Aria maybe a very ‘eighties' attempt at bringing opera to the screen, but such an impressive pedigree of talent was involved with the film that at the very least, you have to be curious, right? Each in this picture was directed by its own unique filmmaker: Robert Altman (Les Boréades), Bruce Beresford (Die tote Stadt), Bill Bryden (I pagliacci), Jean-Luc Godard (Armide), Derek Jarman (Depuis le jour), Franc Roddam (Liebestod), Nicolas Roeg (Un ballo in maschera), Ken Russell (Nessun dorma), Charles Sturridge (La virgine degli angeli), and Julien Temple (Rigoletto), to be precise. And when you add to that the fact that Theresa Russell, John Hurt, Elizabeth Hurley (in her birthday suit!), Bridget Fonda (in her feature film debut no less), Beverly D'Angelo, Tilda Swinton, James Mathers and quite a few other recognizable names and faces all appear in front of the camera, well, it's hard not to have your curiosity piqued. The results are fairly nutty, but in a pretty captivating way.
A wraparound story starring John Hurt as a musician whose time in the limelight is fading plays out between each of the major segments. From there, Nicolas Roeg's segment kicks things off. Here he borrows Verdi's work telling the story of an Albanian King (played by Theresa Russell, Roeg's wife) who sets his sights on a beautiful young Baroness unaware that behind his back there's an assassination plot unfolding. Like a lot of Roeg's work it is patently bizarre but it's also visually flamboyant and Russell is great here. From there we watch Sturridge's piece, shot in black and white, about a tragedy that befalls a trio of children who cut class only to die in a car accident. Jean-Luc Godard's segment is also fairly bizarre. Here we see two pretty young women employed as cleaning ladies get naked and poke about the gym where they work, only to be completely ignored by the male body builders working out there. Temple's piece is much more coherent, as it tells the story of a movie producer played by Buck Henry who runs off with actress Beverly D'Angelo to the Madonna Inn only to find that his wife is there with another man. This one is quite funny and like much of Temple's eighties output, quirky as can be. Bruce Beresford's piece is very dreamlike, and quite surreal, as it features Ms. Hurley dancing about in the buff to Korngold's compositions. Not much of a story here but the visuals are impressive indeed. Altman's piece is interesting as it was shot from the stage looking towards the audience. From the performer's point of view, the audience is pretty despicable! Not surprisingly, Ken Russell's take on Puccini's Turandot is a highlight. Russell always had a fantastic knack for combining visuals and music and this sees him in fine form. His story stars model Linzi Drew as she fantasizes about her body being covered in jewels only to wake up on the operating table recovering from a car accident. No one mixes sex and flamboyant visuals with over the top sounds like Russell. Last but not least, in Derek Jarman's piece we see a singer (Tilda Swinton) giving her farewell performance intercut with old 8mm footage of her in her younger days having a torrid affair.
All of the performances shot for this feature pre-recorded music so no one is actually singing in front of the camera here, but most of the time you can't tell and if you can, you won't mind. As the various directors take us on a series of journeys that regularly shift between the ridiculous and the sublime, we're treated to some very different takes on the material. Godard's piece is strange and playful, Roeg's is dark and Russell's is… Russell. All of this material is shot very lavishly and the production values, the sets and the costumes are all impressive. Even if you're not an opera fan, this is worth checking out just for the visuals and for the sheer variety of styles that are employed in the film. The bridging segments involving Hurt putting on clown makeup don't really add much, the movie might have actually been better off without them, but most of the material here is at least interesting if not always entirely successful.
Aria arrives on Blu-ray in time for its thirtieth anniversary in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Detail isn't reference quality and much of the film was shot with an intentionally soft look to it but this definitely surpasses previous standard definition releases. There's a reasonable amount of film grain here but very little in the way of print damage, just some small white specks now and again. There isn't any evidence of noise reduction of edge enhancement, and as such the image is quite film-like, but some mild compression artifacts can be spotted in a few of the movie's darker scenes. The transfer takes up roughly 28GBs on the 50GB disc it is presented on.
The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM 2.0 track. The back of the packaging touts it as Dobly Digital 2.0 but thankfully that is not the case. The audio quality here is quite good, all of the music sounds powerful but never overdone and the levels are nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion worth noting.
A trailer for Tanna plays before the main menu loads. Once there, we find a trailer for the feature, a still gallery and chapter selection.
Aria isn't always completely successful but it is, nevertheless, a fairly fascinating and experimental feature well worth seeking out for fans out bizarre cinema and opera alike. The Blu-ray release is light on extras but it looks and sounds fairly good. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.