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Casanova

I've been experiencing an unusual run of good films on standard definition DVD lately, though most are not of any special demonstration quality, nothing gets blowed-up real good in most of them, few were big hits, and several are set in the past. But I'm a sucker for almost any historical film or TV miniseries (HBO's two part Elizabeth I resides on the HD PVR in my cable box even now waiting for me to find the 4 hours I need to invest in watching it!)

One of the most enjoyable if these films, for reasons I didn't anticipate, was Casanova. It bombed in theaters, most likely because moviegoers were expecting some sort of wild sexual romp about the most notorious lover in history. But that's not what they got. Its R rating is barely earned by one or two suggestive scenes. Instead, what have here is a romantic comedy as farce, with far more emphasis on the farce than on the romance.

It's a very funny film. We follow Casanova's (fictional) misadventures as he attempts to satisfy the Doge's demands that he either find a wife and settle down to respectability, or leave Venice. Everyone in the cast has a great time with some of the wittiest lines I've heard in a film in ages. The convoluted plot also keeps you on your toes, and the resolution is both satisfying and unexpected.

It's too bad that this isn't a better-looking DVD. Perhaps I'm just getting too fussy with HD DVD now out and Blu-ray not far behind. Many of the close-ups are sharply detailed, but medium and long shots (and not a few of those close-ups as well) look very soft. With the real Venice for a backup in most of the outdoor scenes, that's a shame.

On the positive side, the colors are fine, the shadow detail good (though most of the film is brightly lit), and there is no obvious edge enhancement. I hope that the softness I see isn't in the original photography (I don't know, as I didn't see it in the theater). If the film elements are sharp, the production design and costumes here alone cry out for a high definition release. Hollywood Pictures is a subsidiary of Disney, which supports Blu-ray. I've complained often enough that the first releases either out already or announced on both new HD formats don't include enough recent releases. Here's a relatively new title that just might look great in high definition.

The sound (a DTS track is also included) is mostly dialogue and music. But what music! Apart from a few minutes written specifically for the film, it's all Baroque-period classical from the likes of Handel, Vivaldi, Albinoni, and other, lesser-known composers. The score fits the film perfectly. The music is also available on a CD, and unless you are already a fan with a big collection of music from this era, you just might find yourself checking out the CD as well. I know I did. (It isn't a great sounding CD. It did sound great on my car stereo, but not on my more ambitious home system.) But the performances, apparently recorded specifically for this film rather than lifted from existing classical recordings, are all superb.

Video reviewed on a Yamaha DPX-1300 DLP projector, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player set to 1080i upconversion. Audio evaluated via the player's digital output to an Anthem D1 pre-pro, Proceed AMP5 amplifier, and Revel F52/C52/M22/B15 loudspeakers.

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