An excellent Blu-ray release of an important and powerful film
The Piano Blu-ray Review
This critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film remains an evocative and moving portrayal of repression and desire.Jane Campion's film perfectly captures the plight of women in the mid-nineteenth century as Ada and her daughter are sold into marriage and shipped off to the other side of the world. It also shows the harsh reality of colonial life at that time, this isn't the New Zealand of Peter Jackson's films but rather the rain-soaked and muddy reality of a time when amenities were terribly limited. The writing and directing by Campion captures the brutality and sexism of the time but also retains a lyrical flair, with the titular piano as both a real object and metaphor for escape. The performances are universally excellent, especially Holly Hunter and a wonderfully natural Anna Paquin.Holly Hunter certainly deserved her Oscar for portraying a complex character completely through facial expressions and body language; not to mention playing the piano pieces herself. Equally as deserving was Anna Paquin who, in her first film role, became the second youngest Oscar-winner in history. She is completely believable and has a remarkable chemistry with Hunter, who taught the young actress sign language in order to bond with her. Jane Campion also picked up an Oscar for her screenplay and The Piano won the Palme D'Or at Canne, making it the first film directed by a woman to do do. It's a shame that Campion and Hunter's careers haven't hit such heights since.
With all this female talent on show, it's easy to forget the contributions of the men but both Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel deliver powerful performances in very different roles. The cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh is also excellent, capturing the harsh beauty of New Zealand long before the picture postcard images in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films. Perhaps most important of all is Michael Nyman's beautiful and haunting piano score, which forms an integral part of the narrative and remains highly memorable to this day; as does the film itself.
What is The Piano Blu-ray Picture QualityThe Piano is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the transfer is generally excellent. There is some brief banding visible during the opening and closing fades but otherwise this is a lovely transfer that perfectly replicates the film's original Oscar-nominated photography by Stuart Dryburgh. He expertly captures the savage beauty of the New Zealand rain forest, as well as the harsh reality of the lives of those early settlers. The colour scheme is deliberately muted, with blacks, greys, greens and browns dominating but occasional flashes of primary colours cut through. There is also an ethereal quality to the photography, giving some scenes a dreamlike quality; whilst skin tones are natural but deliberately undersaturated.
The transfer retains the muted colours and subtle grain of the original photography.
The compression is very well done, aside from the brief banding previously mentioned, and in other respects the Blu-ray is free from any distracting artefacts. There is a pleasing layer of natural film grain that was present in the original cinematography, whilst the level of fine detail is very impressive for a film that was shot on a relatively low budget over twenty years ago. From clothing to facial close-ups to extreme close-ups of the piano keys, the Blu-ray retains a wonderful amount of detail. The wear and tear in people's clothes, the constant rain and the mud are all brought into sharp relief, perfectly capturing Ada's misery. The original film elements are also in excellent condition and there's no doubt that The Piano hasn't looked this good since its premiere.
How Does The Piano Blu-ray SoundThe film has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtrack and it is surprisingly active for both a film of this age and subject matter. All the dialogue is clear, aside from Harvey Keitel's method mumbling but that's hardly the disc's fault, and nicely anchored to the centre channel. The wonderful musical score by Micael Nyman is also well served, filling the front soundstage and giving voice to Ada as she plays on her piano. The music is beautifully rendered within the rest of the mix, occasionally moving to the rears as Ada is lost in reverie.
The surround mix is surprisingly active, drawing you into the world of the film.
Perhaps more surprising is the active nature of the surrounds throughout the soundtrack, with the noises of the rainforest creating a very natural and immersive experience. There are a few key scenes under water and again the sound design is excellent, with active surrounds and a very real sense of the isolating affect of the water itself, creating a sense of silence through the use of muffled sounds. There's also a pleasingly strong bass presence, especially in scenes where boats are crashing through the water at the beginning and end of the film. Overall, this is a subtle and well presented soundtrack that will give your system a decent workout, and we never expect that from The Piano.
The Piano Blu-ray ExtrasInterviews with Jane Campion and Jan Chapman (Standard Definition - 1:16:05) - An interesting and fairly long interview with the film's director conducted in 2003, where she discusses the genesis, writing and making of the film. Followed by a shorter interview with the film's producer, who discusses funding the film and its production.
Making of The Piano (Standard Definition - 15:10) - This featurette was made at the same time as the film's production and whilst it includes interviews with Campion, Chapman, Hunter, Keitel and Neill, it doesn't go into much detail.
Theatrical Trailer (Standard Definition - 02:24) - The film's original theatrical trailer.
Audio Commentary - Director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman provide an interesting and informative commentary, where they discuss the themes of the film, as well as providing anecdotes and production details. Thankfully they manage to cover the film without overlapping too much with the interviews that are also included on the disc.
Is The Piano Blu-ray Worth BuyingThe Piano retains its power after all these years, presenting an evocative portrayal of repression and desire. It's a rare film that was written, directed, produced, edited and starring women, with Jane Campion, Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin all deserving their Academy Awards. The men involved also play their part, with excellent performances from Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill and a memorable score from Michael Nyman. The Blu-ray presentation is first class, with a transfer that retains the beauty of the original photography, and a surprisingly active surround mix; whilst the inclusion of some decent extras rounds off an worthwhile package. More than just a 'chick-flick' The Piano is an important film that deserves as wide an audience as possible.
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