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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (Blu-ray)
Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // Unrated // February 3, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $38.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted February 28, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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I'm not a considerably large fan of Broadway shows. That's not to say that I don't enjoy them, I just don't normally go out of my way to see them. RENT was the first show I've ever seen live in New York City, and it struck a chord with me. I didn't know what to expect when I walked into that theater, but I walked out wishing I could see it again. Unfortunately, my wife never had that pleasure. She's listened to RENT on CD, and watched the theatrical reiteration repeatedly. We're now finally able to enjoy the live experience together, as RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway has come to home video at last!

Rent shows us a year in the life of friends. Although numerous plays/musicals tug on our heartstrings through stage tools called love and tragedy, RENT works as well as it does because it hits so much closer to home.

Pan the camera out. It's New York City, and Mark is an aspiring documentary filmmaker. The times are hard, and he's determined to get it all on tape. He and his friends are being evicted from their building, so an old friend who's sold out to a corporate entity can get a cyber studio built in its place. This is only the beginning of the hardships in store for everyone involved though.

There are some larger issues in life that simply can't be ignored, even when faced with an impending eviction. Mark's friends, Roger and Tom, are suffering from HIV. The ways in which they deal with their disease are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum however.

Roger is practically counting down the days he has left. He keeps to himself, and spends most of his time working on one great song, so he can die knowing he made something he could be proud of leaving behind. A love interest, Mimi, can't even get Roger to enjoy the life he has left. Mimi tries everything to get Roger to open up, but her drug addiction makes her a less than credible candidate to talk about the joys of life.

Tom understands how precious the gift of life is. He lives life day by day, just enjoying whatever time he has available with people he knows and loves. Tom is introduced to a love interest as well. Angel, a transsexual who is also in the later stages of the same virus afflicting Mark's friends, has no problem getting Tom to open up and enjoy the love they have for each other.

Mark has other problems of his own, though. His old girlfriend, Maureen, left him for another woman. This was a pretty serious blow to Mark's emotional security, but he's suckered into getting in the thick of their relationship. He's a sweet guy, but unfortunately his kindness is all too often taken for granted.

You're going to feel virtually everything in your cache of emotions. RENT is bound to make you feel everything from the highest of highs, and the absolute lowest of lows. You might be surprised at how connected you become with each and every character throughout the course of the show. You're going to share some of the most memorable moments in their lives, be it good or bad. Some of those moments are going to make you laugh, others are going to make you cry, and you'll always feel like you're a part of the world they're experiencing.

Friendship, relationships, hooking up, breaking up, life, and death; it's no wonder RENT has become such a staple in the world of entertainment. To say the least, it's an incredibly dynamic event to behold.

It's not as if I need to spend any more time telling you about the show, unless you've been living under a rock that is. Besides, there's so much more I could tell you, but I don't want to spoil the show. The important question that needs to be answered in this review is, just how well does a stage production like RENT work on video?

It obviously doesn't completely recreate the experience of actually being in the audience, no DVD or Blu-ray could ever really do that. In some ways however,RENT works better in this format than seeing it live!

The most noticeable advantage to seeing RENT through the lens of a video camera, as opposed to sitting in a chair fifty feet away, is during the marathon songs that feature multiple parts being sung by numerous characters at the same time. So many people are singing at once, it's hard to follow everything going on. The cameras for this recording focus on the right people at the right time though, so the most important aspects of the story can be presented to the viewer.

The other nice thing about cameras covering everything up-close and personal is seeing just how into the performance the actors and actresses are. Not everyone benefits from their personal time with the camera, but the emotion and charisma that oozes out of the cast is overwhelming. A lot of people have the misconception that stage actors/actresses can't be nearly as good as movie stars, but anyone who's ever questioned that is going to be surprised if they take the time to see this.

The most impressive thing about this show, at least in my opinion, is that it covers so much ground on one little stage, yet the stage design is minimalistic at best. Despite some very plain props, the entire story comes out exactly the way it was meant to. Somebody can be 30 feet away from someone else on stage, but you really feel like they could be far away from each other.

There's no reason why anyone, even a person who generally doesn't like Broadway shows, shouldn't be checking out RENT. The music is rockin' and poppin', the subject material is entertaining and deep, and there are lessons throughout that each and every one of us can take away from it. I personally felt the theatrical version of RENT lost more and more steam as it progressed, but the Broadway version here, is RENT as it was always intended to be seen.


Video

The AVC encoded 1080p image, at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, is pretty impressive. For a live recording of a Broadway show, I wasn't sure what to expect, but this Blu-ray release looks fantastic!

For a live performance, there are so many things that could have gone wrong, but it all seemed to come together flawlessly. The backstage is usually black like the night, and with so much going on at any given moment during the show, as well as numerous camera angles covering it all, it's nice to see deep blacks keeping to themselves. They never ruin the rest of the image. Contrast on the characters and anything else on stage is excellent.

Everything looks as natural as can be. It's a Broadway show with a simple set, so there's nothing that really jumps off the screen in the color department, but the color does saturate as much as it's possibly able to. Skin tones are also spot on.

With no digital noise or artifacts to be seen, or any other ugly transfer enhancements such as DNR or EE, RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway easily trumps its DVD counterpart. You can see every little detail as clear as day, and just adds to the numerous reasons why a Broadway show can actually work on home video.


Audio

This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, like the video, is as impressive as it can possibly be with the source that's been provided.

Because we're watching a live Broadway show, there's only so much you can do with the directional sound field. The characters are always all over the stage, so they're hooked up to microphones that go wherever they go. This keeps the vocals mostly near the front end of our audio systems. The only real directional effects this track can produce are those from the audience. There's also very little variation between the louder and quieter moments of singing, because the audience has to be able to hear everyone at all times.

The rockin' musical score is where the TrueHD track really shines though. There are plenty of high and low moments that are presented throughout the show, and this disc represents it faithfully.

Overall, although this isn't the most impressive sounding Blu-ray disc you'll ever own, it's as faithful to what's been recorded as it can be. Everything is clean, and there are no audible boo-boo's to speak of.


Extras

RENT - The Final Days on Broadway - This documentary is 37 minutes in length, and it's a very pleasant watch. There are interviews that discuss the history behind the show, as well as plenty of behind the scenes clips that include rehearsal time.

The Final Curtain Call - This was actually the final performance for RENT in its beloved theater, and members of the original cast can be seen waiting backstage before they rush out for a final encore performance of Seasons of Love.

The Wall - Fans have been signing wall space around the theater ever since RENT first opened, and this featurette is a brief glimpse at how the wall looked at the end of it all.

The Final Lottery - The show wasn't merely in it for the money. Making the statement that it understands that regular people go through the same trials and tribulations the characters in RENT go through, a lottery was always held before a show for the first two rows in the theater at a mere $20 a pop. This featurette covers the final 'lottery'.

National Marfan Foundation Public Service Announcement - One of the original cast members set down for a brief minute, to discuss the disease that the show's creator suffered and passed away from. Jonathan Larson died from Marfan Syndrome, or more specifically an aortic aneurysm that was believed to be caused by Marfan Syndrome. It is believed that with the proper diagnosis and treatment, his aneurysm could have been treated.

Home - This is a fairly brief featurette that's only 7 minutes in length, but it shines a pretty interesting light behind the theater that was the home to RENT for so many years.

Casting - The company that had the responsibility of keeping the RENT cast full since the show originally opened, discusses what the process has been like for the many years this show has been around.

Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Public Service Announcement - The Jonathan Larson Foundation was made in Jonathan's honor, and was made to help support artists that truly struggle on a day to day basis.

All in all, the featurettes and documentaries are perfectly suited for this release. There's really not much else you can get into regarding RENT, unless you really went nuts getting interviews with the countless number of cast members that occupied the numerous roles of the show over the years.


Overall

Being that this was the final performance of RENT on Broadway, this Blu-ray has the difficult task of trying to live up to the live experience. Fortunately for fans and newcomers alike, you really can't expect much better than what's been given.

RENT is such an emotionally dynamic piece of art, the pristine quality in both video and audio were absolutely vital to recreating the impact this show provided, comically and dramatically. We certainly can't complain about the quality in either of those departments, and that leaves us with a nearly flawless end result.

This performance is available on DVD, but why would you settle for less? Why does anyone bother to buy any live performance on a home video format? Normally, it's to get as close to the actual experience as possible. You're just not going to get that on a high definition television with a standard definition disc!

Besides the amazing show and pristine quality presented on the Blu-ray, the featurettes are a must see for any fan of RENT. It's for all these reasons that RENT: Filmed Live on Broadway easily gets a highly recommended rating from yours truly!
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