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Piano (The Criterion Collection), The

The Criterion Collection // R // February 8, 2022
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted February 28, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Writer/director Jane Campion highly lauded, critically acclaimed award winner film, 1993's The Piano, is set in the nineteenth century and stars Holly Hunter in an Oscar-winning role as Ada McGrath, a Scottish woman who it, by choice, mute. Instead of speaking, she instead opts to express herself through her piano playing and, understandably, is very attached to her personal piano. When she becomes party to an arranged marriage, she and her daughter, Flora (a young Anna Paquin), find themselves shipped off to New Zealand to start a new life. When Ada can't communicate through her piano, she uses sign language with Flora interprets for people. They arrive, Ada's piano with them, and find a land very different than the European home they left.

The man that Ada is to be married to is Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). When Ada and Flora arrive with the piano, Stewart decides that it'll be too much effort to have the piano carried from the beach to the house and so it's left on the shore. This obviously doesn't sit well with Ada but soon enough, she and Flora start to adjust to their new life, but it's clear that Ada and Stewart feel no affection towards one another. When Ada decides to head to the beach and play her beloved piano one day, she's watched and listened to by a man named George Baines (Harvey Keitel), who has Maori tribal tattoos on his face. Quite taken by the music, Baines makes a deal with Stewart and trades him some of his neighboring land for the instrument. Ada is, of course, furious that Stewart would make such a deal, but soon enough, Baines starts letting Ada over to play, at which point he engages with her in a very unorthodox game of seduction.

Beautifully lensed by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh on location in New Zealand, The Piano is a feast for the eyes. The wild shores of New Zealand are captured beautifully in this film, and the locations prove to be a very important part of the film, really hammering home how alone in so many ways Ada and Flora are in their new home. Equally strong is the score from Michael Nyman, an excellent collection of compositions that do everything a great score should be, heightening tension and drama and emotion in the way that only music can do.

And while the movie may be very stylish and lush, it's also extremely well-directed with Campion, who grabbed the Oscar for Best Screenplay, getting nominated for Best Director that same year. Campion not only gets fantastic, moving performances out of each and every one of her cast members but she manages to do a remarkable job building tension and atmosphere all while really putting us into Ada's headspace as this strange story plays out on the screen in front of us. The film is also rife with sexual tension, an unorthodox eroticism playing a huge part in its draw, but never crossing into exploitation territory even when it does get more graphic than first time viewers will certainly expect.

Speaking of awards, both Hunter and Paquin took home Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively, each very deserving of the honors bestowed upon them for their work in the film. They really do a great job of making their characters seem real and very human, flaws and all. We don't always agree with their choices but they make sure we understand their characters motivations, Hunter in particular as her character goes through some very complex and difficult emotions. Paquin, however, must not be forgotten about, particularly as she has more dialogue than pretty much any other character in the film and delivers it all with a lot more skill and talent than you'd wager a child actor could bring to a movie like this. Keitel is also excellent here, his character not quite the ‘savage' he may at first seem to be and he is, in a few key scenes, surprisingly sensitive. Neill is every bit as good as the rest of the leads, bringing to his a character an unexpected but very appropriate sense of sadness that creeps up on the viewer as the story plays out.

The Video:

The Criterion Collection brings The Piano to Blu-ray from a "new, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Stuart Dryburgh and approved by director Jane Campion." Framed at 1.85.1 and offered up in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the transfer is very impressive on this disc. Detail is very strong and the film's intentionally blue tinted color scheme is retained. There's good depth to the image and color reproduction looks fantastic. We get nice, accurate looking skin tones and the picture looks filmic throughout, showing natural film grain but virtually no actual print damage. Compression artifacts and edge enhancement are never a problem and the image is free of any obvious noise reduction.

The Audio:

The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in the film's native language, sound excellent. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Sound quality is excellent. Dialogue is always clean and clear and the rear channels do a great job of bringing some of the more active scenes to life, those that take place near the shore being a prime sample as you get to hear the waves roaring in the background. The score is reproduced with impressive precision and depth and there are no problems to note with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. It sounds excellent.

The Extras:

Extra features begin with an audio commentary by director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman. Ported over from the special edition DVD release, it's an interesting talk that covers what it was like shooting in some very remote locations, what inspired certain aspects of the movie, casting the film and the quality of the performances in the movie, thoughts on Paquin's character and how her performance brings her to life and lots more.

There are also quite a few worthwhile featurettes included on the disc, first of which is a New Conversation Between Jane Campion And Film Critic Amy Taubin that runs for twenty-seven minutes. Here, the two women cover the making of the film in some interesting detail, going pretty deep into the importance of the location shooting and what that was able to bring to the movie visually and thematically, what it was like on set and working with the actors among other things. Also new to this disc is a ten minute Interview With Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh where he goes over what it was like working with Campion, how their relationship developed over the making of the movie, what went into creating some of the very distinct visuals in the film. A thirteen minute Interview With Production Designer Andrew McAlpine is also new to this release and it details his work designing and creating the different sets where much of the movie takes place, working with Campion and more. The last of the new featurettes on the disc is a fifteen minute Interview With Waihoroi Shortland where he talks about his working advising Campion on Maori customs and traditions and how that worked its way into the movie.

There's also a wealth of archival supplemental material here, starting with Inside "The Piano," a fifteen minute featurette that features some nice behind the scenes footage as well as interviews with Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill. Hunter gets a solo interview where she spends twenty-three minutes talking about her part in the movie, her character and the special working relationship that she had with director Jane Campion. "The Piano" At 25 is a thirty-one minute piece that lets Campion and producer Jan Chapman look back on the making of the movie and reflect on their accomplishments and experiences. Composer Michael Nyman talks for twenty-four minutes about his work on the picture and what went into his score as well as what it was like working with Campion. Costume designer Janet Patterson speaks for eighteen minutes about her work on the film and what went into getting the wardrobe and some of the period detail it required correct.

Finishing up the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, Campions 2006 short film Water Diary, menus and chapter selection options.

And of course, Criterion includes an insert booklet that contains credits for the movie and the Blu-ray release as well as an essay by critic Carmen Gray titled Gothic Gone South.


The Piano remains a tense and moving film, expertly directed and full of excellent performances and strong production values. Criterion's special edition Blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic and contains an impressive array of extra features both new and old. Highly 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.

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Highly Recommended

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