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Anonymous (2011)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/7/2012

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/17/2012

There aren't many filmmakers out there like Roland Emmerich. Starting in his native Germany in the late 70s, Emmerich began making movies and slowly worked his way up to mid-level and then big-budget movies, eventually making his way to the U.S. to work. Focusing almost exclusively on science-fiction, 1992's Universal Soldier first brought Emmerich attention in America. This was followed by the hit Stargate. However, it was Independence Day which became Emmerich's first true blockbuster. Since that time, he's made a string of sci-fi films, with the 2000 historical drama The Patriot being the only diversion. Now, Emmerich has once again decided to tackle another genre with Anonymous.

Anonymous traces the true origins of the plays of William Shakespeare. Edward, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is a nobleman who seeks to have some influence on who shall succeed Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave). After attending a play, he approaches playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), and Edward reveals that he himself is a playwright who has written dozens of plays. He gives a play to Jonson, with instructions to stage the production, but keep Edward's name out of it. Edward's plan is to have the political undertones of the plays sway the populous to rise up against William Cecil (David Thewliss), who is vying for the throne. The play is an immediate hit and when the audience demands to meet the writer, an actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes all of the credit. As Jonson watches Shakespeare's popularity grow with each play, Edward's past is explored as we learn how his writing was inspired.

As noted above, Roland Emmerich is a unique dude, but at least he's consistent in his films. That is, he's consistent in being inconsistent. Emmerich has made some good movies, most notably Independence Day and Stargate, but he's yet to make a great movie. That's due to two bad habits which he has. First of all, he can't ever keep the momentum going. The movies start with a bang drag through the middle and then have a big finish. I don't know why he doesn't understand that something can actually happen in the second act. I couldn't tell you a thing which happens in the middle of Stargate. This isn't helped by the fact that his movies are always too long. His other bad habit is that the stories in Emmerich's films always bite off more than they can chew. There are too many characters in too many locations and none of it gels. Movies like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day require a scorecard to keep up with who's doing what.

All of these issues are present in Anonymous. The script by John Orloff is actually two separate stories with somewhat tenuous connections. On one hand, we have the story which takes place in the world of the theater. We watch as Ben Jonson helps Edward perpetrate his ruse, and then as Shakespeare gets out of control. The other story follows the royals, as we observe the power struggle between Edward and the Cecils. These two distinct storylines make Anonymous feel like two movies which have been edited together. The drawback is that the theater story is much more interesting than the royal one, and yet, it gets less attention. The story involving the queen feels like so many other films of that ilk, such as The Duchess and The Other Boelyn Girl, where actors prance around in fancy costumes and complain about things. The movie wants to be a costume drama and a thriller, but the pieces donít mix. Things are further complicated by the flashbacks to Edwards past. These suddenly arrive without warning and itís not immediately obvious that what we are watching is taking place in the past. (Of course, weíre also dealing with the fact that everyone looks alike and Emmerich assumes that we have a working knowledge of Elizabethan England.)

Does Anonymous present us with an interesting premise? Of course it does. For years, people have questioned the idea that Shakespeare actually wrote of the things attributed to him, and the notion of a movie exploring this idea is an interesting one. However, Anonymous insists on being a historical drama about the royal family instead of an investigation of Shakespeare's writing. The result is an uneven movie which veers away from the story just when it's getting interesting. I've read many comments on-line about the film and there are many debates about whether or not the theory which it presents is plausible. Who cares if it's plausible? I just want a good movie.

Anonymous thankfully downplays Shakespearean language on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear for a DVD, as it shows no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The picture is a bit dark, but then again, this is a dark movie, however the action is always visible. There are few bright colors in the film, but the daytime scenes do present realistic tones. There is little artifacting here and no haloes around objects. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Sony DVDs are known for good audio and this one doesn't disappoint. Even for a historical drama, we get very good surround sound from the audiences in the theater. There are some minor action scenes which provide solid subwoofer effects and more notable surround. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation.

The Anonymous DVD contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Roland Emmerich and Writer John Orloff. The DVD contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. All three of these are brief and are merely filler -- additions to scenes which exist or were hinted at in the finished film. "Who is the Real William Shakespeare?" (11 minutes) is a sort-of making of which contains comments from Emmerich and Orloff, who talk about the story and the real-life controversy. We also get comments from the actors who also address these issues. The piece includes some on-set footage, but it focuses more on the film's premise, than the production.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long