One of the most sensual movies I have ever seen, The Piano owes much to Holly Hunter’s central depiction of the voluntarily mute Ada, who communicates through her music (she tickled her own ivories for the role), through sign language, and through her remarkably expressive face. A single mother dispatched with her daughter from Scotland to New Zealand for an arranged marriage, Ada soon finds herself the unwitting target of the affections of an unexpected admirer, igniting love, lust, and no small measure of understandable jealous rage. Anna Paquin also shines as innocent young Flora, gleefully embodying a range of moods that should be beyond an actress of only eleven years. A decidedly adult tale, at times shockingly so, The Piano irresistibly stirs the heart with its inspired performances, passionate music, and gorgeous visuals.
This is Criterion’s first go at Jane Campion’s rightly lauded 1993 film, and the boutique label has undertaken a new 4K/16-bit scan of the original 35mm negative, with hands-on mastering and grading by the director and her cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. Much of the story is set beneath overcast skies, and the dimly lit faces display a pleasingly natural quality. Darker portions of the 1.85:1 frame appear inky and organic, although sometimes lacking in detail, and a healthy but never distracting layer of grain remains. The Piano is presented in Dolby Vision high dynamic range and colors in the scenery and costumes are top-notch, notably the greens of the foliage and the crimson pop of Flora’s cloak. Highlights are rendered effectively and are not overly bright.
Audio is a restored, remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack versus 2.0 on the 2012 Blu-ray release, and it credibly conveys rain, thunder, and the pounding surf, while the jungle comes alive with myriad birds and insects that envelop us as they do the characters. As you might have guessed from the title, music here is vitally important, and Michael Nyman’s original compositions (surprisingly not nominated for an Oscar) now feel more subtly layered within the overall mix as they bring primal emotions to the surface.
Most of the extras are ported from past promotions, such as an audio commentary recorded in 2006 with Campion and producer Jan Chapman that explores the film’s subtext, symbolism, and meaning. It’s accessible on both the 4K disc and the included regular HD Blu-ray, and the latter also contains some new on-camera interviews and discussions alongside featurettes and Campion’s short film, The Water Diary.
Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio: Criterion, 1993
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 120 mins.
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Genevieve Lemon