Steel Magnolias (1989) UHD Review

4 Stars Dramedy tear-jerker
Steel Magnolias Review 4K

An all-star cast (including a very young Julia Roberts) heads director Herbert Ross’ 1989 crowd-pleaser Steel Magnolias, now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Steel Magnolias (1989)
Released: 22 Nov 1989
Rated: PG
Runtime: 117 min
Director: Herbert Ross
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Cast: Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah
Writer(s): Robert Harling (screenplay), Robert Harling (play)
Plot: A young beautician, newly arrived in a small Louisiana town, finds work at the local salon, where a small group of women share a close bond of friendship, and welcome her into the fold.
IMDB rating: 7.3
MetaScore: 56

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, French 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG
Run Time: 1 Hr. 58 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Digital Copy
Case Type: UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 04/23/2024
MSRP: $38.99

The Production: 4/5

The following was taken from Matt Hough’s review of Sony’s 2019 Blu-ray release.

Robert Harling’s loving remembrance of his late sister’s life and death forms the basis of his hit play Steel Magnolias and its very successful 1989 film version directed by Herbert Ross. Filled with assorted comic and dramatic moments in the lives of six female friends living and loving together in a Louisiana parish, Steel Magnolias is a touching and funny slice of life and a sure cure for what ails you.

The title symbols in Steel Magnolias refer to its six protagonists, a sextet of sometimes hard-edged, determined Southern women who make a memorable team of individuals at work and play in Chinquapin, Louisiana. But tough Southern women aren’t new to movies. Shirley MacLaine, for example, who here plays the feisty town curmudgeon named Ouiser, played a similarly resolute Southern belle in Terms of Endearment (which this movie definitely resembles in spots). These women are all cherishable ladies a couple of generations removed from Tennessee Williams’ suffering females and with more on the ball than Truman Capote’s eccentric creations.

Besides MacLaine (who steals every scene she’s in and emerges as the feistiest of the grand dames), there are Sally Field and Julia Roberts playing M’Lynn and Shelby, mother-daughter adversaries locked on a loving collision course, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah as friendly beauty shop owner Truvy and her daffy, insecure new assistant Annelle, and Olympia Dukakis as Clairee Belcher, the resident town wit who makes acerbic observations about the inhabitants of the entire parish throughout the picture.

Robert Harling’s stage play and his adapted screenplay have some general allusions to Clare Booth Luce’s The Women in its insights into human nature in general and women in particular. In Luce’s comedy, though, the accent was on women using sex as the lethal weapon in the eternal conquest of men. Harling’s story is less obvious, less structured, and less catty (though still plenty bitchy at times), seeing the women as individuals struggling for life’s rewards rather than simply as kept objects of men. In fact, much is made of the women’s independence from their men, hardly the thesis of Luce’s play and much more appropriate for modern women and today’s audiences. Unlike Terms of Endearment, however, Steel Magnolias is noticeably episodic in the six stories it’s trying to tell, and splitting its time between these powerhouse ladies lessens a little some potentially dynamic scenes through such a necessity for its split viewpoints. It’s, however, a true embarrassment of riches, especially in the stories of MacLaine, Parton, and Field.

Performance-wise, each woman has her moments, Sally Field’s being the most intensely dramatic, and they all rise to the occasion whenever their spotlight moments occur. Dolly Parton’s natural buoyancy and verve is totally captivating making any other actress in this part unthinkable. Olympia Dukakis’s dry delivery robs her of some of the sympathy of the other characters, but she still has a few unmatched moments. Hannah is as good as she’s likely ever to be, and Roberts makes a beautiful, fresh-faced ingénue and the only one of the sextet of powerhouse actresses to emerge from the movie with a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination to show for her trouble. While some of their Southern accents prove occasionally elusive (particularly Field’s), one harbors no ill will for the infrequent lapses. The ladies are far too likeable and appealing for that.

Director Herbert Ross, used to handling women’s stories in such previous movies as The Turning Point and Funny Lady, focuses on the women’s faces, and etched there are the laughter and tears that everyday life is comprised of. He gets the film off to a grand start as we pop in and out of the sights and sounds of these Southern folks on the day of Shelby’s wedding, and he handles a dramatic diabetic episode in the beauty shop with real grace and candor. The big reveal of the tacky church decorations in Shelby’s pink monstrosity of a wedding, the wedding reception with folks dancing up a storm, and a graveside sequence where a mother expresses her disbelief over the vagaries of life are also right on the mark.

In his opening up of his all-female stage play, writer Harling along with director Ross has offered here a few men who make sporadic appearances in the film. Tom Skerritt has a funny moment or two as Field’s wacky husband, and Sam Shepard pops in from time to time as Parton’s unemotional but occasionally thoughtful spouse. Dylan McDermott, Kevin O’Connor, and Bill McCutcheon also score in scenes with the various ladies, while never fully securing the spotlight from them. It’s really the ladies’ story, unquestionably. The movie opens out many of the memorable scenes from Harling’s dramedy and plays much better as a film actually (in much the same way that Driving Miss Daisy, also opened up from play to film in 1989, did). How much of that has to do with Ross’s snappy pacing, the intelligent and striking performances, and the lovely location photography, though, rests with each individual’s interpretation. It’s certainly a very gratifying two hours.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Steel Magnolias was photographed on 35mm film stock using Panavision Panaflex cameras. Sony has scanned the 35mm camera negative in 4K to create a new 4K digital intermediate of which the transfer on this release is sourced from. The 2160p HEVC encode includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range. It is a very film-like image, retaining the organic fine grain structure of a 35mm print. Colors are naturally vivid without appearing overly saturated. Fine detail is excellent, revealing intricate facial features and fabric textures. Contrast is also excellent, with deep blacks that offer strong shadow details and bright highlights that never appear to clip. Another wonderful-looking catalog title in 4K from Sony.

Audio: 4.5/5

The default audio track is Dolby Atmos, and it is a very subtle mix, making it rather hard to distinguish between the included DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix created for the previous Blu-ray release (a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo surround mix is also included, as the film was originally released in Dolby Stereo). This is a dialogue-driven movie with a wonderful Georges Delerue score, and not a whole lot more to work with. Dialogue is nicely placed along the wide front soundstage while the score and ambient sound effects help to round out the remaining speaker channels. LFE is virtually non-existent. The Atmos track does have a slight edge over the two other English language tracks, in that sounds travel more naturally and seamlessly throughout the viewing area.

Special Features: 3.5/5

This is a single 4K disc release (sorry, no Blu-ray is included) that ports over all of the special features from previous physical media releases from Sony, plus one new exclusive extra.

In Full Bloom: Remembering “Steel Magnolias” (upscaled 1080p; 23:20): Produced for the 2000 DVD, it features reminiscences by writer Robert Harling, director Herbert Ross, and co-star Shirley MacLaine.

**NEW** “Steel Magnolias” TV Pilot (upscaled 1080p; 22:48): The pilot episode for the CBS dramedy series with Cindy Williams in the Sally Field role and Sally Kirkland in the Dolly Parton role. Despite a script by creator Robert Harling and direction by TV veteran Thomas Schlamme, the leads just don’t have the chemistry that was captured in the feature film. Hence, the pilot was never ordered to series but aired as summer filler in 1990.

Deleted Scenes (upscaled 1080p; 6:03):

Audio Commentary: Director Herbert Ross delivers a somewhat dry and unemotional commentary on the film, offering some insights into his casting and production decisions but also featuring numerous gaps in the commentary and too much description of what’s on the screen.

Theatrical Trailer (upscaled 1080p; 1:28)

Digital Copy: A Movies Anywhere code is include to redeem a digital copy in 4K.

Overall: 4/5


Steel Magnolias is a more fleshed-out film adaptation then Robert Harling’s original stage play, with fine performances all around.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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