Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mr. Turner Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Meghan Sullivan
Mr. Turner is a beautiful portrait of the last 25 years of the life of a complex, contradictory artist whose relationships with his family, fellow artists and lovers were as complex as his works of art.  With stunning cinematography, brilliant production, and a beautiful score, the history of Mr. Turner’s life is wonderfully represented.  Mr. Turner is written and directed by Mike Leigh and produced by Tessa Ross, Norman Merry, Gail Egan and Georgina Lowe.

Film (3 out of 5 stars)
Well before Thomas Kinkade trademarked himself as the "Painter of Light," there was J.M.W. Turner.  Turner was a masterful British artist J. M. W. Turner was an English Romanticist landscape painter, watercolorist, and printmaker. Mr. Turner, the film, depicts the last 25 years of the life and career of British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), who is played by Timothy Spall.

The opening shot looks exactly like something Mr. Turner would paint…a beautiful landscape with a sinking sun, windmill, and tall grasses.  The scene then pans to show Mr. Turner sketching.  Throughout the film, his stark dark clothes contrast perfectly with the glowing scenes of nature.  When the film begins, Mr. Turner is already a successful artist who travels regularly to sketch and plan his paintings and then returns home to his house to paint.  His father, the elder William Turner (Paul Jesson) with whom Mr. Turner had a very close relationship with works as his assistant, stretching canvases and milling the pigments into oil paints.  

His housekeeper, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), also assists with some of the artistic tasks while also running the household and at times serving as Mr. Turner’s sexual satisfaction.  The relationship between Hannah and Mr. Turner is at once heart-breaking and heart-warming. It exemplifies a lot of what we know about Mr. Turner – though a gruff and seemingly solitary man, he cared deeply about people. This is further evident in the scenes where Mr. Turner interacts with members of the Royal Academy. JMW Turner was a very important figure in the history of the Royal Academy. He loved the Academy and was well respected within it.  The film depicts Mr. Turner’s role within the art world perfectly as he meets with patrons and other Academy members as a productive member of the Academy.  This makes it all the more interesting and understandable, when he refuses to sell his collection and instead admits it has been bequeathed to Britain. 

It’s not a particularly exciting film. It’s pacing is slow and the plot, such as it, is very much the trials of normal life at that time.  But it is brilliant for its perfection in depicting the time and people of this time period.  That said, it was a treat to watch the relationship between Mr. Mallord (as he asks to be called to remain anonymous) and Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey). Mr. Turner’s relationship with Mrs. Booth was kept quite private during his lifetime.  This fictional depiction of the relationship develops slowly, but dividends are paid, particularly in one scene where he flirts with her.  It’s understated and lovely and perhaps the most eloquent moment of Turner’s in the entire film. 

Despite the slow pacing, I very much enjoyed the film. Spall is brilliant in his portrayal of Mr. Turner.  Through the sometimes gruff exterior, you witness his anguish at the death of a child, his compassion for a fellow artist, and his love for both his father and Mrs. Booth.  The acting combined with Dick Pop’s stunning cinematography, Gary Yershon’s marvelous score, and the minute attention given to historical details of the time (even down to comments about the expense and origin of pigments), make this film a must-see.  Mr. Turner was a man of great vision and this film does a marvelous job of capturing that vision and giving us a taste of it. 
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
Mr. Turner is presented on Blu-Ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in a 2.39:1. There’s a reason that Mr. Turner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and the Blu-Ray does not dimension the beauty of the film and the quality of the shots. The clarity and colors are crystal clear which is important for a film representing an artist.  Even, the textures of the paintings are distinct. The video also very clearly describes the light and shadows which is more than appropriate for a film depicting the life of the original ‘Painter of Light.’
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Mr. Turner’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is balanced well.  The dialogue, while not always comprehensible, is always heard clearly, particularly the growls and grunts that make up the majority of the Mr. Turner’s dialogue.  Through the audio mix it is also very clear as to why Gary Yershon’s score was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2014.  The ascending notes of his score upon entering the Royal Academy perfectly allude to the importance of the Academy at the time.  
Extras (5 out of 5 stars)
Mr. Turner has some wonderful extras that really give you a better idea of his place in history and the detail that went into creating a film that represents his life.

  • Blu-Ray Exclusive: The Cinematic Palette (16:45): The Cinematography of Mr. Turner – This feature explains Mike Leigh’s process as a writer and director and the way that all the other departments work in relationship to Mike Leigh to create the visual aspect and style of the film which were all based on the actual color palette JMW Turner used in his paintings.  
  • Commentary with Director Mike Leigh – Mike Leigh is known for his lengthy rehearsal and improvisation techniques with actors to build characters and narrative for his films.  As a result, this commentary is fascinating and well worth the time. Leigh discusses locations, methods, historical details and provides details about the gorgeous title sequence too.
  • The Many Colours of Mr. Turner (31:50) – A wonderfully in-depth look at the production of the film, including commentary from the director, production designer, and even artists who created works in the film.  This feature explores the detailed research that everyone involved in the film undertook to create an accurate representation. The feature also details the parts of the film that were an invention and not historical.
  • Deleted Scene: Billiards –One deleted scene where Mr. Turner speaks actual words and a joke no less.
  • Theatrical Trailer
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Timothy Spall truly is brilliant in his portrayal of J.M.W. Turner.  While the film is not the most exciting, it is a lovely representation of an important artist as he lived his life in a particular time.  Mr. Turner’s place in history and the extraordinary detail included in the film make it a must-watch for historians, art historians, and art enthusiasts alike.  The depiction of the Royal Academy and J.M.W. Turner’s art in the film exceeded my expectations and makes me anxious to personally experience some of Turner’s masterful works in person at an upcoming exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

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