Otello (1986)

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Released 20-Feb-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Scene Selection Animation
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 117:41
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Franco Zeffirelli
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Plácido Domingo
Katia Ricciarelli
Justino Díaz
Petra Malakova
Urbano Barberini
Massimo Foschi
Edwin Francis
Sergio Nicolai
Remo Remotti
Antonio Pierfederici
Ezio Di Cesare
John Macurdy
Constantin Zaharia
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Giuseppe Verdi


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Moor Otello returns to Venice having conquered the city's enemies, the Turks. While given a rousing reception by the populace, his ensign Iago plans to destroy him. Otello's weakness is his jealousy, and Iago plants the seeds of suspicion in Otello's mind, suggesting that the youthful Cassio is enamoured of Otello's wife Desdemona. Iago's machinations lead to tragedy for all.

    This was the second of three adaptations for the operatic stage of works by Shakespeare that was undertaken by Giuseppe Verdi, and his second last opera overall. With a libretto by Arrigo Boito, it was first performed in 1887 when Verdi was already in his mid-seventies. It has been part of the standard repertory ever since, and a number of distinguished tenors have portrayed the role.

    In this film production, the premier Otello of the past quarter century, Plácido Domingo, dons the brown boot polish to play the Moor of Venice. Katia Ricciarelli is Desdemona and Justino Díaz is Iago, while some of the other supporting roles are played by actors who mime to voices other than their own.

    Critical opinion seems to vary on this film. My own views are coloured by the issues with the video and especially the audio - see below for details - but I find Franco Zeffirelli's film to be problematic in several ways. Firstly the opera has been trimmed by about 30 minutes. Not only is the Willow Song missing, but a ballet is inserted early in the first act, which ruins the dramatic momentum that was building up. Secondly and more crucially Zeffirelli's direction is severely lacking. In this movie the constant changes of shot and edits give it an awkward pacing. The music and performers would have been better served with longer shots and less interruption.

    More interruption comes from the production design, also by Zeffirelli, which is splendid at times but also threatens to overwhelm the performers and the drama. Judging by the handful of Zeffirelli opera productions I have seen on video, the dictum "less is more" is not one to which he subscribes.

    There are plusses to this film, notably the acting by Domingo and Díaz, some of the imagery that Zeffirelli manages to conjure up and the costume design and location settings, but unfortunately all of that is ruined by the transfer, especially on the audio side. There are other Otellos available on DVD, such as the Herbert von Karajan film with Jon Vickers, and several live performances featuring Domingo that would be preferable to this.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but is not 16x9 enhanced.

    I would have thought that presenting a film in a widescreen aspect ratio but not enhancing it for 16x9 displays would have been a thing of the past in 2006, but not so here. Initially I thought that the transfer was acceptable even without widescreen enhancement, but as the film progressed the problems seemed to get worse. I tried to zoom the image to fit my TV screen but discovered that overscan meant that I could not see the subtitles, so I watched the film in "normal" mode.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp but as most of the movie is shot in relatively low light levels, or in rooms with significant shadows, fine detail is at a premium. Shadow detail is quite poor. The colour is muted. This may have been a deliberate choice of the filmmakers, as there are several scenes that have a similar colour palette to Renaissance art. However some scenes come across as too brown, and flesh tones (apart from Domingo's dark makeup) are the same.

    There are significant film to video artefacts. Motion blurring is prevalent, with any movement or panning of the camera resulting in a loss of detail. Comet trails and excessive noise reduction artefacts are often present. There is some low level noise apparent in the darker scenes.

    Film artefacts start to appear well into the film, with small white flecks at first, then larger scratches and other damage, as well as a couple of splice marks.

    The English subtitles, which are optional, include hard of hearing information. I found the regular appearance of subtitles like "waves crashing" or "door creaking" annoying. There should have been separate English subtitles without this information. Otherwise the white subtitles are clear and readable, but are a little inconsistent in regards to character names. Iago is rendered as Jago, which is how the character's name appears in the opera libretto. However Otello is rendered as Othello, which is the character's name in the original play but not in the opera.

    The disc is single-layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio track is Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with surround encoding.

    Soon after hearing Domingo start to sing I realised that something was seriously wrong, unless he had somehow turned into a baritone. The audio has been transferred at a much lower pitch than the original recording would have been. Instead of Domingo's usual heroic tenor we get a dark, deep voice that is completely unlike him. Ricciarelli now sounds like a mezzo, and Díaz at times like a profondo basso. Had I not been reviewing this disc I would have ejected it from the player and gone back to the store seeking a refund, as it is simply unlistenable. It is worth noting that this same issue affects the overseas releases of this film.

    Also irritating is that the sole audio selection is the compressed Dolby Digital format. While the film was released with Dolby sound in the cinemas, a Linear PCM audio track would have preserved more of the original sonic information and would have been more appropriate. As there was a simultaneous CD release of the complete opera conducted by Lorin Maazel, with the soundtrack for this film coming from that recording, a much better audio presentation should have been possible.

    The surround encoding creates a surround effect of sorts, without any directional effects but with sound coming from the five main speakers. There did not appear to be any subwoofer activity from the sampling I made in this mode. As the voices seemed recessed in Pro Logic mode I found it preferable to switch Pro Logic off.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Scene Selection Animation

    The scene selection menu has video clips rather than static images for each scene. The menus have no text, just icons, reflecting the bare-bones nature of this release.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 equivalent seems to be exactly the same as the Region 4 apart from the different video format, and is also reported to have the pitch problem.

Summary

    An adaptation of the opera which will not appeal to the purist.

    The video quality is a little below average.

    The audio is execrable due to being transferred at the wrong pitch.

    No extras of any note.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, January 23, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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