A project long in development, "Rent" is the filmed adaptation of Jonathan Larson's play. It's been a long time since I've seen the play, so this will be primarily a discussion of the filmed adaptation, directed by the odd choice of Chris Columbus ("Home Alone"). Although the choice by Columbus to bring back most of the Broadway cast worked for me (despite the obvious issue of age), other aspects of the film didn't.
For those who never saw the play, the film focuses on a group of struggling artists living in NYC's East Village, such as singer-songwriter Roger (Adam Pascal) and filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp). HIV+ ex-junkie Roger has found himself falling for Mimi (Rosario Dawson, one of the couple of actors not from the original cast), the exotic dancer and drug abuser who lives downstairs, who is also HIV+. Maureen (Idina Menzel) is Mark's old girlfriend, but she's now found love with a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thomas, the other newcomer.) HIV+ Collins (Jesse L. Martin) falls for an HIV+ drag queen, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). Finally, former friend Benny (Taye Diggs) is the villian of the piece, threatening to throw out the roommates if they can't pay their rent.
While Columbus does shoot in some NYC and San Francisco locations, there are a lot of moments here where, if they aren't sets, they look awfully like they are, adding to the feeling that the picture feels like a stage play transported to the screen instead of a stage play opened out and rethought to work on the big screen. The musical is wall-to-wall songs and the movie's choice of introducing some patches of dialogue doesn't work all too well - the film should have been completely song-driven or blended in a better balance of music and dialogue. The rather static visual style also contributes to the feeling, as well.
Overall, there's just not much imagination from Columbus here, who seems like a director-for-hire instead of someone who has their own ideas to bring to the table. Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and others were apparently among the many original possibilities to direct the feature, and one can only wonder what they could have accomplished at the helm.
Despite the fact that the actors now appear a bit too old to play their parts, they still give it their all in their roles. Additionally, while the newcomers don't quite work as well (Dawson's singing voice is good, but not great) as the original cast, they at least aren't totally outshined. The songs still work, too. However, neither element is given much backing: for a big production, "Rent" often looks surprisingly flat and lacks the kind of grit it needs. The performances and songs give the whole enterprise an energy, but the filmmakers haven't figured out how to tie everything together on-film in order to give the whole enterprise momentum.
Fans will still want to see this version and while I did like aspects of it (the performances work), more thought should have gone into translating the play to the screen.
VIDEO: "Rent" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Picture quality is generally first-rate, as sharpness and detail looked terrific. Some slight edge enhancement is seen at times, as were a couple of minor artifacts. However, no print flaws were spotted. Colors seemed accurately presented, with no smearing or other concerns. Overall, a very nice transfer from the studio.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation fares well, using the surrounds to provide reinforcement for the musical numbers and, additionally, offer up some ambience. The songs and other elements are nicely spread across the front speakers, and the film's tunes sounded dynamic and full throughout the show. Ambient sounds and other elements also sounded crisp and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Director Chris Columbus and cast sit down for a feature-length commentary for the feature. The track's most amusing moment has to be one of the participants holding up a discussion of the director's work in order to make sure that the audience notices a woman in a subway scene that is sitting in the background, then clearly vanishes...and then is back again a moment later. The rest of the track is generally interesting and informative, as the participants discuss their on-set experiences, production issues and the stage play.
The second disc also includes PSAs, previews for other films (including Sofia Coppola's upcoming "Marie Antoniette") from the studio, deleted scenes and musical performances (including "Halloween" and an alternate ending) and the 112-minute documentary, "No Day But Today", about the legacy of the play and the film production.
Final Thoughts: "Rent"'s cast struggles and succeeds in delivering passionate, emotional performances. However, Columbus doesn't bring much to the table in terms of new ideas or a visual style - as for the visuals, the film lacks the grit and mood that someone else could have provided. The DVD edition does provide very fine audio/video quality, as well as a solid set of supplemental features. Recommended for fans.
The Film C+