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Rated R.

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Not closed-captioned

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 8/20/2002

• Filmographies


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Aria: Remastered Version (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 19, 2003)

Imagine a collection of music videos created for opera works and you’ll wind up with Aria. A very unusual film from 1987, Aria takes ten notable directors, allows them to choose pieces of opera and then create short films set to that music. It’s an interesting concept but only a sporadically compelling movie.

Film fans will find many familiar names among the ten directors featured here. We get a mix of legends like Robert Altman and Jean-Luc Godard as well as “where are they now?” talent like Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners) and Franc Roddam (Quadrophenia). We also find some “never-wases” like Bill Bryden and Charles Sturridge.

Each director gets a different opera snippet with which to work. They then went their own way and created short programs based on the music. Directed by Bryden, some shots of John Hurt as he prepares for “I Pagliacci” give the film a running theme as these moments pop up between the other parts; this culminates in a full clip at the flick’s end.

A mix of other familiar actors show up in these snippets as well, though many weren’t too well known at the time. We see then-unknowns like Bridget Fonda and Elizabeth Hurley as well as more established actors such as Hurt, Buck Henry, and Beverly D’Angelo.

The clips vary between those with fairly firm narrative thrusts and others that favor a more general visual motif. Altman’s take on “Les Boreades” shows a performance of the opera from the point of view of a freak-show audience, while Ken Russell’s “Nessun Dorma” provides a surreal examination of a car crash.

None of the clips try so hard to emphasize story as Temple’s “Rigoletto”. That one offers a substantial amount of dialogue – a feature virtually absent elsewhere – and feels more distant from the spirit of the project. Temple became known for a camera technique that made it look like he followed minutes of action without cuts; he also used this in Beginners as well as the video for Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You”. This seemed clever for about five minutes, but it became tiresome, and though his “Rigoletto” probably offers Aria’s most accessible clip, I think it’s one of the less successful ones.

Bruce Beresford’s “Die Tote Stadt” merits some attention simply because it shows a nude Liz Hurley. Otherwise, it seems short and pointless. Actually, Hurley looks almost unrecognizable here; her face seems very different.

Bridget Fonda also goes naked in “Liebestod”, and she doesn’t much look like her current self either. However, Roddam’s “Liebestod” provides a much more compelling piece. Actually, this simple but poignant tale of two suicidal lovers may well be the most effective clip found in Aria.

My second favorite would probably be Russell’s “Dorma”. I never much cared for the director’s trippy work, but something about this clip seems clever and engaging. The material fits his style and offers one of the more intriguing works on the DVD. (It also provides the package’s cover image.)

Overall, Aria remains a mixed bag. The concept seems very intriguing, and some of the clips provide arresting and inventive musical interpretations. However, too many of them fall flat for the film to succeed totally. Still, even in failure, Aria offers something different and reasonably watchable. Besides, if you don’t like the current piece, just wait a few minutes and you’ll get a new one; with 10 bits packed into its 88-minute running time, the pace never drags.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus D-

Aria appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to the wide mix of directors featured here, the quality of the different segments varied, but the picture generally looked quite good.

Sharpness usually seemed solid. A few moderately soft portions appeared, but those issues occurred infrequently. Most of the movie looked reasonably accurate and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. In regard to print issues, occasional examples of streaks, specks and marks occurred, but those didn’t cause any substantial problems. I also witnessed a little light grain at times. . For the most part, the DVD remained fairly clean and fresh.

With the wide mix of directors, Aria offered radically varying colors, but the disc showed them well most of the time. On occasion, the hues seemed a little muddy, but the colors usually came across as acceptably vibrant and distinct. Black levels seemed nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but not overly dense. If I needed to choose the best looking short, I’d go with “Rigoletto”, largely due to its excellent colors. The other segments also seemed strong most of the time, and I felt generally pleased with the visuals of Aria.

I also thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Aria worked acceptably well. Obviously, the soundfield mainly dealt with the music. The score showed good stereo imaging, and the surrounds contributed a nice sense of reinforcement for those elements. Effects also cropped up at times, and the track created a positive sense of ambience. Elements came across as neatly localized and they moved smoothly between the channels, and the rear speakers added moderate atmosphere. Because music so heavily dominated the piece, the soundfield remained modest, but it appeared fine for the material.

Audio quality seemed fairly solid. Dialogue and effects appeared infrequently and provided small parts of the track. Both of those elements seemed acceptably distinct and accurate, but they didn’t stand out in any particular way. Music generally appeared reasonably good. Highs came across as bright and vivid, but low-end seemed a little flat. The music demonstrated decent bass, but I felt that domain should have seemed stronger. Nonetheless, the soundtrack to Aria remained positive for this film.

Aria skimps on extras. All we find are Filmographies for directors Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Bill Bryden, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Franc Roddam, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, Charles Sturridge, and Julien Temple. I can’t expect audio commentaries from all those subjects, but some additional information about this unusual project would have been useful.

If you want to see something unusual, take a look at Aria. The movie contains 10 short films based on works of opera. While not all of them succeed, the project as a whole seems inventive and refreshing. The DVD offers reasonably good picture and sound but lacks substantial extras. Still, with a list price of about $20, Aria merits a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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