This Blu-ray includes the theatrical cut of 'Pretty Woman.'
The modern day chick flick owes 'Pretty Woman' an enormous debt. Though Julia Roberts was little more than an adorable starlet at the time of its 1990 release, her spunky personality, infectious charm, and mile-wide smile instantly seduced the world, and proved a woman could carry a big screen comedy, not just a small screen sitcom. No longer would male stars like Burt Reynolds and Dudley Moore rule the romantic comedy roost with stories about maniacal jealousy, fear of commitment, and mid-life crises; from hereon out, women would confront similar issues from their own perspective and attract hoards of movie-goers hungry for films about feminine attitudes and foibles. Major careers for Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, and others followed, as well as such estrogen-infused hits as 'While You Were Sleeping,' 'French Kiss,' and 'Miss Congeniality' – all because of the lanky streetwalker who could.
Even though Richard Gere is the film's official star, the title says it all. 'Pretty Woman' is all about Julia. Sure, Gere's character also evolves during the course of the movie, but from the get-go it's really Roberts' show. Just as Gregory Peck surrendered the screen to Audrey Hepburn in her first big picture ('Roman Holiday'), Gere steps aside and lets Julia shine, and she seizes the opportunity. Whether strolling Hollywood Blvd. in a blonde wig, peek-a-boo top, and knee-high boots, or shopping on Rodeo Drive draped from head to toe in impeccable haute couture, we can't take our eyes off of her. The mega-watt grin, raucous laugh, and twinkling eyes scream movie star, yet never overshadow the nuanced sincerity of her performance. Though playing a hooker didn't earn Roberts an Oscar (that would come later), it gave her a career. People will one day forget Erin Brokovich (if they haven't already), but they'll always remember Vivian Ward.
Watching 'Pretty Woman' today during these troubled economic times allows us to reflect on a golden bygone era when greed was good and the stock market seemed like a safe haven. Edward Lewis (Gere) is Gordon Gekko lite, a filthy rich, ruthless New York businessman who buys faltering companies and sells them off piecemeal at tremendous profit. Work consumes Edward, and as a result, he's lonely and unable to sustain a relationship. That begins to change, however, when he stops his sports car along a seedy stretch of Hollywood Blvd. one evening and asks a young prostitute for directions to his Beverly Hills hotel. For $20, Vivian (Roberts) takes him there personally, and a casual sexual encounter turns into a full-fledged business proposition. Edward needs a steady date to impress a takeover target and hires Vivian to be his "beck-and-call girl" for his weeklong California stay. He recognizes their base similarities ("We both screw people for money"), but the two soon begin to chip away at each other's protective veneers and discover the human beings lurking beneath. As their seven-day odyssey progresses, they both make positive changes that alter the dynamic of their arrangement. Vivian gains self-esteem, Edward discovers empathy. But can this improbable union last when the contract expires?
'Pretty Woman' is 'Cinderella' and 'My Fair Lady' rolled into one. Vivian, under the sympathetic tutelage of the hotel's elegant manager (Hector Elizondo), blossoms into a vision of chic sophistication and accompanies her Prince Charming to several ball-like functions. The transformation is the story's highlight, but there's more to Garry Marshall's film than shopping and Roy Orbison's theme song. Though J.F Lawton's screenplay never will be regarded as a paragon of depth, the story does possess a harder, more cynical edge than most films in the same vein – until, of course, the tacked-on, crowd-pleasing fairy tale finale. (Gere must enjoy swooping in and rescuing his poor damsels; he did the same thing in 'An Officer and a Gentleman' several years before.) Sure, a lot of the action is implausible, but that's romantic comedy; what's noteworthy here is that the characters possess more dimension than the usual empty-headed stiffs populating the genre. Vivian, even after her makeover, retains her rough edges, yet feels she's grown enough to warrant respect, and she isn't afraid to ask for it, while Edward struggles to relax the rigid attitudes that have defined him for so long. Theirs is a complicated romance, and even though the problems are resolved rather neatly, the meat of the story sustains the film.
Marshall strikes a nice balance between humor and drama, never pushing either element too far. His breezy direction hits all the right notes, and he fashions several memorable scenes. The Rodeo Drive sequences, Julia singing Prince's Kiss in a bubble bath, and Gere's improvised snapping of the jewelry box lid on Roberts' fingers are images that define this film and keep people going back to it. Fine supporting performances up the ante: Jason Alexander's unctuous lawyer is spot-on, Laura San Giacomo delights as Vivian's flighty roommate, and Elizondo shines as a Hispanic Henry Higgins. Palpable chemistry between Gere and Roberts, the bouncy '80s soundtrack (gotta love King of Wishful Thinking), and feel-good ending also contribute to the movie's favored status among women and men.
As chick flicks go, 'Pretty Woman' is the gold standard. Artistically, it's not a great film, but it set the tone for much of what we've seen in romantic comedy over the past two decades, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. Long after 'Sex and the City' has run its course, people will still be playing and loving 'Pretty Woman.'
I had really been looking forward to seeing 'Pretty Woman' in high-def, but unfortunately this 1080p/MPEG-4 disc falls short of expectations. I could blame Marshall for shooting many scenes under natural light or curse the film's age, but such excuses don't do much to soothe the sting. This is really a tale of two transfers – one that's dreary and noisy, and one that's vibrant and bold – and you never really know from one scene to the next what you're gonna get. Unfortunately, the subpar transfer predominates. Low light always boosts grain content, and there's a lot on display here. Interiors and night scenes are often a bit dull and murky, with the image flaunting an overall flatness that keeps viewers at arm's length. Contrast certainly could be pumped up a notch or two, fleshtones vary from scene to scene, blacks never achieve the degree of depth we crave, and shadow detail is often hazy. Worst of all, the color palette looks pale and faded much of the time, though Vivian's famous red dress nicely wakes up our eyes late in the film.
All this sounds awful, I know, but once Marshall takes us out into the California daylight, things markedly improve. The Rodeo Drive montage is crisp and clear, with bright, vivid colors that really show off the hues and textures of Vivian's new wardrobe. Grass is lushly green as well, and when Vivian and her roommate Kit meet by the hotel pool, the clarity and richness of the close-ups are lovely. The final scene on the tenement fire escape also looks quite good, but can't quite erase from my mind the litany of previous problem issues.
I really can't fault Disney for this effort. The company's techs have steered clear of annoying enhancements such as DNR and accurately duplicated the look and feel of the film; it's just a shame the film doesn't always lend itself well to the high-def treatment. All that said, this Blu-ray edition of 'Pretty Woman' looks better than any previous video incarnation, and is definitely worth an upgrade for fans. Just don't expect a fairy tale transfer.
The uncompressed English 5.1 track (48kHz/24-bit) pumps out adequate sound, but never raises the roof. Dialogue is always front-and-center; normal conversations achieve appropriate balance, and even throwaway lines are distinct. Stereo separation across the front channels is mild, but a few instances of directionality keep the audio field active, and bass frequencies are pretty muted, except for a few earthy rumbles during the polo match. James Newton Howard's run-of-the-mill score enjoys decent dynamic range, but never swells enough to really test the parameters.
The track perks up noticeably, however, when the soundtrack tunes kick in, and then it's hello '80s in a big, robust way. A fidelity boost benefits all these nostalgic songs, which fill the room with a newfound purity of tone, solid bass, and crisp vocals. 'Pretty Woman' isn't exactly a jukebox film, but the music adds a lot to the story and mood, and this track showcases it.
All the extras from the 2005 15th anniversary DVD have been ported over, but its pretty lightweight stuff, both literally and figuratively. It's about time someone produced a retrospective documentary on the film, but I guess we'll have to wait for the movie's 25th. All the video is in 480i/MPEG-2.
'Pretty Woman' holds up well almost 20 years after its initial release, thanks to the allure, charm, and sass of Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, a problematic transfer and no new supplements dampen the high-def debut of this beloved romantic comedy, but it's still a worthy upgrade from the previous standard DVDs. Definitely a keeper for fans; others might want to test drive it first.