Quills (2000)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Trailer

Perversion, lust, pain and even necrophilia are subject touched upon in "Quills," 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s latest DVD release. The film is out to explore the depths of the human mind in the form of the Marquis De Sade, who has left his mark on history for breaking the sexual taboos of his time from within the confinements of an insane asylum. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t really insane, or was he?

The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is enjoying special privileges in the asylum he is imprisoned in. A French aristocrat, he has enough money to bribe everyone in the asylum, from the chambermaid, to the guards and his friendship with the sympathetic Abbe Coulmier (Joaquim Phoenix), who is running the institution, also helps making the asylum a fairly tolerable place for him to stay. As part of his therapy to rid his mind of the demons that haunt him, the Marquis is writing down his fantasies, and stories from his dark and sexually liberated imagination. Though never intended for publication, he manages to slip them to a local book publisher with the help of his chambermaid Madeleine(Kate Winslet). By many considered an aberration, the books nonetheless sell like hotcakes on the streets of France during the Revolution, and even Napoleon himself takes notice. Livid about the blasphemous and decadent writing, he orders the Marquis to be quietened and sends Doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a well-known torturer and sadist – although that term was not yet phrased at that time – to take care of business in the asylum. But the Marquis is without fear and decides to play his own games with the doctor, publicly ridiculing him, while all the while releasing more of his pornographic writing to the public. But before long, the doctor runs out of patience and makes the Marquis de Sade’s life a living hell.

Walking the thin line between perversion and insanity, Jeffrey Rush once again delivers a staggering performance in "Quills" as the Marquis de Sade. With a real human touch, the character comes to live and viewers even get to understand some of the demons that haunt this man. Although we never get really close to the character – a move deliberately done by the filmmakers, I would assume – we are always close enough to him to feel with him and to sympathize with him on a certain level. The fact that many of the taboos he touched upon have become fairly accepted by today’s society, although prudery still doesn’t allow them to be referred to as "common," gives the subject matter an air of relief, as we see that things do have changed quite a bit since the time of the French Revolution.
Rush has a few really strong counter characters in the film, though. Michael Caine is simply despicable from the first moment he is on screen and never lets up. It once again shows the actor’s versatility and his ability to shine in any role, be it comedic, dramatic, tragic or a sinister part like this. Joaquim Phoenix leaves once again a strong impression as Abbe, and it appears he is making his mark in Hollywood at last. The slightly understated way he carries his roles and the true emotions help make his character come to real life. Most surprisingly, Kate Winslett shines in her role as Madeleine. A role that covers various ends of the spectrum, this part shows that she is more than the girl form "Titanic," and just like in "Sense & Sensibility" it is obvious that her classic face is perfectly suited for period pieces such as this.

Quills is presented in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD, in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. The print is absolutely clean and not a single nick is visible during the entire presentation. The transfer shows an extremely high level of detail, which is especially obvious on the many dark scenes in the vaults of the asylum where sunlight is a mere figment. The shadow detail in these scenes is meticulous, reproducing every bit of information from the film print, painting an extremely well-defined image even in the darkest passages. The colors of the transfer have also been perfectly reproduced. The film uses a slight green saturation almost throughout to enhance the dank, unhealthy atmosphere of the asylum, as well as creating an increased, faded period feel for the picture without actually fading the images. With just the right mix, the DVD creates an image that features lively colors, yet duly maintains the character of the cinematography without any flaws. Blacks are also absolutely solid, giving the picture plenty of visual depth.
The compression of the image material is also flawless, ensuring that the extremely high definition of the transfer is brought to splendid live on your TV screen. No <$pixelation,pixelation> or bleeding is evident anywhere in the transfer and the high bit rate that was used on this release ensures that colors maintain their strong hues and all the detail.

The DVD features an atmospheric <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that perfectly suits the film. Also emphasizing the claustrophobic environment of the asylum, the track makes very good use of the surround channels. Early reflections, reverbs and echoes are fed in from the rear, creating a very lively and active surround field that never feels artificial. The frequency response of the track is extremely good, nicely reproducing everything from the lowest bass to the high ends in crystal clear precision. The wide dynamic range of the track makes for an aggressive and powerful presentation that makes you jump out of your seat on a number of occasions. Dialogue recording is flawless without any ADR-introduced inconsistencies. All dialogue sounds natural and perfectly placed in the settings. It has been well integrated in the overall mix, although occasionally sound effects overpower the dialogue a bit.
The film features a great music score that perfectly suits the subject matter. The Dolby Digital track manages to create a wide sound field for the music, giving each instrument of the orchestra room to breathe, thus creating a very spatial experience.

The disc also features a <$commentary,commentary track> by screenwriter Doug Wright, who goes into quite some detail in his elaboration. Covering character motivations, the setting, the times, the history and many of the production aspects, Wright delivers a commentary that is highly informative and very entertaining. Naturally the subject matter allows for a lot of information, especially character-based, but in his comment Wright ensures to give a complete mix of insight in all aspects that make this film work.

You can also find 3 featurettes on this DVD that cover a variety of aspects of the production and the historical events this film is based on. Entitled, "Marquis on the Marquee," "Creating Charenton" and "Dressing the Part" these featurettes are a great addition to the disc, offering valuable and interesting insight behind the scenes of the film and the characters. A still gallery and theatrical trailers round out this release from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

"Quills" is a great and rather unique film that comes in a top-notch presentation on this DVD. Daring at times, the movie never works with stereotypes, but instead opts to explore the characters we witness in a very human way. The resulting emotions are honest and never artificial, making "Quills" a memorable experience. Do yourself a favor and give this splendid movie a try. This DVD is a treat for the eyes and ears, and the film itself is a true feast for your intellect. Let the Marquis De Sade challenge you, too! You may like it.