"O" had a very long road to theatrical release. Although it was eventually picked up and released late last year by indie Lion's Gate (who also took on the controversial Kevin Smith film "Dogma"), "O" was reportedly finished about two years prior. Fearing controversy and government organizations who , Miramax announced several release dates, which the film never showed by. Director Tim Blake Nelson even became one of the stars of the Coen Brother's "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" during the period while the movie was waiting to be released.
The film is another adaptation of a Shakespeare novel for teen audiences - this time, it's "Othello", with Mekhi Phifer starring as Odin (aka Othello). Odin's the star basketball player at the school, winning awards and finding love with the headmaster's daughter, Desi (Julia Stiles). This displeases Hugo (Josh Hartnett) greatly, so he sees fit to cause serious trouble. He orchestrates a plot to convince Odin that Desi is fooling around behind his back, which makes his fury quickly escalate.
There's a fair amount to like about "O". The performances are good (especially Phifer and Hartnett), but the actors underplay things too much and lack intensity. On the other hand, Martin Sheen wildly overacts as the basketball coach, while John Hurt is stuck with an underwritten character. Stiles' Desi isn't a particularly well-realized character, either, but she certainly gives it a strong effort. The fact that Shakespeare's original dialogue has been modernized (along with just about everything else) may displease some and there are modern lines that don't seem as strong as Shakespeare's dialogue would have been. If director Baz Lhurmann could make "Romeo and Juliet" with Shakespeare's dialogue work as well as it did, I don't see why this film didn't choose to do the same - it might have really made the film's first half more powerful.
Still, there's something not quite compelling about most of the movie. The film's visuals are rather basic and the pace during at least the first half is decidedly slow; a 90-minute picture feels like it's well over 2 hours. It's occasionally hard to believe that the characters wouldn't see through what's going on. A soundtrack of rap can work wonderfully in dramas or even comedies (see "Office Space"), but there's something about the soundtrack here that seems too much; some scenes would have played out better without music in the background.
"O" eventually gains tension and sadness in the second half, which ends tragically. This is an ambitious film, but there's something not entirely complete. While I previously mentioned that the film even feels slow at 90 minutes, a longer film might have actually worked better, to fill out some of the characters and situations. This certainly isn't a film without moments, but
VIDEO: "O" is presented by Trimark in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Trimark has, as far as I know, only recently started to provide anamorphic presentations. Their efforts still lack the polish that most major studios are able to offer their latest releases, but I will say that "O" is probably one of their best works. Sharpness and detail are satisfactory, as the film appeared crisp and well-defined throughout, with only a few slight instances of softness.
There were a few other problems throughout the presentation. Some mild grain was occasionally visible, but there were only a couple of minor marks on the print used. A few bits of slight edge enhancement and a trace or two of pixelation were seen as well, but didn't become terribly distracting.
Colors looked solid and vivid throughout; they appeared bright, natural and didn't suffer from any flaws such as smearing. Flesh tones also looked accurate and natural. Overall, this is a fairly good transfer, but does suffer from some noticable problems on occasion. A pan & scan presentation is also included on disc one.
SOUND: "O" is presented by Lion's Gate in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the soundtrack hardly seems to use the rear speakers at all, with the exception of some mild use during some of the basketball sequences. There's little or no ambience and even the rap soundtrack seems rooted in the front speakers only when some additional use of the music in the surrounds would have been nice. Dialogue remains generally clear, but could seem a little rough at times. This is merely an adequate presentation.
MENUS: Elegant, film-themed main menus are included, which contain slight animation. Sub-menus are also nicely done, although the text was a bit hard to read on a couple of the menus.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Tim Blake Nelson. From the begining, I was not particularly engaged by the discussion. Nelson often seems to be simply narrating the feature, giving us a play-by-play of what's currently happening during the particular scene. There's no quicker way to get me to lose interest in a commentary and soon enough, I was fairly bored with this one.
Othello: Pleasantly, we get an entire other movie on disc two. Specifically, a 1922 edition of "Othello" which has reportedly been restored (but still looks seriously worn). Still, it's nice to have the additional version to view.
Interviews: Interviews with Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer and Tim Blake Nelson are included. The only problem is that these interviews are barely over a minute long, so there's really not much insight to be found.
Trailers: Trailers are included for "O" (the "O" trailer can also be found under the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu for the disc one), "The Wash", "Cube 2", "Rose Red", "American Psycho 2", "State Property" and last, but certainly not least, is the trailer for "Pulp Fiction" producer Roger Avery's directorial effort, "Rules of Attraction", which, hilariously, uses no dialogue from the film, but shows plenty of scenes in a twisted, funny way.
Deleted Scenes: 4 deleted scenes are presented with or without Tim Blake Nelson's commentary. I actually thought, while not all of these sequences worked perfectly, they helped fill out some of the characters and situations and a couple of them would have worked in the picture.
Basketball Analysis: Director Tim Blake Nelson and cinematographer Russell Fine provide commentary for the basketball scenes, discussing filmmaking techniques used.
Final Thoughts: "O" is certainly not a bad film, but I think I would have liked some of the characters to be more well-developed, which might have resulted in a more engaging first half. Still, "O" does have powerful moments and fans of the actors will likely enjoy the dramatic performances. Trimark's Special Edition provides decent audio/video quality and a fair amount of mildly interesting supplements. A light recommendation, but many will likely find this to be a fine as a rental.