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Before I begin my review of Rent, I'd like to state a disclaimer of sorts. This is my absolute first experience with the musical and I am by no means a Rent-head, which is I'm told, what its cult followers call themselves. Even though I'm a sucker for a good movie musical, rest assured that you won't be getting a biased opinion from someone who's overtly fond of the source material.

Rent

Feature


If you're familiar with the concept of Bohemia, you should have no trouble understanding the characters in Rent. I'll provide a short history lesson for those unfamiliar with the way of life. Bohemia was a kingdom in the Czech Republic centuries ago, but most people aren't referring to the kingdom when they say Bohemian. The term was likened to a group of people in early 19th century France who lived a non-conformist lifestyle as an artist or writer. You can equate the term with a more artistic version of a gypsy. If the Bohemian way of life fascinates you, then I recommend another movie musical, Moulin Rouge, which actually takes place in 19th century France. I have to wonder how many readers now discredit my opinion since I just recommended Moulin Rouge, but I must carry on.

Set in New York City's gritty East Village, Rent tells the story of eight Bohemian individuals and the struggles they encounter over the 525,600 minutes that make up 1989 when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. That's the premise, simple enough... right? The actual story is much more complicated. Our narrator is documentary filmmaker Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp) who lives with HIV positive guitarist Roger Davis (Adam Pascal) who despite a love lost to AIDS, falls for also HIV positive erotic dancer Mimi Marquez (Rosario Dawson). But I'm straying away from our narrator, Mark, who recently was dumped by spoken-word poet Maureen Johnson (Idina Menzel) for a lawyer, Joanne Jefferson (Tracie Thomas.) The final tenant of the apartment building that houses most of these friends is HIV positive drag queen Angel Dumont Schunard (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his/her new lover HIV positive Tom Collins (Jesse Martin) who's also a former roommate of Mark and Roger. They all face eviction from their apartment building by a former Bohemian named Benny Coffin (Taye Diggs) who wants to replace their home with a Cyber-Studio to make art. If that doesn't make any sense, trust me that it all comes together magnificently on screen.

Rent
It would take an absolutely horrid cast (I'd have to be on it, no doubt) to make the music of Rent to sound anything less than great. Then again, it would take a cast handpicked by God to make it sound any better. The source material and the performances are on the same level of sheer excellence. I don't know jack about musicals but I know it requires a talented performer to take regular dialogue exchanges that don't even rhyme and sing them. The entire cast does this at one point or another, and it flows naturally, never sounding forced. It comes as no surprise that six of the eight lead cast members are reprising their roles from the original Broadway run. The chemistry here works so well that I couldn't guess which two performers were outsiders if I wanted to.

At two hours and fifteen minutes, Rent is a massive film. It took a simpleton like myself two viewings just to catch the entire story as keeping up with these characters can be a daunting task. Rent is also very fast-paced which means if you're anything like me you can find something new with each viewing. I don't know how I missed this, but just last sitting I caught a humorous NY reference. The power has been shut off and it's dark, save for a soft glow that one character claims to be the moonlight. Another says it's just Spike Lee shooting a picture up the street. It's quick exchanges like this that can slip you by on your first viewing so I recommend a follow-up. For anyone else who gives thought to such details: if the light were indeed from a Spike Lee film shooting up the street in 1989, it would have to be 'Mo Better Blues.

The first screenshot above is from the opening song Seasons of Love and a clever opening it is. Our eight lead characters are performing presumably on their native stage before an empty audience. From here, the point of view enters the actual world of New York and leaves the stage behind. Again, the characters work so naturally together and in their environments that I forget this is an adaptation. Where The Producers might be guilty of sticking too closely to the stage choreography and set pieces, Rent is a larger film with outdoor pieces and huge locations. I give points to the filmmakers for making new choreography and blocking that couldn't possibly be from the stage version.

Rent
Just as with musicals, I'm a sucker for a film that has a message and Rent carries a very strong message. You don't have to be dying from AIDS as these characters are to share the same appreciative perspective on life that they do. Rent tells us to live everyday like it's our last and to love our friends like we'll never see them again. For a film that deals with such tragic topics as drug addiction and AIDS, this is an inspiring picture.

Video


Rent is mastered in high definition 2:40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The movie deserves a good transfer and that's exactly what Sony has given it. For a movie where many scenes take place in a dimly lit apartment building at night, the picture is mostly free of grain. I saw no artefacts or dirt throughout the entire feature. Conclude from my compliments that the video of Rent leaves little to be desired.

Audio


I rocked out to Rent's 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Music came from all channels and was of superb quality. Dialogue and atmosphere blended well together, and were always easily distinguishable. New York City and the cast both sounded great as Rent is a film that needs to sound great to be enjoyed. I could fill this section with endless praise of certain moments but I'll refrain. Rent is given it's due in the audio department.

Rent

Extras


The only feature you really need to concern yourself with is a mammoth documentary entitled 'No Day But Today' with a running time of one hour and fifty-two minutes. NDBT tells the inspiring story of the late Rent creator Jonathan Larson and the phenomenon of his creation. Chock full of old home movies, the people who first brought Rent to life talk about the success it enjoyed on the stage. Interestingly enough, only the last twenty-four minutes deal with the production of the film, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The behind the scenes tale of Rent doesn't begin in 2005 with the movie, so it's nice to have the full story presented here.

Next up is a handful of deleted scenes, musical numbers, and an alternate ending. I can usually identify with a director or editor as to why scenes from a picture were cut, but not here. The two musical numbers cut could've added a lot dramatically to the final act, I hate to see them absent. I can only guess the reason behind their deletion was running time as Rent is lengthy at one hundred and thirty-five minutes. Would tacking on another fifteen minutes really have hurt the picture? I think not. The alternate ending is really a shame to see cut, ending where the film began on a theatre stage before an empty audience. As our leads finish their final song, the house lights dim and we fade to black. It's such a fantastic ending; it hurts my brain to ponder why it was cut.

The commentary is another spectacular item on this set featuring director Chris Columbus along with actors Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal. Led by the director, the trio is full of interesting insights on the process of adapting Rent to film. If the documentary left you yearning for more coverage of the film version, here's your fix. Rounding out extras are a few PSAs and trailers for other Sony releases.

Rent

Overall


I absolutely fell in love with this Bohemian rock opera and am glad to add the film to my collection. This two-disc set is everything a Renthead could possibly ask for from technical presentation to supplemental features. I see no reason for Rent to ever be released again as this DVD set houses the film wonderfully. Viva La Vie Boheme.


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