Films featuring crumbling marriages are as old as the movies themselves. In some films like The Marrying Kind, the couples are able to work out their differences. In others, like Danny DeVito’s acidic The War of the Roses, the rancor and vengefulness only intensifies as the film runs. A magnificently black domestic comedy that makes marriage and divorce seem like institutions to be avoided at all costs, The War of the Roses has gotten funnier and more pertinent with each passing decade.
The War of the Roses (Blu-ray)
Directed by Danny DeVito
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 116 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Dolby Digital 2.0 surround English, French, 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Review Date: October 2, 2012
After a couple of prior films together in which their on-screen chemistry was palpable, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner play Oliver and Barbara Rose, their story told in flashback by a lawyer (Danny DeVito) to a wide-eyed silent client (Dan Castellaneta) contemplating divorce. Michael Leeson's screenplay spends the film’s first forty-eight minutes setting up the couple as initially happy though with growing animosities cracking the surface of their otherwise strong marriage façade. But once Barbara’s desire for a divorce is revealed, the gloves come off in what amounts to a literal war between the two with their tit-for-tat tactics gaining in viciousness and violence as their sad story plays out.
Though both leading actors do fine work, Kathleen Turner really seems to be relishing her part; clearly Oliver still loves his wife and is willing to try to smooth things over, but Barbara has had enough, and in Turner’s hands, her rancorous behavior seems to grow to mammoth proportions as the film runs. One must be in the right frame of mind to take these attacks on one another in the right spirit to find them funny; those who have lived through a terrible divorce may find things here to hit just a bit too close to home and find the entire affair squirm-inducing instead of hilarious. And the film has the strength of its convictions: there are no last reel turnarounds or syrupy sentimental changes of heart. The movie’s last shot of the battling Roses is nastily and magnificently true.
Though Danny DeVito does just fine as the chain-smoking lawyer in relating his story to his potential client, it’s his work as a director that’s really superb. He rarely lets the camera sit still, and as he prowls around their stupendous house (the focal point of the battle royal between Oliver and Barbara), one is never quite sure where the camera will be: above looking down God-like on the combat in progress or below the characters shooting upward and emphasizing their demonic dispositions as they continue to gain in fury, sometimes in point of view shots as a plate saucers through the air headed for a target, and sometimes in static shots where the actors play the scene without any cutting or close-ups. It’s quite a dexterous display of direction from Mr. DeVito!
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is presented in a faithful 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The film is much sharper and features more deeply saturated color than has been seen in previous home video editions. There’s a warmth to the color timing especially in the DeVito office scenes that really plays up the benefits of high definition presentations. Flesh tones are tanned but consistently presented and most appealing. Black levels are likewise very good with excellent shadow detail. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
There are two English language soundtracks: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track. The Dolby sounds a bit truer to the theatrical presentation while the DTS-HD MA sound mix sounds somewhat thinner and decidedly more frontcentric with very little activity in the rear channels apart from some slight bleed from David Newman’s dissonantly lush score. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
The audio commentary is by director/co-star Danny DeVito. A film of which he’s justifiably proud, DeVito discusses his relationships with the actors and his choices for various shots, sometimes his own ideas and sometimes borrowed from works of other filmmakers he admires. Though he sometimes describes what we’re seeing on screen without offering further analysis, the commentary overall is a worthwhile one.
“Revisiting The War of the Roses” is a new featurette with Danny DeVito and Oscar-winning producer James L. Brooks sitting down and watching the film together mentioning favorite moments and stopping it occasionally to talk about something of interest. Of course, their regard for each other is obvious and comes through continuously in this 29-minute featurette that’s presented in 1080p.
“The Music of The War of the Roses” repeats the previous sit down, but this time it’s between DeVito and composer David Newman who talks about various inspirations for the music and his memories of recording the score with a one hundred piece orchestra in the recording studio named for his father Alfred Newman. This runs 9 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
The remaining features are in 480i ported over from a previous release of the movie.
A deleted scenes montage collects 23 ¼-minutes of deleted material from DeVito’s original cut that ran 184 minutes. The scenes include some additional pranks the Roses play on one another, but nothing much here seems indispensable.
There are four trailers which can be viewed individually or in one 6-minute grouping.
There are six TV spots which can also be viewed separately or together running 3 ¼ minutes.
A color stills production gallery features 138 stills and behind-the-scenes shots taken during production. They can be stepped through by the viewer.
The script for the movie is available to page though.
DeVito filmed an introduction to the movie appearing on the Fox Home Entertainment logo before the main feature begins.
The case contains a 27-page booklet with stills from the movie and with information about the story, the production, and the leading actors.
4/5 (not an average)
A very dark comedy but with some of the best work ever done on the screen by both Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, The War of the Roses is a terrific dark comic gem. One’s mood will play a very important part in whether one will find it amusing or abysmal, but it’s certainly worth a rental, and fans are certain to be delighted with the high definition picture. Recommended!