Macbeth Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw
  • Director: Roman Polanski
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: September 23, 2014
  • Run Time: 140 minutes



            William Shakespeare’s plays are known for the words, and how poetically this prose is able to replace action that goes unseen onstage. There is a natural tendency to lean heavily upon Shakespeare’s words when adapting his work to screen, and only the strongest of visual directors have managed to avoid this pitfall. Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of “King Lear,” Ran, is a perfect example of a successful film adaptation. Despite its failures in the box office, Roman Polanski’s Macbeth is a truly visceral film experience that captures the essence of Shakespeare’s play while utilizing the strength in the medium of film.


            Released as the first project from Playboy Productions and produced by Hugh Hefner, this raw 1971 film version of Macbeth had all of the elements necessary to increase appeal in pop culture. It didn’t matter how graphic the violence and nudity was, or how that it was originally given an X-rating (this was prior to the creation of NC-17 as a rating). Even the parallels many would find between Polanski’s real-life tragedy (the horrific murder of wife Sharon Tate by Charles Manson three years earlier) and the gruesome content in the film, was not enough to increase the ticket sales for the erroneous January release. Instead, Polanski’s Macbeth is an adaptation which has only increased in prestige over the years, maturing like a fine wine.


            The famous tragedy is about the psychological horrors of guilt, which occur after a king is murdered for ruthless ambition in medieval Scotland. Jon Finch stars as Macbeth and Francesca Annis his scheming wife. When the soldier is given a prediction of successful advances in the ranks, Macbeth and his wife take matters into their own hands by killing the king so that they may rise into power. This tragic choice sets off a series of events, including Macbeth’s violent scramble to make certain the predictions of his demise are not carried through with the same ease as his sudden success. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth loses her sanity after achieving her only goal, unable to cope with the guilt of her own complicity.


              Despite comparisons to Polanski’s real-life losses, it is in the willingness to show the more violent moments of “Macbeth” which makes it so memorable, especially in the killing of the king. Despite taking place off-stage in Shakespeare’s play, Polanski gives us a raw and messy murder sequence that is deliberately paced to emphasis the impact of Macbeth’s choice on his eventual moral decay and physical demise. This is just one of the choices that Polanski makes to increase the visual storytelling in Shakespeare’s play, along with strong cinematography, editing, fight choreography, and sprinklings of graphic nudity that was critically criticized as an added element meant to appease the Playboy Enterprises. Decades later, however, Polanski’s Macbeth is remembered as one of the most faithful film adaptations, soon to be in competition with a 2015 release starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.


            The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release includes the usual foldout insert, which features an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty. The Blu-ray release also offers a new 4K digital restoration of the film, approved by Polanski and including a 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. There are also some new special features, including a making-of documentary with interviews from key cast/crew members, as well as the vintage extras such as the 1971 making-of documentary with rare behind-the-scenes footage. Also included in the vintage extras is an episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” from 1971 featuring an interview with co-screenwriter Kenneth Tynan, as well as a 1972 episode from the television series, “Aquarius,” featuring Polanski and theater director Peter Coe. Trailers are also included in the special features.  


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance:  8.5/10

    Special Features: 8.5/10

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