the Western world if it were not for the success of Elizabeth. In between the two Elizabeth films he directed the letdown adventure pic The Four Feathers and produced the bizarre romantic comedy The Guru. Kapur said he would not return to direct a sequel without Cate Blanchett cast as Queen Elizabeth I, a demand that was thankfully fulfilled. She is again joined by Geoffrey Rush, playing Sir Francis Walsingham.

Writer Michael Hirst is this time aided by William Nicholson. Nearly all of the producers have returned, as well as editor Jill Bilcock and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin. Lauded by Kapur and the producers, production designer Guy Dyas enlists and shows the team how to stretch a dollar and get a great product. The carryover talent mixes with the new to create a sequel that mirrors the first but adds unneeded extravagance in production.

White like a ghost, as all virgins apparently are in this period, Queen Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) reacts calmly to being SHOT. The girls talk about girl things even though Queen Elizabeth should be decades older than she is portrayed in the film.

The sequel takes place nearly thirty years after the first one begins. Catholic Spain rules militarily, religion is the key motivator in war, and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I rules her monarchy under what is now the modern Church of England. The Queen is still faced with the daunting task of answering the concerns of the Catholic sect under her authority. She is still faced with finding an appropriate suitor, none of whom will satisfy her after she meets the charming and romantic Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen).

Meanwhile, Catholics abroad and at home -- under the influence of Rome, Spain, and Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton) -- attempt assassination via obscure, anonymous, and inexperienced killers who ultimately fail. The conspiracy is unearthed, Queen Elizabeth sentences her sister to death, and England goes to war with Spain. After the Spanish Armada's crushing defeat -- told in a rushed and choppy montage where everyone seems to die but the white horse that jumps from a burning ship -- Elizabeth's reign should adopt a fairy tale ending. Instead, Elizabeth's independence and power is lazily asserted in voiceover.

As mentioned before, The Golden Age works in many of the same ways as the prior film. The success comes foremost from Cate Blanchett, who thoroughly convinces us of her accomplished and unusual reign as the bastard queen of England. She achieves that most important goal for actors in a period piece, and even all of film acting for that matter: she makes us forget about Cate Blanchett. Her performance marries nicely with the equally believable production design. Though, considering my anecdotal knowledge of that period, this may not be the best of feats.

Queen Elizabeth watches the Spanish armada burn. In her PJs! Swag Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) smirks at the Queen with his jacket thrown over his shoulder. How modern. Someone say Baz Luhrmann?

This is, unfortunately, where the strengths struggle to stay upright under the weight of so many shortfalls. A film that should feel Shakespearean instead comes across as a high-budget soap opera. Sure, Shakespeare's plays were often times full of titillation and seemingly inane romances, but they nevertheless retained the quality of art at the behest of real character, commanded to the audience through real, identifiable problems of death, power, and scandal.
The Golden Age is composed of all three of these elements but none is given the attention it deserves. What concerns Queen Elizabeth here is primarily an unreachable relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh. The love between them is quickly exhausted and what's left is a complete mess of conspiracy, war, and attempts at theological discourse.

The beautiful production design warrants exploration. Instead, the camera work is often distractingly acrobatic. We swirl around stationary figures and fly high into the rafters of a cathedral for no reason, emotional or otherwise. We perch from the ceilings and look downward, far below, and went up, over, and around the sitting Queen on far too many occasions. It's as if the camera department got a new toy they had to try out on every other scene. To add to the visual chaos, any scene that takes place in an old stone building -- house, cathedral, or castle -- is shot with two-thirds of the frame obscured. To be particularly insulting, the frame is often obstructed, askew, and the subjects far in the distance. Ultimately, the film fails to communicate visually. If it weren't for the achievements in production design, Golden Age would feel like a low-budget segment from the History Channel.

I can't say that the most ardent fans of Lifetime movies will even enjoy this film; they may find it too violent. Readers of literature will find it too shallow, scholars of history will find it skewed, feminists will think it too masculine, filmmakers will be distracted by the inept camera work, and generally anyone will respond as Goldilocks. It's simply a lukewarm film that likely won't satisfy anyone completely.

Buy Elizabeth: The Golden Age on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 5, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase
Also available in HD DVD/Standard DVD Combo

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Golden Age has a fine transfer with a rich color pallet that regardless shows a good deal of noise, especially in the shadows, and is clearly evident on a high-definition monitor. The film is periodically blown out, most likely on purpose, and the blacks are often a bit grey. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1, and comes with a liberal selection of audio choices: 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are offered for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in English, as well as the two typical foreign language tracks in French and Spanish.

The sound mix isn't the best. Some effects appear at unusually high levels relative to the spoken word and the music is blisteringly loud -- which is also a fault of the score, not only the mix. The battle scenes are second rate compared to something like Master and Commander and light-years behind sound design from Disney's Pirates franchise.

Talking head number one: Director Shekhar Kapur on how not to make a movie. They built a boat to scale on a meager effects budget, kudos. The most engaging half-minute of the entire presentation: the DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD menus really make this video production shine; they are some of the best I've seen. The main menu runs through a montage of emotionally charged clips from the film with a section of the score that crescendos in the background, fading in and out with the buildup of the images
and looping nicely. The menu buttons are easily distinguished due to their variance in shade and the bonus features are intuitive to navigate.

First in the significant list of supplemental material is a group of deleted scenes (8:49), unfortunately presented letterboxed. Next is a widescreen making-of (11:23) consisting mainly of talking heads intercut with movie footage. The interviews seem to politely question the purpose of the film and mostly turn their praise to Blanchett and her performance. Also in widescreen is a behind-the-scenes featurette (7:25) that is, intriguingly, presented by Volkswagen. It follows the former well enough to feel like an additional chapter and sheds a fair amount of light on the production challenges.

The last two selections also follow suit in format and style. The first details the visual effects (12:04), both digital and otherwise, and the last is an expected piece (10:44) on the beloved medieval locations: cathedrals and the like. After seeing the camera choices in these locations, watching this segment is enough to make one nauseous. Then again, some may be fond of the pretentious camera angles. Film students rejoice. The final offering is an audio commentary from the lone Shekhar Kapur.

The cover art is worthy of note simply because it is so horrendous. It features the bust of Elizabeth, clad in armor, mouth agape, looking serious. At the bottom is the tagline, "WOMAN WARRIOR QUEEN" -- a line that should incite awed admiration if it were a truism. The film doesn't live up to the notion, so the packaging betrays the true theme of the picture and I'd argue that none of those words would be found in such a description. An insert inside the case is an advertisement for the now slaughtered HD-DVD format.

The Queen manages to appear like a warrior without ever actually fighting in a war. King Philip of Span (Jordi Mollà) in his menacing garb. What makes one evil? Being Catholic or going to war? The film never distinguishes the two.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I say with utmost sincerity that the main menu is the best part of the Elizabeth: The Golden Age DVD. It is so well designed and so well executed that one can't help but feel excited to start the movie. Just as food is part presentation, so too is a DVD. If we start the movie with a blank slate, the packaging and menu will often color a film before we watch it. The Golden Age doesn't live up to the positive nor negative attributes of its presentation but instead invents itself in entirely different ways. It is neither a bore nor a delight to watch, simply a mediocre experience that will likely fade from memory as it collects dust on a shelf. If you need resolution to the Elizabeth story, read a history book, don't watch this film.

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Related Reviews:
The Tudors: The Complete First Season • Braveheart (Special Collector's Edition) • The Queen • The Other Boleyn Girl
Eastern Promises • Venus • Tsotsi • Zodiac: 2-Disc Director's Cut • Stardust • Kinky Boots • Australia
New to DVD: The Apartment: Collector's Edition • Martian Child • Becoming Jane • Margot at the Wedding

The Cast of Elizabeth: The Golden Age:
Cate Blanchett: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Clive Owen: The Boys Are Back King Arthur: Director's Cut • Sin City | Geoffrey Rush: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Reviewed February 12, 2008.



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