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November 14, 2009
The Piano Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
5/8/19934/11/2009Icon FilmsJane Campion
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MHolly Hunter

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A rough landing in New Zealand.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards and finally winning three for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Holly Hunter), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anna Paquin) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Jane Campion), The Piano also won the Palme d'Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. Indeed this movie became a hit movie in 1993 earning back many times its original production budget of $US7 million. Sixteen years after its original release the movie is now available on Blu-Ray.

Ada (Holly Hunter), mute since birth, her nine year old daughter (Anna Paquin), and her piano arrive to an arranged marriage in the remote bush of nineteenth century New Zealand. Of all her belongings her husband refuses to transport the piano and it is left behind on the beach. Unable to bear it’s certain destruction, Ada strikes a bargain with an illiterate tattooed neighbour (Hervey Keitel). She may earn her piano back if she allows him to do certain things while she play’s – one black key for every lesson. The arrangement draws all three deeper and deeper into a complex emotional, sexual bond remarkable for its naïve passion and frightening disregard for limits.

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Waiting on the beach with The Piano.
Overall this is a depressing, dark, dreary film. It is intentionally devoid of any vibrant colours, but this also makes it quite unique and intriguing. From the landing on the beach in New Zealand you'll be hooked and will only become more and more invested into the lives of these characters and their motivations. Something you can't go past when watching this movie is the delightful music from Michael Nyman which is simply gorgeous.

Of course this film would be nothing without a superb cast and as we've already mentioned Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin both took away Oscars for their superb performances. They aren't the only ones to impress though with Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel also putting in performances of their lives. Also keep an eye out for Cliff Curtis (Collateral Damage, Die Hard 4.0, and Training Day) in his very first, but brief, movie role too.

We must warn parents that while The Piano is a M rated movie here in Australia there are some scenes of full frontal nudity and some somewhat explicit sex scene so you may want to be warned.

The Piano is a masterpiece. Sure, it's slow in places, but the acting, cinematography and music all combine to make this a delightful picture.

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The Piano is now on Blu-Ray.
The Piano comes to Blu-Ray using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at the films original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in Blu-Ray's typical 1080p resolution. While this is presented in High Definition we can't honestly say this is a great transfer, in fact it's pretty disappointing with high levels of grain, inconsistent black levels. Not assisting would be the extremely low bitrate which tends to hover around the 15-18Mbps mark for the majority of the film (and we assume this is a single layer BD-25). At times, particularly during scenes with water, the bitrate does peak quite a bit higher, but that's an exception rather then the rule.

The film also exhibits some film artifacts and dirt on occasions. There is s pretty terrible blemish at the 1:09:41 mark, but it's not the only case. There is also a lot of heavy, but also inconsistent levels of, grain throughout the film which can become quite distracting. Part of this could be done to the budget nature of the production (it only cost $US7 million to make which is cheap given the cast - remember Sam Neill had just come off Jurassic Park, and Harvey Keitel had been acclaimed for his work in Bugsy just before this filmed). While not a great transfer, we must point out that this is still an improvement over the DVD version.

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Writing the note.
The Piano comes to Blu-Ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (16-bit/48KHz), and while very front heavy the movie does sound a delight when the music from Michael Nyman ramps up as one would expect from such a picture. Now, I wouldn't be using this as a reference quality disc, but it certainly sounds better then the DVD release which only includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

There is only one English subtitle track on this disc, but it gets the job done with good pacing and accuracy to the on-screen dialogue.

There are only a couple of extras on this disc which have been ported straight from the DVD.

Audio commentary with Director Jane Campion and Producer Jan Chapman: This isn't the most lively of audio commentaries and to be honest I struggled to get through this track. One for die-hard fans only I would suspect.

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Harvey Keitel in The Piano.
Inside The Piano featurette (15:07): A pretty bog-standard making of featurette that shows too many scenes from the movie, talks about the story, and doesn't provided too many details of the production.

Theatrical Trailer (2:26/HD): Name says it all really, the video quality is pretty atrocious, but the audio is at least in 2 channel DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.

The Piano isn't a movie for everyone - it is quite slow, is quite confronting sexually, but is superbly acted and directed. Unfortunately this isn't a great presentation on Blu-Ray, quite disappointing actually, and we'd struggle to recommend the upgrade to this disc. If you were thinking of buying the movie though Blu-Ray is still preferred over the DVD, primarily due to the improved audio experience. Great movie, average disc.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Icon Films. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.