“You and I are such similar creatures, Vivian. We both screw people for money.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and call Pretty Woman a classic. It’s only ten years old, sure, but it has all of the elements that will have people watching it fifty years from now. The classic romance movies very often are twists upon a simple plot: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Obstacles prevent them from being together. In the end, love triumphs over all, and the boy and girl live happily ever after. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere possess the magic spark of chemistry that made the on-screen romances of Bogey and Bacall, Fred and Ginger, and Tracy and Hepburn so appealing (not to mention that, like those couples, Gere is many years older than Roberts). These romantic movies are fantasies, plain and simple. No one in the real world has relationships this pat and perfect, but that’s why we watch. Movies are an escape from reality. “Chick flicks” are the female-targeted counterpoint to the testosterone-drenched action flicks that real guys love. While the movies’ appeals cross gender lines, the genres draw upon our desires to live vicariously through the characters, either by blowing stuff up or by falling hopelessly in love.
What a world it would be if Richard Gere and Julia Roberts had not surfed the wave of stardom Pretty Woman brought them until they were stranded on the sandy shore. Gere was already a mega-star in 1990, with the likes of American Gigolo and An Officer And A Gentleman on his résumé. To date, he hasn’t had a movie that even came close to the heights brought by those hits. I did enjoy his portrayal of Lancelot in First Knight and a publicity-hungry lawyer in Primal Fear (though that movie is more notable as the screen debut of Edward Norton as a schizophrenic, murdering altar boy). Julia Roberts benefited the most from her Pretty Woman fame, but was sabotaged by her personal life and poor choices like I Love Trouble, Mary Reilly, and Sleeping With The Enemy. It’s been only recently that she’s grown up, as it were, and has grown into the heady role of stardom. Finally, she’s earning those huge paychecks with hits like My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill.
The plot of Pretty Woman should be familiar to everyone. Julia Roberts plays Vivian, a young girl who followed a guy to Los Angeles, but now works as a prostitute to pay the rent. Richard Gere plays Edward, a shrewd businessman who buys struggling companies, then breaks them up and sells the pieces. In a “meet cute,” Edwards stops to ask for directions — he’s unaccustomed to driving himself — and is greeted on Hollywood Boulevard by streetwalking Vivian. For $20 she drives him to his hotel. The one night fling turns into a “job offer”: Edward will pay her $3000 to be his professional girlfriend for the week. As the two get to know each other, romance blossoms and they emerge from the shells their harsh lives had created. They part ways when their arrangement is up, but of course we know it can’t end that way.
The disc I reviewed was Disney’s tenth anniversary edition. Try as I might, I can’t evaluate it without Disney bashing. Disney does not get the DVD format, plain and simple. First off, there isn’t anything special about it. As far as I can tell, it’s just a rehash of the special edition laserdisc released in 1997. Same non-anamorphic transfer, same Dolby Surround soundtrack, same commentary track. There are a few other extras, but they add up to about ten minutes worth of fluff. They consist of the theatrical trailer, a three-minute production featurette (produced in 1990 for the film’s release), three minutes of “behind-the-scenes” footage (half of which is Gere and Roberts riding horses), and an abysmal music video of “Wild Women Do” by Natalie Cole.
The only thing that’s legitimately special is that it’s a director’s cut of the movie and the commentary track. Six or seven minutes of footage was added back into the story. For the most part, the scenes are character development pieces, adding little to the story but giving us more insight into Vivian and Edward. The only scene that doesn’t add anything is one in which Edward takes Vivian back to the club where she used to hang out. A gang of street thugs accosts the couple. Even though the thugs are armed with knives and chains, Edward is able to rebuff them with witty repartee and by revealing that his chauffeur carries a gun. Ooooh. My wife, a fan of the movie, thought the scene was out of place, and I definitely agree.
My first impression of the commentary, based on a ten-second snippet a half-hour into the film, was that Garry Marshall was condescending and was going to pooh-pooh the audience throughout the track. Well, that impression was wrong. Marshall has been in show business longer than the stars of this movie have been alive, and his experience shows through in the commentary. He talks about all facets of making the movie, from scriptwriting, to filming on location in Hollywood, to editing the movie to give the stars the exposure they deserve. He even acknowledges the extreme number of “goofs” in the movie and explains that those were the shots that did the most justice to the actors. He sounds like the kind of guy I’d like to work for — smart, friendly, and always looking out for his employee’s best interest.
I have not seen the original DVD release of Pretty Woman, but from discussing it with other team members, it does seem that the video quality on the special edition is a slight improvement. I could not glean and information from Buena Vista’s press materials or a phone call to their offices that would lead me to believe that this is anything but a rehash of a laserdisc transfer. It doesn’t look bad though. Colors are not oversaturated, flesh tones are accurate, and blacks are not washed out. No digital artifacts were apparent, though some film grain and shimmering are evident, particularly in Jason Alexander’s striped suit and the fire escape at the end right before the credits roll. The Dolby Surround audio isn’t remarkable, but it does have good fidelity and the music sounds great (particularly the opera sequence).
My quibbles with the disc can be attributed to reviewer pickiness. Pretty Woman isn’t the sort of disc you buy to impress your friends or to make the floorboards rumble. You buy it because you like the movie. Here, you’ll see a fresh presentation of the film (unless you owned the director’s cut laserdisc) that will satisfy its fans.
Hey, I just realized I went through this entire review, a movie about prostitutes, without using the word “whore” in any context. Oh well. I’ll just put it back into my Big Bag of Words and save it for the next time I review a romantic comedy about a hooker falling in love with a takeover artist.
If you like the movie, buy this disc. If you have the original DVD version, and like the movie enough, buy this version too. If you don’t like the movie…well, you must be heartless and unromantic, and should remove yourself from society.