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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dario Argento's Opera (Blu-ray)
Dario Argento's Opera (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing // R // January 23, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 15, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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When the famous star headlining an ambitious opera of Macbeth gets into a car accident just a few hours before the first performance, it's supposedly good news for Betty (Cristina Marsillach), pushed from understudy into the spotlight. Despite the reassurances of Marco (Ian Charleson), the Hollywood director staging the elaborate show, Betty isn't convinced of her abilities -- and she finds herself further ravaged by stage fright when a mysterious madman pops up and starts killing other members of the crew right in front of her eyes. What exactly does the killer want -- and why does he seem to have walked right out of a recurring nightmare of hers?

If Opera has a theme, I suppose it's the nature of opera itself -- bold emotions, lavish production design, and striking visuals (right down to the extravagant opera within Opera that Marco is staging, which a couple of characters snipe at in a bit of self-deprecating winking). Throughout its wild 108-minute running time, Opera serves up something grandiose or spectacular. Even if Argento's screenplay is a little flimsy and occasionally muddled when it comes to matters of plot and character motivation, it's easy to get swept up in the movie's overall style, which is some of the most eye-catching and memorable filmmaking in Argento's oeuvre.

For one thing, Argento keeps the camera moving, constantly cutting to POV shots from the killer's perspective that sweep through the opera house, down staircases and across rooms with a surreal smoothness. Death sequences are particularly brutal, both on-screen (a man who takes a knife through the throat then survives a few more minutes, holding his hands up to protect his face only to have them stabbed as well) and off (although Argento keeps the violence beneath frame, one victim has their throat cut open with a pair of gigantic scissors). Occasionally, he dips into flourishes that feel as if they'd be right at home in a comic book, such as the sight of a gigantic bullet that flies through an improbable space and manages to take out not one, but two targets with an impossible precision. The production design is exquisite, from a palace-like bedroom to Sound of Music-like picturesque hillsides, and Betty's costumes are stunning as well. Above all, there are also multiple spectacular sequences involving crows. The viewer may get tired of hearing them caw, but it's impressive how well Argento manages to get them to act.

If there's a missing ingredient in the film, it's the firm thematic backbone of Tenebrae, or the compelling mystery of Suspiria. Although there is, of course, an answer to the mystery of the murders, it never feels as if it means much to the viewer, despite the ways it's tied into Betty's past. The reveal doesn't necessarily change much about the nature of the murders -- the row of needles the killer tapes to Betty's eyes feel as if they visually symbolize prison bars, but if so, never more than her inability to run away as her stalker commits another crime. Various characters, including her boyfriend Stefano (William McNamara), her agent Mira (Daria Nicolodi), police officer Santini (Urbano Barberini), and Giulia (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) never feel as if they make much of an impression beyond serving as potential victims or killers.

The script also doesn't feel as if it has much of a structure, rushing through the events of a few days in a way that comes off simultaneously brief and oddly slow. A big factor in this is the way Betty is more or less unaffected by the horrible sights she sees. Although she is certainly distraught, scenes such as the one where she casually walks to a pay phone after a particularly brutal kill, or her willingness to keep appearing in the opera at all after multiple murders (even with Marco advising her that he has a clever plan to suss out the killer) come off as odd. A study of the film on a detailed level doesn't necessarily reveal much going on beneath the surface -- better for viewers to lean back, turn up the volume, and let the boldness of the whole project wash over them.

The Blu-ray
Opera arrives with one of its original theatrical poster designs intact, right down to the way Argento's name appears above the title, more like an actor than a director. The image features a black-and-white rendition of the opera hall and the infamous needle-tape, with red highlights for the title and for a single trickle of blood. The one-disc release comes in a slightly thicker Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
The package boasts that the 2.39:1 1080p AVC video presentation on the disc is the result of "45 hours of extensive color correction." Having first seen Opera a year or two ago via a particularly out-of-date DVD, this new 2K master is a revelation, bringing the clarity, depth, and color of the picture up to practically "shot-in-2018" levels. There's no hint whatsoever here of modern teal-and-orange revisionist tendencies -- the palette appears perfectly managed, with crisp whites, excellent reproduction of skin tone, and nicely-defined black levels. A thin veneer of film grain lays over the image, and the crispness and depth to the picture are especially impressive, the highlight being the film's climactic outdoor sequence. There is only one minor quibble: some print damage does fleck the screen from time to time, and one early hallway shot shows a noticeable line, especially near the top of the frame. Still: truly top-notch work.

The disc's two audio tracks are more of a mixed bag, but this has quite a bit to do with Argento's original sound design choices rather than the choices made for the disc. On offer: a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and an original DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. As many fans of Opera will know and new viewers will quickly notice, there is an effect on the dialogue in the film, a reverb that is meant to accentuate the spacious nature of the movie's opera house. However, the effect is persistent throughout the film, and can be distracting at times. This being an Italian film, the track also features especially artificial dubbing for most of the characters, adding to the unnatural sound of the film. The "built-in" effect and traditionally unusual recording makes the additional space and separation of the newly-created 5.1 track a bit surreal. The 5.1 remix also makes the occasional odd choice with the dialogue, such as having it come out of all of the front speakers (plus some trickle in the back). The overall sound of the mix is also a bit quieter. For my money, I preferred the 2.0 track, which still creates the stereo effect and packs a bit more of a punch. In any case, both are available for the viewer to choose from. Sadly, no captions or subtitles of any kind are included, which is a bit of a pain when it comes to the occasional muffled, whispered line reading.

The Extras
Two extras are included. The first is an interview with Dario Argento (21:41). Although this interview isn't labeled "brand-new" like the other one, it's still only a couple of years old. Argento touches on the development of the film, the technical complications of shooting so many ravens, and his contentious relationship with Cristina Marsillach. The second is the aforementioned "brand new" interview with William McNamara (16:44), which covers how he became involved with the project, his relationship with Argento, the film's legacy, and other fun bits of trivia (the Vanessa Redgrave story is quite entertaining).

Three original theatrical trailers (US, Italian, and International) are also included.

Although this release of Opera is in advance of a more deluxe edition down the road, this more affordable, non-collector's edition is nothing to sniff at. Boasting a spectacular restoration and the original audio, plus a 5.1 remix and two recent interviews to boot, this is a nice little package that is sure to satisfy those who don't need the fancy frills of a more elaborate edition. Highly recommended.

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