Touchstone Pictures // 1990 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // February 12th, 2009
She walked off the street, into his life and stole his heart.
The movie that made Julia Roberts a star, now in high definition.
Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts, Closer), a prostitute working Hollywood Boulevard, is desperate for rent money and having a slow night; that changes when billionaire Edward Lewis (Richard Gere, Unfaithful) stops to ask for directions. One hour turns into one night, and then turns into a weeklong arrangement with Vivian as Edward's "beck-and-call girl." After a rough start, the week plays like a fairy tale as Edward and kindly hotel manager Barney (Hector Elizondo, Turbulence) help the charming but unrefined Vivian unleash her inner beauty.
As Edward falls for Vivian, his cutthroat attitude toward his work begins to change, seriously chafing his longtime lawyer friend Philip (Jason Alexander, Shallow Hal). Philip knows Vivian's line of work, and might not let her forget it.
A big part of what makes Pretty Woman such a genre classic is the balance it strikes between light and dark. The film earns its R rating: Edward and Vivian have sex a number of times, starting early in the picture; there's a short but intense attempted rape scene; characters swear as appropriate for the situation. None of these things would likely make it in to a 2009 version of Pretty Woman -- instead, the rougher stuff would be sanitized to earn a PG or PG-13. Those harder elements, though, greatly enhance the rags-to-riches beats of the story, making Vivian's transformation that much more enduring. A unique element of Pretty Woman, as director Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries) points out in his appealing audio commentary, is that the main characters have sex right away but neither is that into it, and the suspense for the rest of the picture is around when they will kiss on the mouth.
It's easy to see how Pretty Woman turned Julia Roberts into a big bright shining star (and won her an Oscar nomination). From the moment she comes out for breakfast in a bathrobe, her curly red hair in place of the short blond wig we had seen her in up to this point, we fall instantly in love with her. Roberts' performance is at turns both big and subtle -- her character arc is represented in her walk, her stance, the way she eats, and the way she speaks. Her charm is irresistible, magnetic, and seemingly effortless.
Gere was already well known by the time he did Pretty Woman, and he successfully underplays the aloof, emotionally distant Edward, not letting us off the hook by making him more likable. The rest of the cast, including Laura San Giacomo (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Hank Azaria (Heat), is solid across the board.
This Blu-ray release includes a surprisingly good video transfer for a film nearly twenty years old. Outdoor daytime scenes have that three-dimensional pop that high-def fans crave, with the movie's color scheme (lots of reds, yellows, and blues) jumping off the screen, while the darker shots are grainier; this is likely very faithful to the theatrical experience. We can see every bit of Gucci product placement and the monogram on Edward's shirtsleeve, while Philip's coat in the polo scene -- comprised of a tightly crosshatched pattern that looks like hell on DVD -- is rendered impeccably. Picture quality surpassed my expectations.
There's not much going on audio-wise, but what is there is nicely rendered. Dialogue has a natural timbre, and the music -- from the opening titles' "King of Wishful Thinking" to Peter Cetera's "No Explanation" -- is about as full as it can be given the source material. Most impressive is when Vivian is being attended to at a high-end clothing store as Edward strong-arms the manager -- the opening bars of "Pretty Woman" are played on piano and guitar, and the lower notes provide the movie's best bass. There is certainly nothing wrong with this audio mix, but it's not intended to overly challenge your home theatre.
Extras are ported over from the 2005 special edition DVD, all in standard definition, starting with the previously mentioned audio commentary. Laidback and good-humored, Garry Marshall is eminently listenable, breaking down the construction of scenes from a writer's perspective and pointing out mistakes or other trivia. Having worked in Hollywood since the early '50s, Marshall offers a seasoned perspective on his highly successful film. The director also narrates a surprisingly engaging tour of the Los Angeles locations where Pretty Woman was shot. A blooper reel, five minutes of Gere and Roberts performing at the wrap party, a short production featurette, and a Natalie Cole music video round out the special features.
A beloved, smart romantic comedy, Pretty Woman is welcome on Blu-ray, especially in such good shape. If you don't already have it in your collection, this is well worth the purchase price for the fine video transfer. If you've already got it, this is the best it's ever looked, so it'll probably be worth the upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Blooper Reel
* Music Video
* Theatrical Trailer