Would it be too bold to propose a reading of Arthur Hiller's 'Love Story' as the result of an emotionally bankrupt America? Or would that be reading too much into it? After all, the admittedly maudlin melodrama hit theaters while in the middle of some of the nation's most turbulent years, a period that would reasonably anticipate politically, morally, and even spiritually drained audiences. (The makers even had low expectations of the movie's success.) At the time of its release, the country was violently divided on issues concerning the Vietnam War, traditional social values, and the civil rights of individuals. A term often used to describe this phase in American culture is "moral exhaustion," meaning a majority of the nation was growing weary of the unspoken drive for excellence and the idealistic promises from the hippie counterculture.
Viewed from this point of view, 'Love Story' has definitely earned its place in the history of cinema, particularly when seen as the subconscious collaboration of the period in which it was made. Moviegoers and the public in general were in need of something to escape the political chaos of the world. As evidenced by its almost immediate popularity, shattering box-office records that would put some of today's blockbusters to shame, and gaining several award nominations, Hiller's film arrived at just the right time. It's amazing, in fact, to think a simple, cliché-ridden tale of the highs-and-lows of a loving relationship (setting the template for future romantic dramas) provided the measly two-hour distraction movie-going audiences secretly desired.
Even more interesting is what the story doesn't say — or perhaps, deliberately ignores. There is practically no mention of the political turmoil that was at the time distressing society, in spite of the plot mostly taking place at Harvard and around the Boston area. This fact has been used as a criticism against it, but I would argue the film is actually very much aware of the world outside itself, although in a cleverly covert, roundabout way. Our protagonist couple, played by Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, is a left-minded and openly liberal pair who bravely admit to being atheists. MacGraw's Jennifer displays obvious feminist leanings, and O'Neal's Oliver is a socially conscious, idealistic lawyer living in the shadow of his family's name. Added to that, Jennifer comes from a working-class family while Oliver is the son of a respected, wealthy businessman, and they make their marriage work although their backgrounds sometimes create tension.
'Love Story' may seem divorced from the concerns of the world, but in actuality, the story comes with some political undertones which inform the characters and also the relationship of the couple. What I'm basically hinting at is that the filmmakers intentionally ignore the discussion so as not distract from the film's central conceit — the love of two people who would otherwise be seen as coming from two distant worlds. Or maybe, that's precisely the point made to a world in upheaval. He's rich, she's poor, yet these strangers meet and somehow manage to love one another in spite of any socially contrived differences. Coming a couple years after the 7" single from The Beatles (Jenny's favorite band), the film champions all we need is love. In some ways, that in itself is enough of a political statement, especially during such a tumultuous time.
Arthur Hiller's classic tale of romance and tragedy shouldn't only be appreciated for its cultural significance or historical import. The original screenplay by Erich Segal, which he also novelized and released just prior to the film and previously penned 'Yellow Submarine,' is a terrifically structured tale of love and loss, filled with rapid-fire dialogue that smartly exposes a great deal about each character. To use one of Oliver's harsh insights at Jenny, the drama is like watching "verbal volleyball." With a haunting, enduring piano score by Francis Lai driving the film's sentimental tone, Hiller suckers viewers into liking the couple and patiently builds towards the inevitable, tear-jerking conclusion. Even today, 'Love Story' still works its magic and delivers the desired effect, distracting us from the troubled world outside for a couple of hours and reminding us that all we need is love.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Love Story' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc that's housed inside a blue eco-case. Viewers are taken straight to the main menu screen at startup, which shows only the same still photo of the couple seen on the cover art.
'Love Story' weaves its melodramatic tale of heartache and woe on Blu-ray with several unsightly age spots, but for the most part, it's looking pretty good for a low-budget 42-year-old film. The AVC-encoded transfer (1.85:1) displays a markedly better picture than its DVD counterpart with much improved clarity and resolution.
Contrast is surprisingly sharp and consistent, with crisp, clean whites, giving the presentation an attractive, rejuvenated appearance. Fine object and textural details can often be remarkable, revealing very distinct lines around buildings, clothing and hair. It's not always perfect, however, as a few scenes look poorer than others with some blurriness and a tad noisy. Black levels are quite impressive and accurate, but shadow delineation wavers a bit — sometimes within the same scene. Colors are very bold, especially reds and blues, but there are times when they seem slightly embellished and artificial, practically to the point of bleeding.
All in all, the video is a wonderful improvement.
If the story itself isn't enough to pull at the heartstrings, then Francis Lai's timeless score should finish the job on this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The music plays an important role in the narrative and makes great uses of the lossless codec. It fills the entire soundstage with excellent clarity and an outstanding mid-range, differentiating between each individual key of the piano and the rest of the score's orchestration. With a healthy low-end that adds an appreciable depth, it even bleeds very subtly into the rear speakers and pulls viewers into those tender on-screen moments. There are also a few discrete effects for ambience, which extend the soundfield some though they really don't belong. Dialogue reproduction is superb, delivering even the whispered conversations with exceptional intelligibility. It won't give your system a great workout, but it still makes for a very good high-rez track.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Love Story' copies the same set of special features from the 2001 DVD release.
After 42 years since its original theatrical release, Arthur Hiller's 'Love Story' remains the sentimental tearjerker that shattered box-office records and set the template for pretty much every romantic drama since. The classic tragedy tale also seemed to play an important role during the period in which it was released, but can be appreciated simply for being a well-told film about two people deeply in love. The Blu-ray arrives with an audio and video presentation which improves upon previous home video releases but ports over the same set of supplements as before. Fans of the sentimental melodrama will be happy with their purchase while the curious are advised to give it a rent.