Hollywood Pictures // 1996 // 135 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // July 10th, 2012
Don't cry for me, Argentina.
Evita first appeared as a musical concept album by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1976. Two years later, they transferred the vinyl version to the stage, with lavish productions in the West End starring Elaine Paige and on Broadway with Patty Lupone. The cinematic adaptation of Evita suffered through a new twenty year development process, and finally came to life in 1996 with an unlikely cast. Charo, Cher, Barbara Streisand, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Newton John, Maria Conchita Alonso, Meryl Streep, and Liza Minelli were all contenders for the title role, but in the end there could be only one silver screen Eva Peron. Pop singer Madonna (Desperately Seeking Susan) landed the coveted spot, while Latin heart throb Antonio Banderas (Philadelphia) played the narrator Che. The movie was one of the first made for the DVD format, and here it is now in a shiny new 15th anniversary Blu-ray edition. Get ready for a new Argentina!
Evita follows the life and struggles of Eva Duarte (Madonna), a B-film actress who courted then up and coming military man Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies). Juan and Eva's rise to stardom found them becoming the President and First Lady of Argentina, through a strange mix of military might and populist sentiment. Eva was known for her charity work and elaborate campaigns appealing to the "common people." Critics derided her as loud and brash without much substance, but the people of Argentina loved her. It's no surprise then that the country was devastated by her untimely death at the tender age of 33, mourning their mistress in an elaborate state ceremony.
Evita is one hundred percent pure rock opera with only a smattering of spoken dialogue, moving seamlessly from song to song with hardly a pause, often repeating similar themes and echoing past melodies. The film version, directed by Alan Parker, seems to be revisiting his earlier work on Pink Floyd's The Wall. He takes the stage musical and opens it up with location shoots in Buenos Aires and Budapest with thousands of extras. There are Parker's signature visuals such as rolling tanks, violent tableaus, and a mass of people singing nationalistic anthems. Parker's vision of the piece was large and fantastic, making full use of the widescreen format. It's all designed within an inch of its life, with particular care taken to evoke the period through decor and clothes. Madonna actually entered the Guinness Book of World Records for having over eighty costume changes in a single movie, trouncing the former record held by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
The cast was an interesting mix of three varied voices. Much controversy came in casting Madonna who seemed an unlikely choice, given her pop star standing and all too American looks. Certainly her persona lent itself to Eva Peron, both women coming from common roots to conquer the world through a self-determination to be famous that eclipsed everyone around them. But there was great concern she would be unable to sing the role well enough, and the people of Argentina were not happy with the idea of Madonna taking on the guise of their national hero. Certainly many of the songs underwent key changes made to accommodate Madonna's limited range, but she does a fine job with her vocals. It's not hard to believe Madonna as Eva, and she certainly captures the spirit of the woman herself. The performance won her a Golden Globe, but she was snubbed by the Oscars that year without nary a nomination. Antonio Banderas was not much of a singer, but his matinee idol good looks and Latin heritage made up for any musical shortcomings. Jonathan Pryce was a Broadway veteran who wisely played an understated Juan Peron, so as not to upstage his more fiery costars.
The 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer for this new Blu-ray edition is obviously a step up from the previous DVD release. The visual challenge for Evita is that cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en) purposefully avoided any cool blue tones, which makes Argentina look hot and everything appear overly yellow. Contrast this with a ton of inky dark blacks which gives a sense of mystery in the many interior and night shots. Though the image is clear, there is nothing here that has the crisp look of modern high definition releases, the film exhibiting the look of film with a softness and a wash of grain throughout. Thankfully, there are no digital problems with noise reduction or artifacts that ruin the picture. An expansive DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix sounds perfect, with music and singers put in the front two speakers, while the surrounds deliver atmospheric and directional sound effects.
Evita's previous DVD and Blu-ray releases were bare bones with no extras outside of a trailer. The Criterion Laser Disc of the movie offered a very good selection of supplements, and this new Blu-ray strikes a nice middle ground. A forty minute making-of documentary features interviews on the set, and gives viewers a good sense of what the 1996 production. Also included is the promotional video for "You Must Love Me," a song created specifically for the film, and won the Academy Award that year. The package is capped off with the original theatricl trailer.
Evita is one of Broadway's better stage to screen adaptations, easily Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest, with a cast that brings movie star strengths to stage roles. Although Madonna is out sung by any stage diva, she certainly has charisma to spare in her best big screen role to date. I doubt she will ever find a character that works to her gifts quite so well ever again. Alan Parker turns the musical into a huge production with great location shots, a cast of thousands, and his own brand of bombast and circumstance. Evita (Blu-ray) 15th Anniversary Edition is certainly worth the upgrade, and a new way to see this lavish production.
Not Guilty. Free to go on being high flying adored.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Music Video