April 4, 2010 -- A new, digitally restored DVD of the classic five-plus hour A&E-BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, is being released on April 27. I got an early review copy, and it is, indeed, an upgrade from the original 1996 special edition two-disk set, which I happen to own. This is essentially a standard definition release of last year's release of this same film on blu-ray. It reportedly uses the same source materials and has the same extras, too.
In order to test the difference, I put the old 1996 DVDs in one DVD player and put the new 2010 ones in another DVD player, both hooked up to my TV through a four-way Sony audio-video switch. I switched the picture back and forth, comparing the same scenes on the 1996-era DVDs with the new DVDs and the difference is evident. The new digitally restored version has better contrast and more color. The older DVDs look washed out and relatively colorless by comparison. The new DVDs have fuller colors and the sound quality (played through a stereo system, not built-in TV speakers) also seems better (sound is Dolby 2-channel). I also switched the DVDs between the two DVD players just to make sure the difference was not caused by differences between the DVD players themselves. It was not.
According to one of the new documentaries on the DVDs, the enhanced video quality of these new discs result from a new process of digitally scanning the original 16mm film negatives, then reconstructing the entire video production from those new scans. The old DVDs were scanned from film prints rather than the original negatives. Side-by side split-screen comparisons of the two processes reveal the same video quality improvements I saw in my own home experiment. So-called digital grading, that is, digital image enhancement to improve color, lighting and contrast as well as consistency, also plays a role in this new DVD set. Digital grading was used extensively in the original production of “Lord of the Rings,” for instance.
As far as “Pride and Prejudice” goes, it is still the same 1996 production. This is the best of the many filmed versions of this classic romantic book. The differences are in the sound and video quality of the new version, plus more extras, including the extra about the new DVD version. The original 1996 edition had just one “making of” documentary. The 2010 has several of these featurettes, including “Lasting Impressions,” “Turning Point” and “An Impromptu Walkabout with Adrian Lukis and Lucy Briers.” Most of this material appears to have been recorded on the 10th anniversary of the original production. Some of the comments made by the same people who were interviewed for the original 1996 DVD release are very similar, but are obviously recorded 10 years later. Most of them have aged noticeably, and they are bit more frank in their assessment of the project. Sue Birtwistle, Pride and Prejudice Producer, says in “Lasting Impressions” that the novel Pride and Prejudice is “ ... all about sex and money.” She didn't say that in the original DVD set.
What is clear in these documentaries is how proud all the participants are of this production of “Pride and Prejudice” and how surprised everyone is about how popular it has remained through the years. Even lesser known actors like Adrian Lukis continue to get comments and fan mail all these years after the miniseries first aired. They all have a right to be proud. This is a labor of love, a literary dramatization for the ages. It will live on as long as there are people with brains and emotions. This movie and this DVD set both rate A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.