When a book or play is adapted to fit the screen, be it the silver or the small, seldom does it really survive the transition. Angels in America is a beautifully written piece of stage drama and HBO manages to do it justice. The imagery and dialogue are retained in a way that is poetic and profound, if at times, only a very little bit too dramatic for your television.
When waspy Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) tells his Jewish, politically enthusiastic and cynical Louis (Ben Shenkman) that he has AIDS Louis spirals into panic mode, eventually leaving Prior. After this he takes up with Joe Pitt, who is, unknown to Louis and against almost all his morals, a married, Mormon, Republican lawyer. In Joe's life is the obnoxious but high powered Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), a real historical figure, who though gay himself, and dying of AIDS, is rampantly homophobic. Roy is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep) whom he had a hand in putting to death in the 50s. Streep also plays a rabbi as well as Joe's mother who ends up comforting Prior through some rough times. Prior begins to have visions of the Angel of America (Emma Thompson) who looks startlingly like his cheeky nurse (Thompson also plays a 3rd role, that of an homeless woman). His only true friend after Louis leaves him is Belize (Jeffrey Wright) a black night nurse who attends to the racist Roy Cohn. Wright also plays an ethereal travel agent who guide's Joe's wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) on her Valium induced delusions.
Angels in America is full of the most amazing combination of witty, poignant, and politically charismatic dialogue with imagery of the awe of heaven and the reality of the ground of earth. While not everyone may appreciate it, the irony of Streep and Thompson playing the role of several characters added a sort of neo-fantastic irony that kept me both amused and humble.
In general the colors are beautiful and the DVD seems to maintain them very well. The lines are crisp, which I especially appreciated as I watched it directly after an cable television OnDemand program that was slaughtered with banding, pixelation, and lines across the screen. The filmmakers did a great job, originally, with juxtaposing the subtle light and color with the brash, so users on fancy systems and mediocre systems should both be able to enjoy the video element.
Though the score was composed entirely by Thomas Newman, it is incredibly varied. From choirs to orchestras to electric stringed instruments it manages to be subtle and majestic all at once. That said, it is the dialogue and soliloquies that reign supreme in Angels in America. So, although it is offered both in 5.1 and 2.0 it doesn't seem particularly necessary to have both. Nevertheless one can't complain with more choices.
Unfortunately, there aren't any real extras at all, except the scored menu and scene selectors but there's 6 hours of movie so how much do you want!
I was overwhelmed and inspired by Angels in America, finding it to be one of the most inspiring, clever and transcendent films I have ever seen. But, inevitably, people are bound argue about its degree of profundity and magnificence. What I think everyone will agree on is its amazing cast, the intensity of the script, and its incredible, laudable ambition. On all these accounts Angels in America excelled.