The Piano, Blu-ray (1993/2012)
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Music: Michael Nyman
Studio: Miramax/Lionsgate [01/31/12]
Video: 1:78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English & Maori DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Theatrical trailer
Length: 120 minutes
While there are a couple problems with this Blu-ray, it is surely a visual masterpiece and Campion’s finest. You could say the story behind The Piano is really about music giving value to the human experience. The whole thing progresses like a musical composition, until it builds up in intensity to a heavy emotional point. And Michael Nyman’s music, though you may not like it performed by itself, seems to fit the story that takes place in 19th century New Zealand, although it is sometimes more modern than would have been played on the square piano then.
Ada (Holly Hunter’s character doesn’t speak) had been an opera singer and was in the forest in a thunderstorm with her husband when he was killed by lightning and the shock caused her to lose her voice. This is explained by her young daughter (now Hollywood starlet Anna Paquin) and may or may not be true. She is somehow sold into marriage from Europe to a new mail order husband in a primitive area of New Zealand (Sam Neill). She comes with her daughter and a beloved square piano. Her new husband doesn’t do anything right. He begins by arriving a day late and leaves the piano in the surf at the beach saying his Maori movers can’t take all the rest plus it.
At his wilderness home the new husband and the few upper class British settlers try to keep up their Victorian lifestyle in spite of everything. There is a neighbor, Baines (Keitel), who talks about coming from Hull, England but has Maori facial tatoos and hangs out with the Maori. He is attracted to Ada and soon understands that the piano is the key to her. He brings it back to the settlement from the beach and the new husband trades the piano to him in exchange for some land. Ada, meanwhile communicates only with sign language to her daughter and with notes on a small writing pad around her neck. She is completely standoffish to her new husband and he is awkward around her. Baines, however claims he wants to learn how to play the piano and they work out her going to his place to teach him. Baines supports her eagerness to express herself on the piano. Without the stern husband there, it turns into a special sort of bargain suggested by Baines: For each of the black notes on the piano Ada will allow him an erotic familiarity with her while she plays the piano. Eventually this results in the whole megillah, which both her daughter and the new husband spy thru cracks in the building’s wall.
While the audio track is fine and Nyman’s music and the sounds of nature well reproduced, it is only stereo – not mixed for 5.1 surround – although it claims to be on the outside of the box. The Blu-ray transfer doesn’t fare quite as well. There are some very dark scenes without snap and the transfer is not as well done as, say, one by Criterion. But the big fault here is the total omission of any English subtitles for either Ada’s sign language or the language of the Maoris, subtitles which did appear on the feature film in theaters. How Lionsgate could have omitted this I cannot understand, since not having it can give an entirely different understanding of the characters – with both the Ada and Baines characters being much less sympathetic.
If any recording is essential to the genre, this is it.