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Opera (1987)

Scorpion Releasing
Blu-ray Disc: 1/23/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/9/2018

I'm going to get a grant to study genre filmmakers of the late 20th century and their muses. (Is that term still cool?) Specifically, how certain directors did their best work when they part of a team with a female. John Carpenter's work with Debra Hill changed the face of modern horror. The movies which James Cameron made with Gale Anne Hurd set a new standard in science fiction. Across the pond, Dario Argento was reinventing Italian cinema with Daria Nicolodi. However, when these teams disbanded, the quality of the movies suffered. Today we explored the change in Argento's films with Opera.

Marco (Ian Charleson), a film director, is staging a new production of Verdi's Macbeth opera. When the star is hit by a car, the young understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is called upon to take over the lead role. Betty is very nervous, but as she's been preparing her whole life for this, she's up to the task. Her debut is a success, but it's also clear that something is amiss in the theater. Not only is an usher killed, but someone disturbs the ravens which are a part of the show. These odd occurrences hit front and center for Betty when someone is murdered right in front of her. As the killings continue, Betty and Marco devise a plan to catch the killer, as Betty searches her past for clues as to who could be after her.

I'm sure that there are plenty out there who don't understand the appeal of Dario Argento. My only reply to that is that it may depend on when you first encountered his work. I saw my first Argento films in the 80s and I can tell you, I'd never seen anything like them. They lived in a world where logic wasn't always important and where black-gloved killers ran rampant. His films featured garish colors and dizzying camerawork, the likes of which were not seen in American films at that time, outside of the early work of Sam Raimi. Experiencing Argento's works from the 70s and early 80s was a master-class in alternative horror cinema. However, in the mid-1980s, the quality of Argento's work begin to slip. As noted above, I attribute it to the demise of his relationship with Daria Nicolodi, which ended in 1985. Despite the fact that she appears in Opera in an acting role, it's always been my theory that he missed her presence behind the camera. Thus, Opera represents both the best and worst which Argento has to offer.

Working with a reported $8 million budget, Opera is one of Argento's best looking films. The man who had built a reputation on moving camera (and who had influenced a generation of directors with this technique) really pulls out all the stops here. From the DePalma-esque shot in the first few minutes (which implies that the character is walking backwards, but we'll let that go) to the shots in which the camera zips about the opera house, this film is a visual feast. Outside of the long shots, Argento utilizes a slightly quicker editing style. The result is a movie which has a palpable sense of restlessness and is most likely hoping to pass this along to the viewer in the form of suspense.

However, many viewers will only grow restless waiting for a better story to come. The scripts have always been the weak point of Argento's films, as his mysteries often featured unique touches, but fell back onto classic structures. With Opera, we get a story which is wafer-thin at best, and definitely feels that Argento is simply copying himself. We are introduced to the characters and the setting, and then some murders occur, and that's about it. There is very little character development and the story is almost too linear. In a departure from his earlier work, where the movie would typically end right after the killer's reveal, Opera goes on for another 20 minutes and completely steals it's finale from the ending of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon which had been published six years earlier, and had been adapted into the film Manhunter a year prior to Opera's release. Argento clearly takes great pride in his concept of Betty's eyes being held open by needles, as we see this not once, but twice in the movie. This is an interesting idea and it makes for a good visual, but it's only a distraction from the shallowness of the movie. And yes, the death through the peephole shot is very cool, but cool only gets you so far.

As with many of his films, Opera was a personal experience for Argento, as it was based on his own interactions with the opera. However, this passion won't connect with most viewers, as this is definitely Argento-lite when compared to his earlier work. Again, the visuals are impressive and the movie has a certain sense of wildness which I guess could be considered fun, but the overall result is a film which is too long and doesn't do enough to engage the viewer. In the end, this opera falls flat.

Opera is not worth "raven" about on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Scorpion Releasing. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials, save for two white dots which I spotted. This transfer was taken from a new 2K scan which underwent extensive color correction and it really shows. While Opera doesn't have the color palette of Surpiria, the colors here are certainly vivid and Scorpion has done a great job with this transfer. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable (which is good, as Argento loves to get close to things) and the image never looks flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music from the opera sounds fine, as it has a nice amount of presence and fills the speakers. However, outside of that, this track sounds like many which were re-mixed from stereo track, in that we get a lot of action from the center and front channels, but not much from the rear or subwoofer.

The Opera Blu-ray Disc contains only a few features. We begin with an "Interview with Dario Argento" (22 minutes), which is a (fairly) modern-day talk with the director that carries the on-screen title "Blood Red Curtain". In it, Argento provides a good amount of detail about the creation of the film, his take on opera, and his views on the movie, now years removed from it. "Interview with William McNamara" (17 minutes) is an interesting talk, as the actor provides some very honest anecdotes about the making of the film and how being in an Argento film has followed him through his career. The final extras are three TRAILERS for the film, the first of which appear to be the U.S. trailer, while the other two have a decidedly European feel.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long