Blu-Ray Review: Evita
Disney/Buena Vista, 1996
Directed by Alan Parker
Timing is a crucial factor in Evita. The titular character of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical reflects that her entire rise was solely because she “was stuck in the right place at the perfect time.” The stage show itself opened in 1978, several years before a glut of British imports would clog Broadway, perhaps allowing it to receive more critical acclaim than it might have been afforded later. The 1996 movie version arrived probably too late to capture the same level of recognition, despite nabbing a few choice Golden Globes. And this week’s 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (actually, a 1996 release would make this a 16th anniversary but the film’s corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company, has often had a pliable relationships with film anniversaries judging by their previous releases) makes the film seem like more of a historical relic than it ought to, all things considered.
The story itself is essentially the standard Cinderella tale albeit with the real world trappings of Eva Perón. Born Eva Duarte, Evita worked (or slept, depending on your perspective) her way to the top, later becoming the wife of Colonel Juan Perón, the eventual President of Argentina, and eclipsing her husband in popularity amongst the lower classes. Under the direction of Alan Parker, the movie follows the plot of the stage show more or less faithfully, with the most drastic alterations of the source material including removing some songs, adding and reinstating two others, and generally making Eva a somewhat more sympathetic character (presumably to ease on-location filming in Argentina).
Starring as Eva, Madonna gives a competent if not wholly excellent performance. She
acts well enough, but her vocal prowess often leaves something to be desired. Her pop stylings fare better with the up-tempo songs as opposed to the slower, more lyrical numbers. She’s not terrible, but the drastically lowered keys rob her of the ability to really cut loose. As commentator Che, Antonio Banderas displays a pleasant voice that only occasionally drifts into incomprehensibility, while Jonathan Pryce as Juan Perón proves to be ideally cast, both in acting and singing.
Though it hits all the same beats as the Broadway version, the movie lacks drive and excitement. Part of this can be attributed to Evita being more toothless than on stage; her drive becomes muddled when she acts on her own ambitions half the time but as a pawn to political machinations at other times. The overall length also contributes to the faults. The sprawling timeline requires a long movie, but the pacing nonetheless comes off as sluggish in spots, and the two hour plus runtime demands more character development than is given. Special attention should be paid to the cinematography: Alan Parker wanted to shoot the film in a very realistic manner. Oddly, he breaks his commitment to realism frequently by having characters sing directly towards the camera, causing a weird melding of artifice and actuality.
Thankfully, for fans of the film, this unique cinematography looks superb on Blu-ray. Digital Noise Removal isn’t evident anywhere, giving the transfer a very authentic filmic image. Some shots look softer than others, but this appears to be intentional, perhaps to sometimes make Madonna look convincingly younger. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio isn’t up to the standards of a recent blockbuster, but it does a nice job of presenting atmosphere, sound effects (there are a surprising amount of explosions in Evita), and what seems increasingly to be the last decent score Andrew Lloyd Webber will ever write. The special features include the lengthy The Making of Evita, a Madonna music video for the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me,” and a teaser trailer. While the extras pale next to Criterion’s comprehensive laserdisc release, they are a welcome upgrade from the previous barebones DVD.
Whatever its faults, this Evita is worth seeing, if only to appreciate the score and Alan Parker’s interesting but unsuccessful visual take on the material, and certainly this release is the best way to experience it. The video is nearly flawless, and the audio is consistently solid. Still, for the optimal experience, you’re better off attending the recent Broadway revival starring Elena Roger and Ricky Martin playing at the Marquis Theatre. It might cost more, but at least it arrives teeth intact.