When I was in the fifth and sixth grade, I learned how to play a cello. Despite my attempts at learning the instrument, it was a constant struggle to be able to read sheet music and get my hands to cooperate in an appropriate manner. Personally, I think it had something to do with the fact that instrument spent half the time in the shop (school provided) rather than in my hands. Today’s review explores a similar subject, the movie: The Piano. Let’s see how well Holly Hunter does with her instrument.
We hear a voice. But it is not a speaking voice, rather a voice inside a female’s head. That female is Ada McGrath (played by Holly Hunter). She’s been a mute since she was six years old. For a little while now, she’s been without a spouse and unfortunately for her, she’s been promised to a man in New Zealand who has never met her. All of her belongings included her prized possession, a piano and her eleven year old daughter by the name of Flora (played by Anna Paquin) are put on a boat and the crew sets sail for the island.
However, when the boat gets to New Zealand, there is nobody there to greet her and her daughter. The captain orders the crew to take the belongings including the grand piano and deposit them on the beach much to Ada’s chagrin. So, there they sit until the following morning when they are met by Alistair Stewart (played by Sam Neill) and his right hand man, George Baines (played by Harvey Keitel) along with a band of Maori natives.
The natives are ordered to take Ada and Flora along with their belongings back to Alistair’s home. That would be all of their belongings except for her piano. Ada protests, but is overruled. The trip is quite treacherous as they trek through a ton of mud to get to their destination. When they finally get there, Alistair spends days trying to be affectionate towards Ada in an attempt to consummate their marriage. The attempts fail, and all the while, the piano sits on the beach. (I hope it does not rain.)
One day, Alistair tells Ada that he is going to be gone for several days, away on business. Ada decides with Flora’s help to convince George to take them to the beach. At first, he refuses and closes the door. Eventually, he changes his mind and decides to make the journey with the two girls in tow. When they reach the beach, Ada sees her piano and sits down to make beautiful music. Flora plays in the waves and George starts to listen to the enchanting tunes. They make his heart dance and soon he realizes he must do what he can to get this instrument into a secure location. His house.
This picture is set in the mid-19th century and the intention of the movie is to set up an erotic love story between a mute piano player and a right hand man. Holly Hunter plays her role quite well and is able to convey expression without saying a word. However, for George, we get Harvey Keitel. Yes, that Harvey Keitel, known mostly for mobster bad guy type movies. Also, for the squeamish and those who are familiar with Mr. Keitel’s work, he has no problem showing off his body. All of it.
Honestly, I would have pictured a more brooding, something along the lines of an Antonio Banderas to sweep Holly Hunter off her feet. Furthermore, the role almost comes off as George trying to force Ada into having sex with him before the two falling in love with each other. This comes off almost a bit creepy or stalkerish in aspect. Sam Neill does not probably get enough credit for his portrayal of Alistair. He wants for Ada to love him, he desires her, yet he continuously makes mistakes until he erupts in a violent rage.
Another role that deserves mention is Anna Paquin’s role of Flora. Flora expresses for us in words everything that Ada tries to convey in sign language and body movement. She does an excellent job of this task but also details for us her own feelings and how she grows through this story. It is no wonder that she ended up winning an Academy Award for her actions. If there had been more of a love story and less of a creepy bore fest, I would be a lot more appreciative of this movie.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen presentation at 1080p resolution. This movie was made way back in 1993 and filmed primarily in New Zealand. The location is lush and beautiful as expected. The color is very strong and develops a good sense of what life was probably like in this time period. We are even able to see the Maori native’s face paint detail except occasionally when it ends up looking like a goatee on a female. Far better than expected, and the movie is a treat visually.
For the audio portion, we get a 2.0 DTS-HD track. This is a fairly basic track. As one could probably surmise, most of the movie is enveloped by piano music (coming of course presumably from Ada’s piano). It is typically beautiful if not a bit haunting at times to convey the various events unfolding. Dialog is clear and there should be no issues with any of the New Zealand or Scottish accents. It is mostly dialog with classical music thrown in. Subtitles are provided for English, English SDH and Spanish folks.
- Automatic Trailers: English Patient, Cold Mountain, Winter’s Bone, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Epix HD
- Theatrical Trailer 1:46: I will say it once, and probably a million times. When you have to fill your trailer with comments of what other people think or the Awards it has won to advertise your film, then the people who end up seeing it will have double the potential to be disappointed by it. Saying that as a critic is probably a bit weird to some. But a two second “blurb” never says enough about a movie that is ninety minutes or longer.
The Piano did quite well for its simplistic ($7 million) budget. It grossed 40 million dollars domestically and won three Academy Awards, one for Holly Hunter, one for Anna Paquin and one for the screenplay (Eight nominations). I can understand why, it is a very typical Academy movie. The description reads like this : “Woman with disability in a period foreign location who is romanced in a forbidden love affair with “common” man.” The problem is that this will bore most people into a tidy little nap.
The actual disc is a very good blu-ray as long as you can accept that there are no extras to speak of. Video is excellent, audio is above average and Lionsgate has done a great job with these Miramax titles. The movie just is not very good, so therefore I can not give this a recommendation. Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin do their best to provide a quality picture but can not overcome the writing and certain other cast members. It is unfortunate, but this will only appeal to a select audience.