O (SE)/ B, A-
Trimark/1999/94/ANA 1.85/PS 1.33

     Shakespeare's plays remain timeless source material for popular entertainment. Some movies are faithfully filmed adaptations. Freer spirits take their best shot updating Shakespeare for easier embrace by younger audiences. O takes the later course quite successfully transplanting warrior Othello from the canals of Venice to the hardwood basketball floor of a private Southern high school. Iago is a jealous teammate, Desdemona, the daughter of the Dean of the important Southern private school, Casio a teammate catalyst and Rodrigo a student on the outside.  Director Tim Nelson Blake runs the script adaptation by Brad Kayaa down the floor cool with efficiency.
     The melodramatic ravings of Othello and the insidiously cunning Iago marry perfectly to the broad strokes of stage bound theater, but the plotting seems less true in an updated setting on screen. Still, it is very faithful to Shakespeare's original, perhaps too faithful for the contemporary updating of young people caught in a web of sick deception.  

The obbligato pep talk. ŠTrimark

    O is a great title in more ways than one. O for Othello, Odin James for the great tragic American sports figure O.J. Simpson, and even O for the "Big O," the great basketball star Oscar Robertson.
    This is a top-notch production. It photographed by Russell Lee Fine with shimmering intensity. The players literally glow. The basketball sequences are filmed with fine energy and are happily kept to a minimum. Blake cuts O with quick strokes and helms his team with good command.
     Mekhi Phifer is sincere as O, but he doesn't carry great weight. What stands out is his gross stupidity. He's a sitting duck for Hugo's insinuations. Hugo is an excellent vehicle to platform Josh Hartnett's talent. Hartnett does command the screen. He's an intelligent actor and he comes across as the high scorer in this game. Julia Stile's is an appealing Desi while Elden Henson has a difficult time making Roger Rodriguez a convincing character. Martin Sheen is a manic coach on the floor. A little more foaming at the mouth and he might just start barking. But it's okay if he plays it at one loud level since it's not his story.
    O looks great. Sharp images throughout compliments a bright, powerful transfer. Contrast range packs as much punch as an Odin James dunk. Color saturation is outstanding. Richly saturated reds are perfectly controlled. Deep blacks never bury details. Shadow detail is excellent. The soundtrack rocks with rap. Deep bass extension and good surround effects.
    The two-disc special edition features a scene specific  commentary from director Tim Nelson Blake on disc one. He articulates the comparisons  with Shakespeare's original very well.  Blake makes some key observations on the parallel between the action on screen and some recent unfortunate middle class angst acted out on the real life American stage. Disc two includes deleted scenes with commentary, an analysis of the basketball sequences, and interviews with director and stars. A special treat is the inclusion of a newly restored 79-minute silent version of Othello starring screen legend Emil Jannings. Image quality is spotty but its visually interesting and a excellent addition to the feature material.

Reviewed on a Sharp 9000VX DLP Projector


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