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Its taken nearly twenty years for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rices EVITA ($125) to make its way from the stage to the big screen. It has taken The Voyager Company considerably less time to add EVITA to the Criterion Collection.
EVITA, the musical, chronicles the life of Eva Perón, one of the most controversial figures in the history of Argentina. To this day, the former First Lady of Argentina is regarded by many as a saint, while other Argentineans see her as one of the greatest blights ever to befall the country. Whatever ones opinion of Eva Perón might be, she was a charismatic and driving force that shaped Argentina into the country it has become. For any film production of EVITA, Madonna would seem the obvious choice for the role of Eva Perón, because of her own personal charisma and driven personality. When Madonna was first selected for the role, her detractors made it clear that they felt her acting abilities werent up to the task. I have to dispel that impression by saying that Madonnas performance in EVITA is without question, the finest of her career. Madonnas emotional range in the role far exceeds anything she has demonstrated in the past. Despite what Madonna has achieved in EVITA, I suspect that she will never be afforded the chance to prove her acting abilities with another role of this stature.
As for Madonnas singing performance, she stretches her vocal range further for EVITA than she has at any time in her pop singing career. However, there were portions of the score which had to be scaled back because they would have been extremely shrill sounding, even through the best Dolby Digital or DTS sound systems. This wasnt a slight on Madonnas abilities, but a necessity for film presentation. EVITA also features another bit of brilliant casting with Antonio Banderas in the role of Ché. The film version of EVITA changes the character of Ché from that of Argentinean dissident Ché Guevara to that of commentator. Banderas is the perfect choice for the role of the common man as commentator. Banderas brings grit, passion and humor to the character. While Jonathan Pryce doesnt bare much resemblance to the real Juan Perón, prosthetic makeup does wonders to overcome the physical limitation. More important than his appearance is Jonathan Pryces performance in the role. Pryce is superb as Perón, infusing the man with a restrained power, yet making the character the most sympathetic of dictators. In any production of EVITA, the character of Eva could easily overshadow the character of Juan Perón, much in the same way that his wife overshadowed the real Perón. However, Jonathan Pryce is such a commanding presence that he never allows his character to fade into the background.
Director Alan Parker has done a tremendous job in bringing EVITA to the screen. What works in the theater doesnt always translate well to the screen. EVITA is a difficult property to bring to the screen, since it lacks any real spoken dialogue. With few exceptions, the entire text of EVITA is sung, making it a modern day opera. Parker removes all the artifice of the theater, placing the story within an entirely realistic setting. It is the juxtaposition of the singing characters set against an ultra-realistic backdrop, which gives EVITA its power. EVITA is a true cinematic experience, instead of a cleverly transcribed bit of theater. Much of EVITA was filmed in Argentina, and the productions best known song Dont Cry For Me Argentina was filmed on the actual balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. The film meticulously recreates the period, in which Eva Perón lived with Hungary standing in for Argentina, since much of Hungarys architecture remains unchanged.
Since EVITA is a musical, Parker could be criticized for the lack of dancing in the film production. However, since his particular vision is to present the story in the most realistic way possible, characters spontaneously starting to dance would have destroyed his concept for the production. Dancing in EVITA only occurs when there is a logical reason for the characters to dance. Like the play upon which it was based, the EVITA screenplay chronicles the life of Eva Perón from its humble beginnings as the poor bastard child barred from her fathers funeral by his "legitimate" family. The story then follows Eva through the string of many men she used to gain notoriety. Then it moves to her meeting Juan Perón, and his rise to power, which culminated with her becoming first Lady of Argentina. Then finally the story moves on to Evas tragic death from cancer at the age of 33.
The Voyager Company has given EVITA a marvelous looking, director approved, THX certified transfer. The transfer faithfully recreates the look of Darius Khondjis spectacular, Academy Award nominated cinematography, and restores the film to its proper 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image has wonderful texture and rich detail, while the colors reproduce with vivid, richly saturated hues.
The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack has fabulous mix, which keeps the performers vocals sharply focused, while the richly layered music envelopes the viewer. The mix also makes good use of the channel separation for sound effects. EVITA also features a Dolby Digital soundtrack on one analog channel, while the other is used for director Alan Parkers commentary. The Japanese pressing was quite clean with few speckles visible.
EVITA is presented on five sides in CAV. The Voyager Company has included a substantial number of supplements for this Criterion Collection release. Chief among the supplemental features is Alan Parkers audio commentary. Parker is a good talker, which keeps his commentary interesting. The commentary itself is chock full of information on the production, how and why actors were selected for the roles, and why certain stylistic choices were made. Parker also discusses why certain aspects of the original libretto were changed for the film, and the difficulties he faced in mounting the enormous production. Side six of this hefty boxed set begins the supplementary section and is presented in CLV. Side six features a theatrical trailer and theatrical teaser. There are also five television spots for EVITA, from different times in the films theatrical release. You Must Love Me was the only new song created specifically for the movie version of EVITA, and the music video for the Academy Award winning song is included here as a supplement.
THE MAKING OF EVITA documentary closes out side six of the supplements. The forty-two minute documentary takes the viewer behind the scenes, so that you can meet the actors and see what location shooting was like. Side seven is the second side of supplements and is presented in CAV. Alan Parkers illustrated shooting script is the chief supplement on this side. Parkers script is filled with little drawings (by Parker) that serve as storyboards for the director. There are also still photographs of director Parker at work, as well as some of Parkers drawings that he created on the set. Side seven takes the viewer to the real Argentina, and features a travelogue of the country, as well as a Time Magazine article, illustrated with archival footage of Argentina and Juan and Eva Perón. The supplements also feature an essay about Argentina, which has been illustrated with photographs. Additional photographs and archival footage fill out the supplements. Peter Cowie supplies the liner notes contained on the four-page insert, which also serves as the boxed sets table of contents.
EVITA is one of the most intriguing films of the nineties, about one of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century. The film has a truly mesmerizing quality about it. The Criterion Collection edition of EVITA is the most thorough document of the film that anyone is ever likely to find. Highly recommended.
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