One of the most popular screen adaptations of an Edith Warton novel (although with the recent "House of Mirth"), Martin Scorsese directs a remarkable cast, including Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Day-Lewis stars as Newland Archer, an upper class gentleman who is engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder). Archer is introduced to Welland's cousin Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) and, although their first meeting is somewhat subtle, the two start to fall for one another, even though Archer is engaged. He sees in her a woman that doesn't act on society's wishes for how she should present herself and act.
In this society though, such feelings are certainly looked down upon. This is made clear by the narration from Joanne Woodward, whose voice-over lightly discusses the current events and ways that this society functioned. The film thankfully doesn't rely too heavily on this narration, using it just enough to keep us engaged in what's going on in the story.
Looking at the picture, it's amazing that it reportedly only cost about $35 million dollars. Scorsese has seemingly spared no expense, as costumes, set design and set decoration are perfect down to the smallest detail and up to the largest, most extravagant settings. Technically, the film is also equally beautiful, as Michael Ballhaus's widescreen cinematography captures the focuses in on the slightest motion of the actor in the midst of a lush, often seemingly endless background - many frames seem like paintings. Scorsese's usual editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, also does a fine job once again. Of course, I couldn't forget to mention Elmer Bernstein's outstanding score; the classical music perfectly sets the mood of the scene. Although I don't usually mention title sequences, famed credits designer Saul Bass ("North By Northwest", "Vertigo") comes up with a masterpiece.
Performances are top-notch, as well. Day-Lewis, who really hasn't done much lately, provides a performance of underlying intensity as Archer. Although I haven't much liked Pfieffer in some of her other roles, she passionately plays this character quite well, also. Ryder's role is fairly minimal, but she does what she can with it.
While I wouldn't consider this Scorsese's best, as the sets and general look of the picture are occasionally more riveting than the relationships of the characters, but it's still a very fine and boldly acted piece, nonetheless.
VIDEO: "Age of Innocence" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen from Columbia/Tristar. The beautiful cinematography is from renowned cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who has worked with Scorsese on "Goodfellas", the upcoming "Gangs of New York" and other films). The presentation from Columbia/Tristar is very good, but not without some concerns here and there. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good; the picture has a slight softness at times, but this seemed intentional. The film's set decoration by Amy Marshall("Bullets over Broadway") and Robert J. Franco("Glengarry Glen Ross") is often amazing and all of the intricate details and items in the backgrounds can be easily inspected on this presentation.
Flaws were not major, but they managed to slightly distract from the film's beautiful sets and scenery. Print flaws were not major, but specks and the occasional minor mark did appear infrequently. Edge enhancement remained slight, and only a couple of traces of pixelation were visible.
Colors looked splendid, appearing lush and vibrant, looking well-saturated and without flaw. A scene at about 27 minutes in when the characters sit down for dinner presented particularly striking colors. Black level was strong and flesh tones natural, as well. While not without some minor blemishes, this is a very nice looking presentation from Columbia/Tristar. Subtitles in: English, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese.
SOUND: "Age of Innocence" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. There's one element of the film's audio that carries the soundtrack wonderfully: Elmer Bernstein's rich and wonderfully enjoyable classical score fills the listening space in superb fashion on this presentation, sounding full-bodied and coming through with terrific clarity. Of course, besides the score, there's really nothing for the surrounds to do, as this is a dialogue-driven picture with mostly interior sequences. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout.
MENUS:: Lavishly animated main menu, with clips playing in the background.
EXTRAS:: The age of not many extras, apparently. All we get are trailers for "Age of Innocence", "Ghandi", "Sense and Sensibility" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula". Although it's quite understandable that Scorsese is likely too involved with his current project ("Gangs of New York") to work on extras for this feature, I still think this would certainly be a film that deserves at least a few featurettes about the cinematography, set decoration, costumes or production design, if not a full commentary track from the crew involved in those areas.
Final Thoughts: "Age of Innocence" isn't the best work from Scorsese, but it does feature a fantastic cast and extraordinary production design, cinematography and costumes. Columbia/Tristar's DVD provides very good audio/video, but dissapoints in regards to the lack of supplements on a film whose production elements should have been highlighted in some fashion. On the expensive side at $29.99, a purchase is recommended for those who are already fans only.