The Piano (1993) | 4K Blu-ray Review

Criterion is out with another 4K release, in the form of the Jane Campion written and directed period drama. Previously having only been released in the U.S. by Lionsgate and MGM, that fairly average release never quite did justice to the film, and so Criterion licensed the film, gave it a full remaster in both the audio and video departments, loaded up some features and tried to write some wrongs. So let’s see if that result was worth the effort.

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

The Piano 4K Blu-ray cover art

Tech Specs:

Format(s):UltraHD/4K Blu-ray (BD-100)
Blu-ray (BD-50)
Released By:Criterion
Release Date:January 25th, 2022
Video Format / Codec:4K: H.265 (HEVC)
Resolution:4K: Native 4K, 2160/24p
BR: Full HD, 1080/24p
Digital Intermediate (DI):4K (from negatives)
High-Dynamic Range (HDR):Dolby Vision (FEL), HDR10
Aspect Ratio:1.85:1
Audio Format(s):English (4K/BR):
DTS-HD MA 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Subtitles:English SDH
Packaging:Dual-disc snapcase
Region Coding:4K: Region-free
BR: Region A (locked)

Video Review:

As noted above, this is a full remaster of this film taken from 4K scans of the original negatives. The quality of the video definitely sees an improvement here over the past Blu-ray, but it still is not perfect (more on that in a bit). On the positive side, there is more detail revealed in the skin, hair, clothing, environments and props. Textures definitely appear more tactile and the scenery is more lifelike in appearance due to the uptick in detail. The costumes themselves are the most noticeable in their increased detail showing much finer nuances and intricacies that were not as noticeable before, and a more revealing look at the fine weaves  and adornments. That said, this is not the most detailed transfer I have seen, with some scenes noticeably getting just a touch softer. Especially those scenes that have a much heavier layer of grain also seem to lose just a bit in the sharpness of detail that comes through. That said the grain looks solid and organic, but as noted it is heavy at times.

This movie is not known for being colorful, but I do think the Dolby Vision presentation of this film does lift the overall color quality throughout the film. The color grade of the film ranges from warm interior scenes, to blue/teal cast to many of the outdoor overcast scenes. The latter does seem to push up on that threshold of being a bit too much for my taste, but I wouldn’t call it oversaturated. As this was approved by the director and cinematographer, it clearly was their intent and so I would say that the image on the disc reflects that. Skin tones appear natural under neutral light and warm on those candle lit scenes without looking over the top. The few pops of color in the form of the interior panels of the eponymous piano and or accents on clothing look rich and full. Other than the aforementioned teal tone being pushed up a bit, I overall felt the color palette looked excellent. The intermittent specular highlights off metallic reflections, do get a nice pop, but are not blindingly bright given their fleeting nature. Black levels are dark and inky throughout the movie, with shadows retaining detail where intended. Whites never get overly bright given the dimmer nature of the movie, but still look appropriate.

The included Blu-ray also comes from the same remastering work, but converted for standard dynamic range. It also looks very good with many of the benefits of the detail work carrying over. The color also looks solid, and overall the presentation is just a touch bridger. Colors are not quite as full, but it’s still a great looking disc.

Video Score (4K): 4.5 / 5 (Excellent)

Video Score (BR): 4.4 / 5 (Very Good)

Audio Review:

Both discs contain a newly mastered 5.1 surround mix and it’s a great sounding presentation. Dialog and clear and centered and the surrounds are fully active creating the environmental ambiance that adds a lot to the action on the screen. Whether it be the sounds of waves crashing, creaking of floor boards, rustling of leaves or the presentation of the musical score, it also sounds excellent. I would debate whether an Atmos mix might have gone further, but I don’t think there would have been too much more to gain, albeit for maybe some rain effects from overhead later in the movie. Bass presentation is solid, but this is not going to shake your house free from its foundation. Still it provides a fullness and authority to the score, and a naturalness  throughout. Overall it is an excellent mix.

Audio Score (4K/BR): 4.5 / 5 (Excellent)

Special Features and Packaging:

Criterion carried in quite a few archival features, including audio commentary, interviews and featurettes. They also added in quite a few new items to dive into as well including new interviews from various members of the cast and crew, including the cinematographer, production designer, Maori consultants and a new interview with Jane Campin and Amy Taubin. Overall its a nicely collected set of features with a lot for fans of the film.

For packaging, Criterion gave us some nice artwork on the case and discs, but unfortunately its just a standard “Criterion” sized clear snapcase. I also find it interesting when Criterion puts out a new release without the little extra flare from a slipcover or slipbox, especially on that first pressing. Given the price of their releases it feels like it would be a natural addition to their standard-style release (excluding their obviously custom packaging for select release). That said, it’s still Criterion and so it’s a nice case, with solid artwork, a nice booklet inside and well stored discs, so I can’t complain too much.

Features Score: 4.6 / 5 (Excellent)


As with all recommendations, I first assume you like the film. If so, this is definitely an upgrade over past U.S. Blu-rays, and while I have only seen some screenshots of some of the more recent international releases, this still appears to the best version out there. That said, its’ not leaps and bounds above the included Blu-ray, so if you were to have to pick between this 2-disc release and the single Criterion Blu-ray version released at the same time, it may be harder to justify the extra $7 if you are on a tight budget. That said, its a worthwhile pickup for those who can (or want to) afford the premium.

Buy/Upgrade Recommendation: Yes* (If you have the extra bucks)

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Summary and Overall Scores:

This is definitely a solid release from Criterion for a film that likely has slipped by many, especially younger, movie lovers. But for those of us who know and enjoy this film, this release is definitely the best version out there with solid visuals, a great 5.1 mix and a whole bunch of those on disc extras to enrich the experience.

Experience Score**: 4.5 / 5  (Excellent)

** Experience score does not take into account the quality of the film itself, just the technical presentation, packaging and included features.

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