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Blu-ray Review Evita Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Jun 27, 2012.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s stage musical phenomenon Evita was finally ready to leave its development dungeon and jump to the silver screen, almost twenty years had passed from the time of its original concept album. Sadly, there were no female film stars at that time who were really suitable for the challenging demands of its wildly rangy score (though Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Michelle Peiffer, all singing actresses, were considered), and the three women who had scored in the role on records and stage initially (Julie Covington, Elaine Paige in London, Patti Lupone on Broadway) had all aged out of the part. Thus, pop superstar Madonna, who was chosen for the role, was undoubtedly a compromise choice. Though her voice was not ideal, and she was slightly older than Eva Peron, the subject of the musical, at the time of Eva’s death, the producers likely hoped that casting her would give them the best possible shot at screen success. As it turned out, the score and the story had to be adjusted in order to accommodate their barely adequate leading lady, and the film scored only a middling success at the box-office.



    Evita (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Alan Parker

    Studio: Hollywood/Disney
    Year: 1996
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 135 minutes
    Rating: PG
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish

    Region: A-B-C
    MSRP: $ 26.50


    Release Date: June 19, 2012

    Review Date: June 27, 2012




    The Film

    3.5/5


    The story of Eva Peron, sexual libertine and screen actress who wiled her way into the bed of soon-to-be-Argentinian dictator Juan Peron and became beloved of her people in a very brief life, is familiar if not overly so. We see Eva as a bastard child unable to attend her own father’s funeral. We then see her at 15, able to use sex to get her way with men, and then we follow her upward spiral as she creates a name for herself in Buenos Aires. Throughout the telling of the story (almost all of it in flashback and through-sung in pop opera fashion), a kind of Greek chorus in the person of a singing narrator (Che) comments on Eva’s undertakings or helps to move the story along. Screenwriter Oliver Stone and co-writer/director Alan Parker have placed Che within the scenes he’s commenting on. It makes cinematic sense and works well, practically the only adaptation from the stage version to this screen version that does work. All of the other changes, insertions, and juxtapositions of the stage material work against the movie’s effectiveness.


    Antonio Bandaras is a glorious surprise as Che. He literally IS the movie, singing with zestful passion and putting such emotion into his body language while he’s singing that one hangs on his every word/note. His “High Flying Adored” shows him in all his macho magnificence, and it’s a tonic watching his Greek chorus-style character turn up in a variety of guises throughout the film. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Che is the second most important role in the film, he’s not around enough to rescue the movie from the overabundance of Madonna.


    No, she’s not terrible. Rather, she’s mostly bland, monotonously sincere without much inner fire that must have been in the heart and soul of the real Eva. Madonna handles the music adequately, but never once does she exude sex appeal or genuine “star quality,” something she sings about in the film’s most disappointing montage “Buenos Aires.” (On stage, this number lifts the audience out of its seats.) The lowering of the keys to accommodate her range takes the excitement and urgency out of the music which, apart from “Waltz for Eva and Che,” just doesn’t measure up to the music’s potential. She’s been given “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” which was on stage the song for Peron’s teenaged mistress (she gets a very brief reprise only) and a new song when she’s near death “You Must Love Me,” two additional numbers in a movie that’s already crammed to the gills with Madonna vocals. She also looks too old for the ages she plays. At 15, she looks 30. For 26, she looks much older than that. Additionally, due to her pregnancy at the time of the shooting, special care had to be taken to photograph her above the waist or with flowers and other accessories covering her “baby bump.” Even with the care taken, there are some shots where her condition is obvious taking the viewer right out of the movie.


    Jonathan Pryce, quite at home in musicals on stage, gets a minimum of songs and screen time as Juan Peron, so the impression he makes is an effective if limited one. Jimmy Nail as Agustin Magaldi, Eva’s ticket out of her small town life, handles his “Night of a Thousand Stars” adequately. The movie has a huge cast. The thousands of extras who are squeezed into the widescreen frame are impressive in their size but underwhelming in their impact. Alan Parker does control the crowds well and never allows them to dwarf his stars. 


    Parker films two montages in the film’s first half that are very effective. “Goodnight and Thank You” covers Eva’s succession of affairs as she climbs the social ladder while “The Lady’s Got Potential,” despite its anachronistic rock beat narrating the part of the story that takes place in the 1940s, covers the musical chairs of changing dictatorships amusingly (though it’s handled in a much wittier fashion in the stage version as an actual game of musical chairs). In the second half, “The Money Keeps Rolling In” makes its point well and helps buoy up the film’s sagging, emotionally debilitating second half.



    Video Quality

    3.5/5


    The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The visuals have a warm look to them, perhaps even a touch too brown, but clarity is above average only, and sharpness is never outstanding. Long shots look especially soft and inexpressive. Color is nicely saturated, but black levels are rather milky, and contrast is a bit foggier than one might like. It’s virtually artifact free, and does constitute a big improvement from the DVD release of some years ago. The film has been divided into 33 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    4.5/5


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is precisely what one would want for a musical with a large orchestra: a full, rich encode of this pop opera classic with an expansive heft to the music into the fronts and rears and very effective bass management which never overpowers the singers in the center channel. Elsewhere, however, there is a bit less impressive impact with the crowd noises, explosions, and such, but as the music is the film’s reason for existing, these are minor quibbles.



    Special Features

    2.5/5


    All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.


    “The Making of Evita is a 42 ¼-minute behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the movie in both Argentina and in Europe and featuring interviews with stars Madonna, Antonio Bandaras, and Jonathan Pryce, director Alan Parker, costume designer Penny Rose, and others.


    The Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me” is presented in a music video and is sung by Madonna. It lasts 3 ¼ minutes.


    The film’s teaser trailer runs 2 minutes.


    There are promo trailers for The Odd Life of Timothy Green and Castle: Season Four.



    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)


    It’s not the movie that it could have been with a more dynamic singing star at its center, but Evita puts the memorable score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice onto celluloid, and for those who have never seen a first-rate stage version of the musical, it will more than suffice.




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. moviepas

    moviepas Supporting Actor

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    Wow. Here I am all the way over in Australia and for once I got a Blu before your review. It flew in 24 hours ago with the heavy Three Stooges Ultimate box. I like it when I get my US orders before US reviews of same!!!! I had to sign for this box because of the Stooges heavy set inside. Usually I don't have to do this.

    I saw part of it over lunch yesterday and liked what I saw. A film that, at one time, looked like would never be made. So many changes of lead cast announcements before Madonna finally tookover and made it. Andrew's Love Never Dies Blu Ray was a delight. Filmed on stage before a live audience over about three performances at the theater it was playing at about three streets from the former downtown city hospital I was born in. How they got no audience noise until the very end is truly amazing.
     
  3. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Ordinarily, these would have arrived before street date, but sometimes there are breakdowns in communication and/or mail delays. Not quite sure what happened in this case, but I'm grateful the Disney vault titles for June will get reviewed here over the next few days.
     
  4. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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    Matt,
    Nice comparison of the film versus the stage production. I do like the film, but it does pale in contrast with the stage musical (which I've seen twice). I didn't care for the additional songs, and was always disappointed that they gave "Another Suitcase" to Madonna.
     
  5. bryan4999

    bryan4999 Supporting Actor

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    Matt -
    Could not agree more with your assessment of the "Buenos Aires" number. What was a powerful storytelling song in the stage original is just nothing in the film, even the orchestration is bland. I had forgotten until watching it again - it had been quite a while because I couldn't stand to watch the DVD - the song ended and I was flabbergasted, thinking, "That's it?" That being said, I am happy with the picture and sound. I was able to watch it without being distracted by the technology, and I like the movie as a whole despite its shortcomings.
     
  6. Chuck Pennington

    Chuck Pennington Supporting Actor

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    Just my two cents on the review and comments -
    The transfer is excellent, very dark but clear, and trumps the old DVD unabashedly (which it should). It's funny that Matt thought that it was overly brown, as it is actually a bit less so than the DVD, and it appears to be a stylistic choice. I read another review online that said this Blu-ray was a case of two different transfers - the first half of the film is soft, the second half sharp. I think this is because the first half of the film is mostly shot soft-focus, and as Eva ages in the film the image gets sharper. The soft-focus quality was also on the DVD, though it was so soft throughout that it is difficult to tell what is of the film and what is because of the limitations of that transfer. I offer up these comparisons (downscaled here, but click on them and they are larger), the DVD captures being from the anamorphic Japanese DVD release of 2003.
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    Now, as for the compression/encoding of the Blu-ray transfer itself, it appears that some corners were cut. There IS macroblocking apparent in a few scenes, most notably on the left-hand side of the screen during the beginning of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", as the wall holds-shifts-holds-shifts in the background. This was the one moment that jumped out at me, but it wasn't enough to spoil my excitement at finally having the film in a quality 1080p transfer. I'm surprised Matt didn't notice this when reviewing the disc.
    And as for comments on the changes to the stage show, I have this to add. I am not old enough to have seen the original Broadway production, but I have friends who did see it and they said it incorporated a lot of projections of newsreels and the like. I saw the current revival with Ricky Martin in March, and it made me appreciate the film that much more. Granted, they greatly softened Eva's character in the film, giving some of her cattiest lines to members of her family and making her more sympathetic by giving her "Another Suitcase..." Perhaps the original Broadway production came alive during "Buenos Aires," but the current production is pretty static in that section.
    While witnessing the current Broadway revival (and I use the term "witness" on purpose), I found myself missing the beautiful instrumental interludes that were added for the film, and I greatly disliked how they have added "You Must Love Me" from the film and turned it into a duet between Eva and Juan. Ricky Martin is all smiles and plays the role as "Here is Ricky Martin in a play" rather than the character, though his diction is good. Shrill is all I can say about both the regular Eva, Elena Roger, and her standby who does the Wednesday evening and Saturday matinee performances (one of which I was unlucky enough to see). There are no projections of newsreels or innovative ways of changing time and place on that stage, elements that I hear made the original production so special.
    I greatly admire the film, more so after seeing the current Broadway revival, though I still have problems with it. I don't care for how overly dramatic all of the people are in many scenes, with gestures and expressions more akin to a silent film that one made in 2006. There are many Spielburg-ian close-ups of anonymous people with bold expressions, something that has never sat well with me.
    I had hoped the sound might be reworked a bit for Blu-ray, as voices still sound far too bright and are removed from the visuals more than necessary, pre-recorded or not. Still, the sound on the Blu-ray is the best that I've heard it outside of the CD release of the soundtrack, and the equalization issues I have date back to the way it was originally mixed and are not a fault with the Blu-ray transfer.
    I miss the Alan Parker commentary that was a part of the Criterion Laserdisc set, and I also miss the just over a minute of footage cut from "The Making of Evita" on the Blu-ray. It was one of my favorite moments of the documentary when I viewed it on the Criterion set, and I was shocked to find it missing after viewing the documentary on the Blu-ray. For those that are interested, here is the missing footage you won't see on the Blu-ray:
     
  7. trajan

    trajan Screenwriter

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    Chuck, enjoyed your comments and screen caps. I always felt this was Alan Parkers finest film but could never get over how badly it was treated on dvd, being non-anamorphic and such. .
     
  8. bryan4999

    bryan4999 Supporting Actor

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    I have not seen the current revival (nor am I likely to), but from your description please don't judge the original based on the revival. In the original, the "Buenos Aires" number depicted Eva's rise through society's ranks very cleverly through staging, with a lot of movement and partial set pieces. Truly thrilling.
    I had to laugh at your comment about the "overly dramatic people" - last week when I received the blu-ray I invited a friend over for dinner and the movie. He had never seen it, and after about half an hour he said he couldn't stand watching any more of it because of the "melodrama" acting. I had also (finally) purchased the terrific blu-ray of "Close Encounters", so we watched that instead and had a great time. But after he went home I put "Evita" back in the player and enjoyed it. I find it very atmospheric and Antonio Banderas really does a good job IMO. I happen to be OK with Madonna in the role, although I know a lot of people have different opinions about the casting.
     
  9. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    Yes indeed it was. The entire original concept was clever and thrilling. Didn't see it in NYC, but I saw the original staging when it played in L.A. the first time, and another production there (same staging) several years later, and both were simply great theater. The newsreel and other projections were novel and stunning for the day, but even now when community productions emulate it, it still kicks the whole thing up to where it needs to be. Prior to seeing it, I'd played the original B'way cast recording to death (okay, not really, I still have it and it's in great shape because by those years I knew how to care for records -- sorry to digress), and I was totally in love with the score. That hasn't changed -- it's still my favorite ALW, hands down.



    As for the Ricky Martin, I'm afraid the Tony Awards number was all I needed to see of that production.



    When the film was released I had every intention of seeing it, but somehow or other I just never got to it. Didn't get the LD, either, or the DVD. I've sat through large portions of it on cable several times, but I probably still have yet to see every last bit of it. I wanted to like it, but I have to echo the sentiments already expressed. It simply lacked all the stage excitement, even before taking into account the casting and the alterations such as "Another Suitcase", the newly added songs, etc. For me, it just wasn't a representation of the Evita I've known and loved all these years.
     
  10. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    BTW, thanks for the excellent image comparisons, Chuck.
     
  11. Chuck Pennington

    Chuck Pennington Supporting Actor

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    I was thinking of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS... and the dramatic closeups of anonymous people in that movie when commenting on EVITA, especially the moment near the beginning when all of the people are waiting around on the hillside for the UFO. Funny.
     
  12. Chuck Pennington

    Chuck Pennington Supporting Actor

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    I'm one of the few that prefers the London cast recording from 1978 with Elaine Paige, though it is terribly abridged, over the 1979 US premiere recording. I always found that recording with LuPone too "breathy" for my taste. When pressed, I tend to listen to the movie soundtrack. I only wish the instrumental passages in the film were also on the CD. I always liked the movie, but it has really grown on me even more over the years.
    I think that it is difficult for anything to compare with whichever recording or production that first acquainted one with the material to begin with, which makes me question how the movie of LES MISERABLES is going to be received when there is such debate over which of its many recordings or productions is "the best".
     
  13. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member

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    You are totally right. It seems to be ingrained for us to identify most strongly -- even rigidly -- with whatever version or interpretation of any piece of music or theater we first became familiar with. I forget the details now, but I believe I found the London cast recording to be a little anemic in some way. Have to check that one out again sometime.

    What's really amusing is to go back to the original "concept" album after having identified with any of the stage/film versions. There must be people who find any one but that one a travesty. Basically, you can't win.
     
  14. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director
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    Yes, I saw the original production in New York and later the national tour, so I was steeped in the stage incarnation of the piece, and the movie, while entertaining, just doesn't quite pass muster in comparison. In reviewing it (and other movie versions of stage musicals I've seen and loved), I try to make allowances and judge the movie on its own terms. My final summing up sentence relates how I feel overall: for someone who has never seen a first-rate stage production of Evita (and judging from the reviews I've read of the current revival, that doesn't count as a first-rate production with an anemic leading actress and Ricky Martin doing his own thing: it was no accident neither of them earned a Tony nomination this year), the movie is an adequate substitute to get to know the material. But it's still a compromised version of the original piece to me and always will be.
     

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