An erotic period piece that, if I remember correctly, had to deal with the MPAA before getting an R-rating, "Angels and Insects" is a 1995 picture from director Phillip Hass ("Up at the Villa"). Based on A.S. Byatt's novella "Morpho Eugenia", the film starts with the arrival of naturalist William Adamson (Mark Rylance) at the home of the Alabaster family. William recently lost almost everything when he was shipwrecked recently and is glad to be taken in for a while.
While working around the house of Sir Harold Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp) and Lady Alabaster (Annette Badland), William falls in love with Eugenia Alabaster (Patsy Kensit) and the two eventually get married, but it starts to seem as if there are secrets buried beneath the walls of the old mansion. Not to mention, a family friend, Matty Crompton (Kristin Scott Thomas), seems to have more in common with William than his frosty wife.
The film certainly has a good deal going for it. The photography is stunning and most of the costumes are quite nice. The performances, however, are unfortunately a bit unremarkable and occasionally, too restrained. Kensit's performance is not very passionate and Scott Thomas has been better elsewhere. The comparison between the insect colonies that are shown in the film and the human characters is apparent, then shown again and again. There's several portions of the film that suffer from lack of development and underplaying by the actors - while I appreciate a film with a deliberate pace, "Angels and Insects" had stretches where I found myself looking at my watch, because I simply didn't care that much about the characters. While "Angels" has moments, I found the movie too restained and predictable to be very involved in.
VIDEO: While MGM/UA has gotten more consistent with the image quality of their presentations in the past few months, "Angels and Insects", presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, shows that they can occasionally drop the ball with a release. While certainly not horrible looking, the picture quality here contains several noticable flaws that make the image quality suffer very noticably. Sharpness and detail remain lackluster throughout the picture, as, although some scenes here and there approach a satisfactory level of definition, the picture as a whole looks flat and soft.
Unfortunately, the list of flaws does not end at a consistent bit of softness. Before I go further, there is an odd and somewhat distracting problem that was visible throughout the movie and remains a bit difficult to explain. As I started to watch the picture, I noticed what seemed to be a very small, thin bright line that stretched horizontally across the screen, right below the top of the image. Zooming in to explore further, there was a small black line right below the top bar, followed by the previously noted bright line below it. While this was not always very noticable, it was enough to draw my attention to investigate further. Speaking of further, there are further issues with this presentation. While print flaws weren't that troubling an issue, there were the occasional specks as well as instances of light grain. Edge enhancement is visible at times and proved to be a source of irritation, as did some instances of mild shimmering on clothing.
If anything, colors remained somewhat natural and attractive, but I couldn't help feel as if they looked a little flat and bland. I'd thought about ending this discussion with that line - well, it's not the worst presentation I've ever seen. While that is certainly true, and some parts of this film look better than others here, "Angels and Insects" is only 7 years of age and should look stronger and more consistent than it does on this DVD edition.
SOUND: The Dolby 2.0 presentation is nothing much. Aside from the dialogue, the film's audio really doesn't call much attention to itself, as aside from the conversations, there's only a light score and not much else. Quality seemed satisfactory, but not exceptional in any way.
MENUS: Very basic film-themed images serve as backgrounds.
EXTRAS: Just a trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Angels and Insects" is a dissapointment with mixed performances and several sections that move at a considerably slow pace. MGM's new DVD edition provides mediocre video and audio, with minimal extras. Fans of the film might be pleased with the DVD's low price, but will likely find the picture quality underwhelming.