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New Line Home Cinema presents

Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001)

"The cards never lie, my last breath a sigh, and now I think about it, it's my time to die."- Carmen (Beyoncé Knowles)

Stars: Beyoncé Knowles, Mekhi Phifer
Other Stars: Mos Def, Rah Digga, Joy Bryant, Wyclef Jean, Jermaine Dupri, Lil' Bow Wow, Casey Lee, Regan Gomez-Preston, Sam Sarpong, Troy Winbsh, Fred Williamson, Da Brat
Director: Robert Townsend

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and drug content
Run Time: 01h:25m:24s
Release Date: 2002-08-20
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Carmen: A Hip Hopera is MTV's attempt to make opera safe for the rap generation, the same way that Baz Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet made it ok for a teen to enjoy Shakespeare. Bizet's timeless tragedy is given a modern setting and an updated script. But where Luhrmann succeeded (contrasting the original Shakespeare with his own frenetic images), this new Carmen fails, substituting for one of the most famous, haunting opera scores of all time a dull, charmless cacophony of bland rap and hip-hop.

R&B singer Beyoncé Knowles is Carmen, a young woman from the ghetto with aspirations of acting in Hollywood (echoes of Moulin Rouge, another contemporary update of a classic opera) is cursed by fate, affecting the lives of everyone around her, including Derrick Hill (Phifer), a young cop whose perfect life is forever changed by his relationship with the doomed diva. Carmen's manipulations, and those of a crooked police lieutenant (Mos Def), will carry Hill to the brink of temptation and back, and, in the end... well, it's a tragedy, isn't it?

The story is an acceptable update of the original opera, as all the major themes remain in place: greed, destiny, and the corrupting power of passion and sexuality. But without the music (none of which remains, save for a brief echo of the title theme), this version feels like nothing more than an overblown soap opera. It doesn't help that the new songs are terrible (the lyric "You know I love you, I don't have to say it verbally, wouldn't leave you in Berlin in post-war Germany," is indicative of the quality—and rhyming), and the fact that the lead actor is clearly not a seasoned rapper does little to help things. Knowles, on the other hand, is an appealing musical performer, but little more (indeed, she shows screen presence, but her thin character never allows for much more than pouting at the camera).

Director Robert Townsend further impedes the proceedings by amping up the music video effects—including repeated shots, slow-motion, and rapid cutting—and showing no talent for doing so, turning the film into an endless, clichéd music video. The script, from Michael Elliot, fails to offer much in the way of character motivation (it's unclear how Hill goes from planning his wedding to being madly in love with Carmen in the space of a few minutes) and moves things along so quickly, the narrative becomes rapidly nonsensical.

The cameos by hip-hop stars (Da Brat is the pompous narrator, Lil' Bow Wow plays a young hoodlum) might drawn the interest of teenagers, but they'll find none of the beauty or depth of emotion of opera here. They'll be hard-pressed, in fact, to find anything at all worth watching.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame 1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes no
Anamorphicyes no

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is acceptable for a TV presentation. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer features a rather inconsistent color palette, occasionally bright and gaudy, but often rather dull and washed out. Blacks are generally strong, though shadow delineation suffers a bit. I noticed a bit of aliasing here and there, but nothing too serious. It's likely that many of the faults in the look of the transfer result from the bland cinematography; in any case, this looks pretty decent.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in the original 2.0 English, and the mix is as uninspiring as the music. Songs are presented across the front soundstage, with no support from the surrounds, and are often difficult to understand, with the bass and beats overpowering the lyrics a bit. Dialogue scenes fair a bit better, and speech is clear and understandable. Even without the benefit of 5.1 enhancement, this track could've done a lot more to present the frequent musical interludes in a more interesting fashion.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 38 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Extras are limited to a 22-minute making-of piece that ran incessantly on MTV before the feature's premiere. It's not too bad—there are, of course, lots of interviews with the cast and crew explaining the story, but there's also quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a few bloopers and amusing production stories. The big story here is "Beyoncé in her film debut," and she gets her own special section where her fellow cast members praise her abilities.

The feature is broken into a generous 38 chapters, 14 of them songs selectable from a separate menu.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Carmen: A Hip Hopera fails to make opera relevant to a new generation, fails to present a coherent storyline, fails to present engaging or interesting characters. It succeeds, however, in filling 90 minutes of screen time, which may have been the ultimate point.

Joel Cunningham 2002-09-02