I'd like to think that I possess an open mind and am willing to try new things in the world of cinema. However there are some cinematic experiences that I just can't get into. In the case of Rent, this was bordering on unendurable awkwardness. Never having seen the musical on stage, I wasn't sure what the fuss what about. I can honestly say that I still don't know, and it's probably better that way for me.
Stephen Chbosky (Jericho) adapted a screenplay based on Jonathan Larson's production, which Chris Columbus (Home Alone) directed. The film tells the story of a group of bohemians that live on the East Side of New York in the early '90s. Now one of the definitions of the word bohemian is "a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices." So it's basically a bunch of hippies who don't, well, pay rent. And anyone who apparently wears a sport jacket is one of the establishment, including Benjamin (Taye Diggs, Go), who at least as far as I can tell in the movie, is a fairly nice guy. But he's not the main focus of the film, that's on a particular group. You've got Joanne (Tracie Thoms, Grindhouse) and her partner Maureen (Idina Menzel, Enchanted), Tom (Jesse L. Martin, Law and Order) and his partner Angel (Wilson Heredia, Flawless), Roger (Adam Paschal, The School of Rock) and his possible girlfriend Mimi (Rosario Dawson, Sin City), and they're all surrounded by Mark (Anthony Rapp, A Beautiful Mind). And only a few of them seem to be doing anything productive with their lives. Mark is a cameraman, though his eventual turn as a journalist for a news show seems like it's "selling out" to many of his friends, like pulling a paycheck every two weeks might be a bad thing or something. Joanne is some sort of professional somewhere, but everyone else appears to fall into the "artist" category, be it in performance, or as a dancer, or what have you.
Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with bohemians. They seem rather harmless, and I'm one for celebrating differences as much as the next person. But when they sing about themselves, for over two hours, it gets more than a little tedious. Moreover when those some of those songs seem to say "we're different, deal with it!", it comes off as being a little bit on the snotty side. As opposed to other musicals which structurally have a musical number and then a bit of dialogue leading up to another musical number, there's a minimum of dialogue in Rent, and the story seems to be conveyed through the numbers, which is doesn't seem to do well. This is in large part due to the direction of Columbus, who left the Harry Potter franchise to direct this. He seems to be part of the group of people that think that Rent should stand alone on its merits, and while the play is probably good and features a lot of convincing performances, the film lacks that feel and seems to be more in love with the characters' mischievous nature than the stories they're trying to tell.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Rent arrives to the DVD viewer in a 2.40:1 widescreen presentation that uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The detail in the image is decent, though there's a lack of overall image depth in the backgrounds. Colors are vivid and blacks might be deep, though they appear a bit inconsistent at times, and the image is a little grainy in small pockets of the film. Much as I might not have liked the movie, it did look good.
Both TrueHD and PCM soundtracks accompany the feature, which is appreciated, considering the nature of the source material. I tried to do a side-by-side comparison as best as I could with my equipment, and the PCM track seemed to be just a little more robust and dynamic than the TrueHD track, but you can't go wrong with either one. If anything, for a musical there wasn't enough immersion or low end fidelity to compensate for all the singing, and that was a disappointment.
There are two supplements which run the entire length of the feature, but it's the documentary "No Day But Today" that I want to focus on first. Split over six parts that cumulatively run an hour and fifty-two minutes, it spends only a small portion on the film itself, focusing on Rent creator Larson and his desire to bring pop/rock to Broadway and his desire to succeed in that area. Getting past the five minute introduction (4:52) that is part one, part two is entitled "Days of Inspiration" (26:23), discussing Larson's childhood, inspirations and influences, with recollections by his friends and family. They show Larson's musical score contributions which appeared on television, and there's a bit of video footage of him mixed in with a large number of stills. From there, "Leap of Faith" (26:04) covers Larson's lean years living in New York and his friends recall what he would do to subsist during that time. The AIDS epidemic is discussed, specifically how it affected Larson and those around him, and the origins for the musical start to come to fruition in this piece. "Another Day" (17:29) brings more of the realization to life, as the original cast recalls how they came to the project, with some audition notes shown to capture the moment a little bit more. Footage of the production is sprinkled in too, but what surprises me is that the friction between Larson and the producers of the stage version was discussed, to the point where the producers offered Larson (and the play) a chance to leave and find other producers which ultimately didn't happen, but is a testament to how frank this piece appears to be. "Without You" (27:59) has Larson's tragic death from an aortic aneurysm before the final rehearsal, with his friends and family talking about their memories of it. Many of his friends still break down in remembering this, which is a testament to the impact Larson had on their lives. But then when the success occurred, the cast, crew and family talk about the impact of that success. The "Rentheads" (today's modern Trekkie?) are even discussed and interviewed. The family does admit that perhaps they didn't get a chance to process their loss as much as they would have liked, but they also admit that it was what it was. It's another piece of impressive frankness and honesty that was very much appreciated. "Over the Moon" (24:30) finally goes over the quest to get the movie made and discusses the many attempts to get it made through the years, and those who were in the play and movie talk about the fun of seeing this come full circle, while the new cast talks about the joy of getting their parts and being welcomed by the vets, while Columbus talks about the production and score quite a bit also. This is an excellent piece and if you're like me and dismissed the film, at the very least "No Day But Today" will sway you into a newfound admiration for the musical or the play, that's for sure.
The other feature-length extra is a commentary with Columbus, Paschal and Rapp. Columbus talks about some of the shot choices for the film and the difficulties of adapting the play from time to time, while occasionally spotting continuity goofs and what scenes had computer "enhancements". As you'd expect with something like this, it does become a group admiration society from time to time, but it's a fairly decent track. From there, the only other extras are five deleted scenes, one of which was an alternate ending that seemed a little more "up", but judging from what was left on the cutting room floor, it seems like Rapp's character could have had some more justice done to him, with a couple of very good musical numbers. These scenes (12:03) come with an optional commentary by Columbus as well. There are trailers for Stomp the Yard and Across the Universe, along with some PSAs for two foundations associated and endorsed by Larson's family.
When it comes to musicals on high definition discs, I think I've seen better. Technically, Rent both looks and sounds good, though part of me regrets not having seen "No Day But Today" first before seeing the film. For the throng of those that enjoy the film, it's worth the upgrade for you, but if you're new to the genre, I'd reserve judgment on spending your hard earned cash on this when there are better looking, sounding and more extras-packed titles on the market.