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Set in the decadent world of the French nobility of the 18th century, Dangerous Liaisons could be described as a “tragedy of manners.” On the surface, all of the characters play respectable parts in society, whether as the elegant host of a salon, a doting aunt, a mannerly gentleman, or a devoted daughter. Beneath this polished surface, however, deadly battles of the heart are played out with emotions wielded like knives in the hands of a virtuoso surgeon. In this game, the Marquise De Merteuil (Glenn Close) and the Vicomte De Valmont (John Malkovich) are old antagonists who enjoy their private manipulations to the hilt, regarding with cold amusement the suffering of those whom they destroy in the process. Even so, there’s another level: while this game of cat and mouse is played between these two masters of the game, real emotions are roused and are not so easy to put in their place.

Dangerous Liaisons
Movie
Every now and then, an actor takes on a role that is, simply put, his perfect role. For Malkovich, it’s the role of Valmont. He’s utterly amoral, yet compelling nonetheless. In fact, most of the characters in the film are amoral, decadent, and cruel... but as they play out their games we get a glimpse of the human desires and pain underneath the powdered, pressed exterior. It takes a fine cast to show both of these sides to the viewer when even the characters themselves don’t realize what they’re feeling, and the cast of Dangerous Liaisons is definitely up to the challenge. In addition to Malkovich’s fine performance, Glenn Close is excellent (but then, when does she ever do a bad job?), and the rest of the cast list is not too shabby, either, with Michelle Pfeiffer as the virtuous Mme. Tourvel, and interesting early performances by Uma Thurman and Keanu Reaves as well. Close and Pfeiffer were both nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, but oddly enough Malkovich was not, though I’d say that his is easily the best performance in the film that is graced with several outstanding actors.

Lavish costumes and sets, accurate to the last period detail, superbly evoke the decadent mood of the film. Not surprisingly, two of the three Academy Awards that Dangerous Liaisons took home were Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.

The third Academy Award was for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and like the costume and art awards, it’s well deserved. Interestingly, the 1988 film version of Dangerous Liaisons draws on not one, but two different mediums: a 1986 theatrical version and the original, scandalous 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. This means that Dangerous Liaisons provides an insight into the morals, manners, and life of the time from the actual perspective of that time, not just from the guesswork of a modern writer using a historical setting.

Dangerous Liaisons
Video
Talk about disappointment. I’m afraid I can only describe this transfer as one of the worst I’ve seen. To begin with, there’s a high level of noise; even with the noise reduction feature turned on, the image looks bad. Distracting print flaws abound as well. Dark scenes look particularly terrible, as all the graininess and speckling stands out even more than in the daylight scenes. To top it all off, weird green halos appear on several occasions around people’s faces.

If there’s ever a movie that is crying out for a remastering and special edition treatment, it’s Dangerous Liaisons. As is, it’s a disgrace that Warner released such a fine film with such a poor-quality transfer.

The transfer is anamorphic, presented in the original 1.85:1 ratio.

Audio
The DVD cover boasts that the sound has been remastered in Dolby 5.1 (didn’t anyone think to remaster the video as well?). It’s nothing special, but it’s certainly of a far better quality than the video component of the DVD. The dialogue is clear, and the music soundtrack balances the dialogue nicely, never overpowering it.

Extras
There’s nothing to write home about in the special features department of this DVD. In addition to text-only production notes, a pan and scan version of the film is provided (taking up space I’d rather see used for a documentary).

Dangerous Liaisons
Overall
Winner of three Academy Awards, and nominated for four more, Dangerous Liaisons is the kind of film that belongs in the collection of any movie viewer who appreciates good drama. Unfortunately, the video quality of the current DVD version is painfully bad, so we’re stuck with the depressing choice between waiting for a new edition sometime in the future, or owning a version that is visually sub-par.


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