Except for the fact that it was released in 1990, Pretty Woman would be a quintessential '80's movie; It's got the feel-good charm of Splash, a subject matter that gently challenges conservative values like The Breakfast Club, and the fun factor of Adventures in Babysitting. Not surprisingly, Pretty Woman is directed by Gary Marshall, who's skills at delivering sentimental screenplays that are unashamedly mushy--yet somehow manage to avoid eye-rolling cheesiness--are nimbly demonstrated here. Marshall's first success is putting together an excellent cast of characters (Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander) who have natural chemistry and fit their roles as if they were custom tailored for their part. And as these members work to unfold the story, Marshall's direction helps keep things in balance...allowing the characters to evolve and develop relationships on-screen that feel compelling and help the audience to invest emotionally in their outcomes. The story has some obvious flaws, but this isn't Lawrence of Arabia folks...it's pure entertainment. Pretty Woman is also a proven romance flick when needed brownie points are to be gained ("why do we always watch the movies that you want to watch?"). It's smaltzy, and it's saccharine, and it's wonderful.
Yes, this film is predicated on the subject matter of prostitution. And this might have resulted in a film not appropriate for many audiences were it not for Marshall's touch of charm; he manages to create a fairy-tale story out of a hooker turning tricks...and paints Julia as an innocent we can't help but sympathize with. In my opinion, that's Pretty Woman's highest achievement...and were the film made today (or by someone else) it would probably have felt more like Leaving Las Vegas than the Cinderella fairytale that Marshall manages to convey. This isn't to say that the "R" rating isn't warranted, and I praise Marshall for not avoiding a bit of candid (yet not explicit) discussion and portrayal of sexuality. For this reason, Pretty Woman isn't a movie to casually throw on when the kids are around unless they've "had the talk" and you're willing to address issues of sexual promiscuity in preparation for their viewing. However, for young teen or adult audiences who are in-the-know, without discarding relevant issues, the film gets by without threatening parents (or their children) with any extreme uncomfortable scenes where you wish you'd opted to take that bathroom break just a moment before.
Pretty Woman showcases Julia Roberts to perfection. Julia's full complement of capabilities shine: her physical beauty, her real-world personality, and her ability to portray such tangible innocence in light of her predicament. Marshall is not moralizing in this film...the "winners" and the "losers" are not manifesting some greater cosmic truth by which we're expected to reorder our lives. This film is the classic Pygmalion/My Fair Lady tale: it's an entertaining tale about rags-to-riches. In the world of movie-make-believe, it's enjoyable to see such miraculous transformations take place within a 2-hour span and that's all this film is trying to do. I read a consumer-review on Amazon.com where the poster got all bent out of shape about the immoral "lessons" that this film was "trying to teach" about how good things come to those who engage in wrongful behaviors... That's reading a whole lot more into Pretty Woman than it warrants or intends. Don't get hung-up on the details or moral implications and just enjoy this film for what it is: a charming romantic-comedy where dreams really do come true.
NOTE: Correction, after a bit of discussion this DVD appears to be the "director's cut" and not the theatrical version.
This is Pretty Woman's third foray onto the world of 5" DVD and this is the first time that the film has been properly presented in anamorphic widescreen (the former versions being a recycled 4x3 encoded lbx master). Praise be. Those of you who are ticked off that you're now confronted with the quandary of possibly double or triple dipping have only yourselves to blame...you should never have bought that non-anamorphic version to begin with now should you have? Slap!!! But even if you fell off the 16x9 wagon you're welcome to repent and climb aboard with this new version, which I'm pleased to say has impressed me very much.
The 16x9 encoded image properly presents this 1.85:1 transfer with very small letterboxing in the 1.77:1 frame. Most viewers with traditional displays that employ generous overscan will never see these letterboxing bars (like they don't see the pillarboxing bars on 1.66:1 16x9 material) but those with plasmas or calibrated front/rear projection systems may notice them which is why I point this out. This is the proper way to present 1.85:1 OAR material in 16x9 and it's something that I'm proud to say Disney consistently gets right (opening up the matting on soft-matte presentations to fill the 1.77:1 frame is another relatively benign option which some other studios generally practice).
Before I get more in-depth I want to state up front that most of the "problems" folks are likely to see with this new DVD image are film-source related in origin. The film-tape transfer and digital mastering/downconverting/compressing for DVD are all handled very well and with a minimum of electronically-introduced artifacting. The first "flaw" you might notice is a slightly "flat" appearance of the image in some scenes...it tends to lack strong dynamics with a contrast range that seems a bit restricted. Of course, keep in mind that watching DVDs like Toy Story often make it difficult to re-adjust to the appearance of transfered film material. Black level is respectable and colors feel satisfyingly rich. Some shots have fine-visible film-grain which should NOT be mistaken for a "problem" but rather considered with respect as this preserves the natural, intended look of this film. This film grain is preserved beautifully and gives Pretty Woman that "alive" look of good film projection (ie, it hasn't been turned into a digital-noise mess during compression or mastering). Exemplary. Pretty Woman was not intended to look razor sharp like X-men 2 or have the bold color palette Shrek 2. This film was carefully shot to have warm color shift that deviates from real-world "live cam" tones. Flesh tones are consistently "overly warm" and they are intended to look that way.
From my seated distance of 1.6 screen-widths away from my 106" screen (hey, I never know who's reading one of these reviews for the first time), the image from my BenQ DLP projector (being fed its native 1280 x 720 resolution via DVI from my Momitsu v880) looks very natural, extremely film-like. The MPEG encoding of Pretty Woman gets major points for communicating the nuance of fine-film-grain and other film-related noise patterns without becoming distractingly pixilated or noisy. Despite the occasional film-grain and inherent image softness, there are scenes that come through with exquisite clarity. Even at such a wide viewing angle I was able to watch the film with a satisfied sense of "ahh" that I wasn't being short-changed on picture detail...so I'm suspecting that some of the mastering engineers at the Mouse have been making strides to minimize the over-filtering common to so many Buena Vista live-action DVDs. There is possibly the smallest degree of edge-ringing affecting a *few* hard-edged-horizontal lines if you stare closely during a *few* shots (is it clear yet that this is nothing to worry about?)...but during normal movie-play they do not in any way intrude and relatively benign. Rest easy, this is not a ringy EE-ridden transfer that looks flawed on the big-screen...on the contray the image is "film like" and pleasing even to a discriminating eye.
Summing up, this is a very, very faithful representation of the film on 5" disc. Minor quibbles aside, most "issues" with the picture that videophiles might notice are film-originated and not an artifact of preparation for DVD. I was able to "forget" that I was watching a DVD at all and just lose myself in the wonderful film-like impression on my 106" screen...and that means that the DVD, and the Buena Vista Studio, are doing their job the way that they should.
Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE).|
Having been a faithful anamorphiadic, I never purchased any prior copy of Pretty Woman so I can't compare the audio with any legacy version you may have on your shelf. However, I think I can still give folks a good idea of how this 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation sounds without resorting to any direct A/B comparison. Like the video, the audio on this disc sounds very "faithful to the source". However, the (cheap) recording techniques used for Pretty Woman really show their age, and the overall effect is a mix that may not sound offensive, but sounds very "dated" and problematic non-the-less. Let me clarify, I'm not really criticizing the DVD encoding in this area of the review, I'm really discussing problems I hear in the source mix. And while I fall on the side of "original audio mix" when forced to choose, I never turn down an updated newly-mixed/remastered audio presentation as an alternate track if it's able to improve upon things (Rocky Horror, Bambi, Willy Wonka).
The first thing you'll notice is that the overdubbed audio sounds pretty "canned" and artificial...and the better your audio system the more these flaws will stand out. There is a distinct lack of dynamic range which applies equally to dialogue, effects, and musical score. Also, the mix is extremely center-heavy...and sounds like "fat mono" for 99% of the movie despite the 5.1 logo appearing on your receiver display. The reason why this bothers me at all is that Pretty Woman has a kickin' soundtrack...and the spliced in musical cuts sound just as center-heavy and compressed as the rest of the film when you'd expect them to "rush" and make use of the stereophonic effect. Also...much of the incorporated 3rd-party music has a "warbley" sound that reminds you of as cassette tape played just a few too many times after being left in your car's glove compartment. Ok Ok, I'll get nice I promise. It's just that it would have been really cool if the new 5.1 mix had incorporated "fresh" elements for these musical cuts to provide full fidelity (Rocky Horror) perhaps with just a *touch* of roll-off on the top end so they don't jar the listener and sound too out of place.
There is one notable scene that deviates from these characterizations entirely. It's when Julia takes a trip to the opera. The vocalist and orchestration at the opera house explode with full-range dynamics and tonal color. The soundstage becomes unrestrictingly wide and the soundfield gains a sense of depth...while the subtle acoustic cues and decays echo into the room via the surround channels to convey a sense of "hall" giving you an impression of believable space. That's what I would have liked to have experiences with all the musical numbers...pop songs included.
All in all I can't fault the DVD or the mastering engineer for being faithful to the source and in that sense they've done an excellent job. My score reflects the "objective" quality of the mix--which, for me, I found to be a tad disappointing--and not the DVD encoding of that mix.
Sound Quality: 3 / 5
The bonus features are pretty reasonable for a single-disc presentation, and present a lot of overlap with the 10th Anniversary Edition. Most of the material included here was produced contemporary with the film...and so expect a lot of VHS-quality supplements that are still great to own, but aren't going to convince your significant other that the new HDTV was a necessary purchase.
[*]Director's Commentary: This commentary by Gary Marshall has been newly recorded for this DVD edition. Those of you who have heard his commentary on other discs know what to expect...his unassuming, down-to-earth speaking style is a pleasure to listen to if you want a departure from the take-themselves-too-seriously commentary of your cult-film director idol. His comments are screen-specific and cover the full range from casting choices, to filming techniques (like the lack of lighting during the outdoor scenes or having to film on Sunday due to local restrictions), to location choices to behind-the-scenes stories about the actors and cast. It's a pleasure.
[*]Blooper Reel: The usual short but laughable assemblage. Not trying to be dismissive...just not much to say.
[*]Deleted Scenes: Gary Marshall does a nice job introducing these and expressing his rationale for why various sequences were removed or trimmed.
[*]Live from the Warp Party: Watch Julia sing away with an audio recording that never manages to actually pick up her voice.
[*]LA: The Pretty Woman Tour: This is a really nice new feature produced for this DVD edition. It's 16x9 Ws with above-average picture quality. There are several on-location spots accompanied by Gary Marshall's discussion, and I found this material very interesting. The fact that the opera-house lobby was really a natural history museum with a T-rex skeleton just inches away off-screen was particularly enjoyable.
[*][b]1990 Featurette: Always fun to see how these films were "promoted" in their time. This great time-capsule-esque featurette is no exception.
[*][b]Natalie Cole Music Video: "Wild Woman Do" and it sounds great. Picture quality takes you back to the days of 1980's MTV but the audio sounds very nice with good presence and soundstage.
[*][b]Trailer: A VHS-quality 4x3 full-frame trailer awaits to excite you. It's open-matte and even though it's not P/S it's amazing to see how just changing the composition of the image really changes the whole feel...it goes from a "movie" to "TV" in an instant. But great that this treat is here for fans!
It's saccharine romancing at it's best. It's good comedy. It's Julia Roberts. If you haven't already purchased Pretty Woman on DVD but been waiting to "get around" to it, you've got your excuse. If you've already purchased the 10th Anniversary edition and are wondering if you ought to double-dip, it really depends on how much the new (gorgeously film-like) 16x9 transfer is worth to you on your particular display given that you've already got a nice dose of special feature content and the new 5.1 mix isn't winning any awards. If you've never seen Pretty Woman, but you like Julia Roberts and you enjoy a good, campy-yet-entertaining comedy-romance...or this describes the other person you're always trying to drag into your home-theater...then I heartily recommend you give Pretty Woman, 15th Anniversary Edition, a try...