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Evita: 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Evita (1996) movie poster Evita

Theatrical Release: December 25, 1996 / Running Time: 135 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Alan Parker / Writers: Alan Parker, Oliver Stone (screenplay); Tim Rice (book of the musical play)

Cast: Madonna (Eva Perón), Antonio Banderas (Ché), Jonathan Pryce (Juan Perón), Jimmy Nail (Agustín Magaldi), Victoria Sus (Doña Juana), Julian Littman (Brother Juan), Olga Merediz (Blanca), Laura Pallas (Elisa), Julia Worsley (Erminda), Maria Lujan Hidalgo (Young Eva), Servando Villamil (Cipriano Reyes), Andrea Corr (Perón's Mistress), Peter Polycarpou (Domingo Mercante), Gary Brooker (Juan Bramuglia), Mayte Yerro (Julieta), Adrian Collado (Carlos)

Songs: "Oh What a Circus", "On This Night of a Thousand Stars", "Eva and Magaldi / Eva Beware of the City", "Buenos Aires", "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", "Goodnight and Thank You", "The Lady's Got Potential", "Charity Concert / The Art of the Possible", "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You", "Hello and Goodbye", "Peron's Latest Flame", "Dice Are Rolling / A New Argentina", "On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada (Part 1)", "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", "On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada (Part 2)", "High Flying, Adored", "Rainbow High", "Rainbow Tour", "The Actress Hasn't Learned the Lines (You'd Like to Hear)", "And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)", "Partido Feminista", "She Is a Diamond", "Waltz for Eva and Che", "Your Little Body's Slowly Breaking Down", "You Must Love Me", "Eva's Final Broadcast", "Lament"

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By Jake Lipson

As the stage musical on which it is based begins in a movie theater, the film adaptation of Evita seems appropriate and inevitable. In both, a screening is interrupted to inform moviegoers that Eva Peron (Madonna) has "entered immortality."
Though the audience is at first furious that their movie had been stopped, they immediately begin mourning for their fallen star.

First, we see her as a young child forcibly removed from her father's funeral, which contrasts nicely with the elaborate nationwide mourning for Eva herself. Next, we see her going to Buenos Aires many years later where, after sleeping around with various influential men, she eventually meets Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce, later known for his role as Elizabeth's father in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films). Peron would become her husband and, eventually, the president of Argentina, partially due to Eva's campaigning for him on the radio. Throughout his campaign and presidency, Eva becomes more and more of a celebrity and is adored by the nation by the time of her premature death.

I was really excited to get the chance to review Evita for a number of reasons. I was too young to see it when it was in theaters in 1996-97. At that time, I was more interested in Disney's then-current animated musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as wearing out VHS versions of Aladdin and The Lion King. As I grew up watching those musicals, my family and I never missed the Disney on Ice tours, which came around once a year and were always a big deal to me. Eventually, I graduated from the ice shows and started getting interested in Broadway tours. The first of those that I saw was The Phantom of the Opera, composed by Evita's Andrew Lloyd Webber. I was utterly amazed by it and became a huge fan of most of his work as a result. I first saw the Evita film on DVD in early 2005, buying it in the wake of the Phantom movie released December 2004.

Evita was one of Disney's earliest DVD releases and as such featured a non-anamorphic transfer and no extras of any kind. It struck me immediately how much the movie deserved an upgrade. I still found it watchable on my old 4:3 TV set. But when my family upgraded to a widescreen set, it was just too hard to watch the movie when I had so many other DVDs and Blu-rays that would take full advantage of the new TV's wonderful display. So I put it on the shelf and waited for the opportunity to replace it with a superior version. I waited and waited and waited as Disney reissued many catalog animated titles but continued to ignore their live-action catalog. Eventually, Disney started abandoning DVD and focusing almost all of their efforts on the Blu-ray format. Evita never did see a re-release on DVD, and with the appearance of this new Blu-ray, it seems as though it never will.

I was excited to review this Blu-ray because it posed an opportunity to finally watch the movie again. I remembered loving it and playing it regularly when I first saw it, so I thought this review would be extremely simple. It turns out, though, that upon revisiting it five years later, the movie doesn't hold up quite as well as I remembered it.

At the beginning of the film, Eva Duarte (Madonna) is just a brunette member of the working class. Antonio Banderas plays Ché (not quite Guevara), the film's musical storyteller.

It's easy to tell why Oscar nominated it for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. As is usually the case with period pieces, it is a technical marvel which is beautiful to watch, especially for the remarkably detailed costumes and sets, and the Blu-ray provides the best opportunity yet to appreciate all of that work. The performances, too, are wonderful; though fans of the stage show may prefer Elaine Paige or Patti LuPone from the London and Broadway recordings, respectively, Madonna acquits herself quite well with the material. Even though the score is very different from her usual musical arena, she seems vocally at ease in the role. Antonio Banderas, whose Che character serves as a Greek chorus-like narrator guiding the audience through the story, gives the most spirited performance of the film in surely a career highlight. While not given as much to do, Pryce does what he can very well as Eva's husband. And, so critical for a musical, the singing is top-notch. The famous songs from the stage show ("Don't Cry for Me, Argentina", "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", etc.) are here, as is the new song "You Must Love Me", which won the movie its sole Academy Award for Best Original Song and has been incorporated into subsequent productions of the stage show, including the current Broadway revival, which will be the basis for next year's national tour. Critics seemed to like the film, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Why, then, did the movie leave me colder than I expected when I returned to it for this review? This took me a long time to answer. In Roger Ebert's three-and-a-half-star review from January 1997, he says it "allows the audience to identify with a heroine who achieves greatness by -- well, golly, by being who she is... Here we have a celebration of a legendary woman (for those who take the film superficially) and a moral tale of a misspent life (for those who see more clearly)."

Despite the elaborate designs, solid performances and beautiful melodies, the film does not show us Eva herself, so much as the image she projected to the world, and it becomes difficult to connect with her emotionally as a result. Eva is presented as a quasi-goddess for so much of the film that it is hard to care about what happens to her; even when we see her rise to power, we've already seen that she gets there, so why bother rooting for her? We don't really know her as anything but a famous figure, and even in her death, she seems so foreign that watching her die doesn't elicit a strong sense of catharsis. Only the Che character sees through Eva's façade, and though he does sometimes challenge her, as narrator he doesn't have enough to do to truly peel away her layers.

Stage veteran Jonathan Pryce belts out his lyrics as Argentine presidential candidate Juan Perón, Evita's husband. No, that's not Walt Disney on his South American goodwill tour, but Jimmy Nail, playing Agustín Magaldi, a tango singer who commits adultery with Eva Perón.

Six years after Evita was released to theaters, then-Disney subsidiary Miramax enjoyed far greater critical and commercial success with fellow stage adaptation Chicago, which also centered on a vain, self-centered woman who manipulates the media into making her a superstar. The difference between Chicago and this film is that we see a strong character arc for Roxie Hart. Even though we're not supposed to approve of her killing her lover and making her husband pay for her defense, we as audience members see what the experience of being in jail and going to trial causes her emotionally, and the story is basically grounded in reality despite the presence of the music. Evita, on the other hand, feels like a two-hour music video montage, rather than a story with an arc to follow. It clearly shows us various events in the life and death of Eva Peron. But, much like last year's Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, even the strong performances cannot elevate it because it feels like we go from one event to the next event without much rhyme, reason or insight into why Eva behaves as she does or her personal emotional state.
Based on the various recordings of the stage version I have heard, the film seems to follow the show fairly faithfully, in which case the question becomes if the stage version has similar faults. I do not have enough information to make a judgment on that since I have not yet seen the show; however, it seems to me the ephemeral and in-person nature of live theatre may enhance this material in a way that filmed montages just can't do, even if those montages are skillfully composed.

This review now seems extraordinarily negative, which I did not intend. Director Alan Parker certainly knows how to put together highly effective musical numbers, and it's hard to imagine a technically superior filming of this material. Thanks mostly to the music (and Banderas), I still enjoy watching it a great deal. It accurately represents one of the most celebrated theatre scores of the later 20th century and deserves a lot of credit for that, especially coming as it did at a time when few live-action musicals were being produced in Hollywood. But if there were an Evita without the music -- that is, if this were a non-musical biopic with a similarly fragmented narrative approach, that movie would not work. The music, which comprises almost the entire movie, also saves it. Musical fans will adore it for this reason; I think my initial fascination was more with the score than the movie itself. Those looking to really understand who Eva Peron was as a person, however, will probably come away disappointed. Those who do like the film may well be disappointed with its 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, which I will now cover in detail.

Evita  Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00 (Reduced from $26.50)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD ($9.99 SRP; May 19, 1998)
Previously released as VHS (February 3, 1998), Widescreen VHS (February 3, 1998), and 2-Movie Collection DVD with Frida (February 10, 2008)


First, the good news: Evita arrives on Blu-ray with the best home video presentation it has ever received. The movie appears in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it's great to finally see it on a widescreen TV without black bars on the side. The new version is obviously a big upgrade over its DVD's non-16:9-enhanced transfer and if Evita is one of your favorite films, there's no reason to hesitate buying this.
However, the DVD is so old and lacking compared to current standards that almost anything Disney could put out would be an upgrade over it, so that's not saying much.

The bad news is that the Blu-ray doesn't look anywhere near as good as it should and doesn't take much advantage of being in high definition. The transfer is generally lacking in the fine object detail that most Blu-rays produce spectacularly. Within a few days of receiving this, I also obtained Fox's Blu-ray release of Anastasia via an Amazon sale. Though it is animated and Evita is live-action, it seems like a decent comparison because they are both mid-range catalog titles for their respective studios of approximately the same age (Anastasia was released eleven months later, although if you believe the incorrect 15th Anniversary Edition label on this release, then Evita would also date to 1997.) Viewing them back-to-back, Anastasia's colors looked bold, sharp and exciting and clearly high-definition; colors in Evita look adequate, bland and could be mistaken for a DVD, even though it's still better than the DVD that Evita did get. The transfer occasionally looks fuzzy and out of focus and contains noticeable grain. Disney is capable of a lot better than this, but considering how long they took to revisit the film after its DVD release, there is no reason to anticipate a better-looking release in the near future.

Fortunately, there is not as much problem with the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, which, while not spectacular, is a very solid aural experience. The movie does go from quiet, intimate songs to bombastic, loud ones regularly, though, so you might have to keep the remote handy to adjust volume throughout.

Director Alan Parker shares some thoughts from 1996 Budapest on "The Making of 'Evita'." Madonna sings in the "You Must Love Me" music video. Madonna reaches higher on the Evita Blu-ray menu.


As with the feature presentation, Evita's Blu-ray edition offers improvement over its DVD version in terms of supplements, but still isn't quite what it should be in that regard.
All of the bonus features here were previously released on the Criterion Collection laserdisc, so fans who have that release don't have anything new to see here. However, Disney did not include any extras whatsoever on the DVD, so if, like me, you never owned the laserdisc, you'll be pleased with the new-to-you bonus content here.

By far the most substantial of these is a surprisingly in-depth documentary, inventively titled "The Making of Evita" (42:13). Those who regularly watch making-of features will not find anything particularly new or groundbreaking in this one, which is a tad self-congratulatory. However, there are lots of interviews with the key people involved, including Madonna, director Alan Parker, and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. They talk in-depth about the process of making the movie, and there's also a fair amount of footage from shooting the movie on location in Buenos Aires. It is as comprehensive as you could want, and fans will be very satisfied with it.

Also included are the theatrical teaser trailer (1:54) and Madonna's music video for the Oscar-winning original song, "You Must Love Me" (3:16). it's very nice to see these turn up, especially because Disney rarely includes original promotional material anymore.

Missing from the Blu-ray but found on the laserdisc are a second, longer theatrical trailer, five TV spots, and, most significantly, an audio commentary by director Alan Parker. A second music video, this one for the show's signature song "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" was also produced and can be easily located on YouTube, but it isn't here and doesn't seem to have been included on the laserdisc either. The absence of all of these features is unnecessary and annoying, but the omission of the commentary, in particular, is absolutely inexcusable.

This is also a real missed opportunity to create some new retrospective material for what Disney is inaccurately billing a 15th Anniversary Edition. Though revealing and great, the documentary dates back to production and therefore lacks the hindsight that a current companion piece would have provided. Also, since the show is now enjoying a major Broadway revival, this seems like an ideal cross-promotional platform, but there is no mention of it anywhere. Out of all the catalog titles they could choose, one wonders why Disney decided to release this now if not to capitalize on the interest from the revival. Why, indeed, were they okay with licensing it to Criterion for the laserdisc and yet insist on keeping the DVD and Blu-ray rights to it themselves? If Criterion were allowed to release this title again, they would almost assuredly have included at least all of the previous supplements, possibly some new material and a superior video transfer to boot. It is a shame that that probably will not come to pass, as Disney would rather you buy this half-baked version than give away the title to another studio.

The disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase which has a side snap but no slipcover, insert, or inner artwork. Startup previews, none of which seem particularly similar to or likely to appeal to fans of this movie, include the theatrical trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a DVD promo for "Castle": The Complete Fourth Season, and an anti-tobacco ad. The Sneak Peeks listing repeats those and adds a promo for ABC dramas.

The static menu plays an instrumental version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" while waiting for you to make a selection. Annoyingly, the disc does not remember where you left off and the chapter selection menu only includes screenshots, not titles, so it can be very hard to find where you were if you have to break the movie up into more than one sitting.

"Don't cry for me, Argentina," pleads Madonna as Eva Perón in the 1996 musical film "Evita."


Evita has finally arrived on Blu-ray, but it is a decidedly mixed bag. The transfer is the best the film has received but is still severely lacking, and the supplements are incomplete, but also better than the DVD. The $26.50 retail price is high for a catalog title. That said, fans will still want to pick it up for its improvements because a superior edition seems highly unlikely now. If you didn't take advantage of street date discounts, you might be better off waiting for an eventual price drop. If you aren't already familiar with the movie, a rental should suffice.

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Related Reviews:
Musicals to Film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetDreamgirls | Film to Musicals: NewsiesBigSister Act & Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
Madonna: W./E. | Puss in BootsShrek the ThirdScared ShreklessShrek the HallsThe Big BangFour RoomsYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Jonathan Pryce: Something Wicked This Way ComesPirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl | Written by Oliver Stone: NixonPlatoon
1996: Ransom101 DalmatiansMuppet Treasure IslandThe Hunchback of Notre Dame | Political Biopics: The Iron Lady

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Reviewed August 6, 2012.

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