The Piano is a film I first tried watch on video when it was first released, but I gave up halfway through as I found it too dull. So, why try to watch it again 25 years on? Because as times change, tastes change, too, and I’ve enjoyed a number of films these past few years which I wouldn’t have *got* back then. Hence, with the Blu-ray 25th Anniversary release here, it’s time once again to play The Piano.
The film’s set in the mid-19th Century, but while Ada (Holly Hunter, above-right) is mute, she actually can speak but somehow doesn’t, for reasons not even she knows. Hence, she lets the piano do her talking, and it’s certainly the only thing that brings her comfort – something she’s sorely lacking as she takes a boat over to New Zealand, where she’s getting married to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). All her stuff, including her plinky-plonky musical instrument, ends up on the beach with nowhere to go. How are a young woman and a small child meant to move that before the tide comes in?!
You can understand Ada getting antsy about leaving it behind, hoping that Stewart & co will come back for it later, since it’s like the time, a few years ago, when I bought a USA double fridge-freezer. I expected two delivery men to come, but there was just one man… and when I asked about him getting it into the house, he said, “Nah, mate, doorstep delivery!” And since my builders were out on the lash, and until I could get help, I had to keep an eye on it, since a huge appliance left on the street in Stockport? It’d be gone quicker than you could blink, and had it stayed there over night, I’d have had to take out the shelves and slept in it!
Anyhoo, back to this, and when the titular instrument ends up in the house owned by George Baines (Harvey Keitel) – thanks to a bit of switcheroo from Stewart, Ada’s not happy when – to add insult to injury – hubby tells her to give him piano lessons, but to add insult to insult to injury, Baines will let her have it back if she also has a play on his pink oboe!
Overall, this starts off as a decent watch and improves as it goes – and maybe it’d be even better second time round, but either way, while it’s not the kind of film I’d have lauded with Oscars, it is exactly this sort of film which wins them, and it won the Best Actress for Holly Hunter, although while she has made a great number of films, I thought she was wonderful in Steven Spielberg’s 1989 movie Always, opposite Richard Dreyfuss and would award her for that over this.
This film also won the Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin – although I’m wary of making such an award to someone so young, since they haven’t really made a huge impact at that point.
Finally, it also won the Best Screenplay for Jane Campion, but it could also have won ‘Best Chipolata Impersonation’ by Harvey Keitel 😉
Seriously, everyone is good in this, although for Keitel, you do have to get over his dodgy Irish(?) accent.
The film is presented in the theatrical 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and in 1080p high definition and with this having been shot on 35mm film, we certainly have a great picture showing throughout. I presume the 2014 Blu-ray was the same, but I haven’t seen that one (as you’d expect, since this is the first time I’ve watched the film in full).
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and it’s mostly a dialogue piece, but with the inclusion of the wonderful score from Michael Nyman.
For a Special Edition, you’d expect Arrow Video-sized extras, right? Well, no. There’s only three extras and only one of them is new. It’s only four years since the film was last issued on Blu-ray, so this feels more a repackage then anything special:
- The Making Of The Piano (15:10): An old ‘making of’ in standard definition, so this will have appeared on DVDs before now, this is presented in 4:3, but with the interviews and movie clips in letterboxed 16:9… so, what’s in 4:3? Well, the captions spill out into the lower black bar, so while you can zoom it in on your 16:9 TV, the captions will partly be obscured.
It’s a good, brief extra that strikes the right balance of summing up enough info without going on too long.
- The Piano at 25 (30:26): director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman go back to New Zealand to talk about what the film means to them now, and back in 1993, as well as revisiting the locations. This is a very welcome and complementary extra, and it’s also dedicated to the memory of Janet Patterson, an Australian costume designer and production designer who won a BAFTA and an Australian Film Institute Award for her work on this film, who died in October 2016 at the age of 60.
- Audio commentary: from director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman.
The main menu features clips from the film set to a short piece of the score, albeit not Mr Nyman’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First, which is most associated with this film, and I’ve always loved that track, even when I wasn’t into the film.
There’s no special treatment given to the chapters, either – just the plain ol’ 12, and the same goes for subtitles, which are in English only.
Running time: 121 minutes
Released: July 16th 2018
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Jane Campion
Producer: Jan Chapman
Screenplay: Jane Campion
Music: Michael Nyman
Ada: Holly Hunter
George Baines: Harvey Keitel
Alasdair Stewart: Sam Neill
Flora: Anna Paquin
Aunt Morag: Kerry Walker
Nessie: Genevieve Lemon
Hira: Tungia Baker
Reverend: Ian Mune
Head Seaman: Peter Dennett
Chief Nihe: Te Whatanui Skipwith
Baines’ Dog ‘Flynn’: Flynn
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.