Bradley Cooper’s 2018 refashioning of A Star Is Born is one of the chosen few to get a new theatrical lease on life and subsequently a new home video release, the new Special Encore Edition adding about eleven minutes to the previous version of the movie.
The Production: 4/5
In the Golden Age of home video, director’s versions of their films which integrated previously cut material back into the feature became a very familiar happening. Rarely have director’s cuts gotten a theatrical release (though it’s not unknown: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for example), but Bradley Cooper’s 2018 refashioning of A Star Is Born is one of the chosen few to get a new theatrical lease on life and subsequently a new home video release. The new Special Encore Edition adds about eleven minutes to the previous version of the movie. While aficionados of the first theatrical release will note the new changes right off and be delighted to add this alternate view of the movie to their collections, the few added verses of songs and an occasional added song or dramatic sequence doesn’t really alter the original film in any meaningful way. What was good about the movie remains intact, and the occasional narrative weaknesses borne from awkward transitions between scenes are still present.
Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) packs in the throngs of adoring fans at his arena rockabilly concerts, but an unplanned detour to a seedy club for a nightcap introduces him to Ally (Lady Gaga), a powerful vocalist whose songwriting and singing careers haven’t advanced due to her insecurity about her looks. Jackson takes her under his wing, turning a simple song of hers into a power ballad they can warble together at one of his concerts, the video of which goes viral and thrusts Ally onto the international stage. But Jackson’s drinking and drug use along with a hearing impairment which is worsening begin eating into his popularity and the desire for his services within the industry, just at the moment that Ally’s career is going great guns.
The curious will be anxious to know: what’s different about this encore edition? Major additions can be spotted almost immediately in Jackson’s opening song “Black Eyes,” with additional verses which bring the song to a natural conclusion. We get to hear more of Ally’s impromptu song in the parking lot that later turns into “Shallow” and later see Jackson and Ally collaborating on the new song “Clover” while on their first tour. There is a meaningful dialogue scene between Jackson and the young New Zealander who has replaced him as lead singer at the Grammy tribute to Roy Orbison, the best of the additions since it sets up the Grammy night fiasco so much better by milking the contrast between a Jackson in control and the one who makes a shambles of Ally’s big night. The encore edition also seems to concentrate a little more on Jackson’s deteriorating hearing.
The bones of the story remain the same – one star rises while her lover’s career falters – and this 2018 version retains the music industry motif instituted in the 1976 Barbra Streisand conception of the story. Nods to Gaga’s following in the gay community (a stunning introduction to her singing “La Vie en Rose” in a drag club) and her own transformation into a glittery glamazon have worked their way into this account while Cooper and his fellow writers have given Jackson a truly sad backstory with a lot of personal baggage which somewhat account for his drug dependency as an emotional crutch. Cooper directs the on-stage sequences with showy versatility from the opening pill and booze soaked song “Black Eyes” to that electrifying first duet between the pair with “Shallow” and Ally’s first real blossoming as a solo artist in “Always Remember Us This Way.” But apart from the raucous concert sequences and the scene at the Grammys where Jackson humiliates Ally on a national television broadcast (easily the most embarrassing version of this moment in all four filmed versions of the story), the best musical moments are quieter ones: Jackson’s noble acoustic solo “Maybe It’s Time” or Ally noodling on the piano trying out new songs. And we get some arresting images, too: a wind farm that provides a turning point in the relationship between Jackson and his loving half-brother Bobby (Sam Elliott), the behind-the-scenes frenzy at Saturday Night Live, and Ally learning dance moves with backup dancers inflicted on her by her driven manager Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron). And one must not forget the slight nod to one of Lady Gaga’s precursors in the role, Judy Garland, as she warbles a few lines from the verse of “Over the Rainbow” in her introductory sequence in the movie.
In this version of A Star Is Born, the two leading roles are for the first time basically of equal importance (Cooper, in addition to all of his jobs in the movie, rates top billing as a testament to how much more interesting his character is in the film compared to those who preceded him in earlier incarnations), and Bradley Cooper is the real revelation here, using a guttural speaking voice (according to him based on co-star Sam Elliott) and possessing real vocal chops that hold their own with his lauded singing co-star. (His end, unfortunately, isn’t filmed expressively enough to generate the kind of poignancy that, for example, James Mason’s Maine achieves in the 1954 A Star Is Born.) Lady Gaga does a fine job as Ally though her vocals are unquestionably more impressive and consistent than her dramatic performance which sometimes seems too studied and rote. Sam Elliott offers his usual sturdy performance as Jackson’s caring but exasperated brother, but the real surprise in the supporting performances comes from Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s limo-driving father, an old school gumba with his own never achieved dreams of crooning stardom. Rafi Gavron’s ambitious manager is an underwritten character (his part in Jackson’s ultimate fate is never dramatically resolved) that the actor does what he can with, and Anthony Ramos has a nice moment or two as Ally’s steadfast best friend. Popping in for brief moments are Dave Chappelle, Alec Baldwin, Brandi Carlile, and Ron Rifkin.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though the Blu-ray transfer may lack just a smidge of the UHD’s solidity of color mapping and bright highlights (due to the lack of HDR), the transfer is still mightily impressive and as good as any other high definition rendering of a modern film. Black levels are quite impressive, and color and brightness are managed nicely. The movie has been divided into 19 chapters.
As with the UHD release, this Blu-ray offers the user a choice of either Dolby Atmos or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mixes. Utilizing the Atmos mix for this review, the soundfield is an enormous and impressive one with the music and audience response during the concert scenes pouring forth from every direction. The entire mix is stunningly enveloping. Bass response is thunderous at times, and dialogue has been well recorded and isn’t drowned out by the music. The Encore Edition defaults to the DTS-HD MA mix, however, so users need to be aware to choose the Atmos mix from the Main Menu if that is the audio track you prefer.
Special Features: 1/5
The Blu-ray disc offers both the theatrical and the Encore Edition in the opening menu under the Play button.
The only bonus feature is Musical Moments (28.33, HD) which can take the viewer to any one of eleven musical moments in the movie. A “Play All” feature is included.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet are enclosed in the case. Both the theatrical and Encore edition redeem in HD at Movies Anywhere.
The Encore Edition of 2018’s A Star Is Born is really for serious fans of the film with its eleven extra minutes of material constituting interesting but not essential additions to what was already a very good motion picture. The lack of any of the behind-the-scenes bonus material found on the previous Blu-ray and UHD releases would seem to make those the essential purchases for those who were fond of the original theatrical release.