Opera [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Cult Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (3rd December 2018).
The Film

CultFilms is proud to bring you this gore-soaked terror classic in a stunning new 2K restoration, with colour regrading carried out under instruction from the maestro himself and in reference to his own, preferred, original cinema print.

Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA) returns to CultFilms with this breath-taking new restoration of his visionary horror masterpiece OPERA. Splattered with stylistic bloodshed and soaring cinematography, OPERA shows Italy’s master of horror at the very height of his game.

When young understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) takes the lead role in a new operatic production of Verdi’s Macbeth, she soon attracts the attention of a knife-wielding psycho who forces her to watch – with eyes pinned open – as he brutally despatches her friends and colleagues with sadistic delight. Can Betty free herself from this unending nightmare or does a more terrifying fate await? OPERA is a ravishing return to the giallo style Argento made his name with, awash with black-gloved killers, lavish bloodletting and the director’s expressionistic Grand Guignol excess.

Video

Writer-director Dario Argento's eccentric, surrealist, experimental, modern dress Giallo variation on The Phantom of the Opera (1911); a far more successful film than his own official adaptation from 1998.

One of Argento's most beautiful looking films due to Ronnie Taylor's ravishing cinematography and it's the last film in a run of topnotch efforts dating back to his first: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). After this his work would become much more uneven and erratic. It's also Argento's personal favourite of his films (stated in the new interview on the new UK Blu-ray disc).

It has all the usual weaknesses; uneven dubbing, uneven performances but all the usual strengths; bizarre plotting, visual imagination to spare, surreal moments (the killer's pulsating brain!) excellent direction, a cracking pace and a killer soundtrack mixing Verdi, heavy metal, Claudio Simonetti, Brian and Roger Eno.

Picture quality is decent with a brighter, more detailed more colourful grade and look. Certainly a distinct improvement over Anchor Bay's disc from 2001 which was the only version I had to compare; it was fine in it's day but retirement beckons. It's only use now is for it's unique and excellent extras which haven't been ported over.

We finally get to see Taylor's lensing as it must have looked when this film premiered at Cannes with an improved grade with healthy reds and deep blacks. Interiors are couched in shadows with plenty of detail in evidence. The production design and set dressing is very detailed and filled with visual interest which come off very well in this new HD transfer.

This is still a film from the late '80s so there is some of the expected softness and haze on show, but it adds to the aesthetically pleasing appearance. The colour palette mostly paddles about in the darker end of the spectrum but flesh tones and the colourful '80s fashions stand out nicely

Black levels are very strong and deep with plenty of shadow detail and only the occasional instance of crush, as befitting such a dark film. Contrast is subtle and there are no blown out whites. The grade is fairly cool with no strong bias that I could detect, but gel lighting stands out beautifully in contrast to all that darkness; pay special attention to the blue-lit opera stages within the film. In the old DVD transfers these looked very grey, but now are lusher and more impressive. Blood - and there's a lot of it - is a vivid, but believable red; not the bright paint used by Argento in the '70s.

The ending of the film is set in a very bright, daylight mountain setting with rich primaries and lots of lush green. Detail is exceptional and there's no sign of any colour bleeding. To sum up; we have a top notch transfer with a proper new grade that finally allows this classic to glow.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 107:13

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 Stereo
Italian LPCM 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English (optional)

Sadly, the English 2.0 stereo soundtrack is as problematic as it has always been with a deliberately echoey effect applied in post production that was meant to only be on the auditorium scenes but was ladled over everything. The English one is definitive because it was the language spoken on set and matches the lip movements best. The echo wasn't present however on the old Anchor Bay DVD.

Recently Scorpion releasing in the US were asked about the effect:

"The echo effect is not a recent anomaly; it was introduced after the first English version was laughed off the screen at Cannes and Urbano Barberini's character was redubbed with an American accent."

The Italian 2.0 stereo track doesn't have this effect, and is an easier listen as a result. Both have decent use of surrounds and very active front channels. Apart from the issue mentioned above there are no distortions and both tracks have good fidelity and base.

Unfortunately, none of the various 5.1 boosts done over the years have been ported over to this new disc.

Optional English subtitles are available and essential for use with the Italian track.

Extras

DVD copy

Not provided for review which is a shame because it's supposed to be the shorter US-Orion cut of the film, which was the first one I ever saw on an horrendous bootleg VHS circa 1990. It apparently runs 94:38 (I assume PAL).

"Opera Backstage" B-roll footage (44:33)

Superb assemblage of b-roll footage from the set focusing in several major set pieces. It's interesting to see Argento at work, handling the shoot like a silent film with a noisy set and very *active* direction from himself. Cristina Marsillach's real voice is heard as well.

"Aria of Fear: Dario Argento Talks About Opera" featurette (40:14)

A chunky new interview with the great man himself and he declares that Opera is the film of his he loves most.

"Restoration Process for Opera" featurette (8:38)

Fascinating short that gives us a side by side comparison of the raw scan of the Super35 open aperture version against the fully restored, properly graded and matted 2.35:1 theatrical version.

Start-up (1:58):
- Introduction by Dario Argento to the new "Suspiria"
- "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" Shameless Trailer


Nice opening trailer for the new 4K restored Suspiria and the theatrical trailer for Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Overall

Generally this is an excellent release of one of Dario Argento's best loved films. It has a fine new transfer that finally restores the films hotter, more vivid colour scheme. However, the soundtracks are disappointing with only basic, lossless LPCM 2.0 stereo versions being on the disc; no 5.1. It's also a shame that the original English language dub hasn't been included for completeness sake as it reportedly doesn't have the odd echo effect which slightly mars the official English track available here.

Extras a choice and welcome with the best being the 45 minutes of behind the scenes B-roll footage and another sizeable and informative interview with Argento. A shame however that the excellent "Conducting Dario Argento's Opera" (2001) hasn't been ported over.

This is a major upgrade in most respects on the previous DVDs which suffered from flat or indifferent transfers, usually bled of the vivid colour scheme.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: B- Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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