Twilight Time // 1989 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // September 27th, 2012
"I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special." -- Shelby
Steel Magnolias is one of those rare pictures where the stars align and a small project takes on iconic depth. Based on an off-Broadway play by Robert Harling, a Southern author who wrote the script about his real family, the film was shot in the very same Louisiana town he grew up in. Somehow he found a film director in Herb Ross (the original Footloose) who wanted to cast Sally Field as his mother. From there, a whole cast of amazing actresses signed on, and movie magic was made in a short and sweet ten weeks on set. This the ultimate chick flick, a pioneer in the art of fusing comedy and drama to create the new genre "dramedy."
Five women in a beauty shop orbit around one special young lady (Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman) who is severely diabetic and about to get married. Much to her mother's (Sally Field, Norma Rae) dismay, the young bride is determined to live her life to the fullest, no matter what that means to her health. And these southern ladies -- Truvy, owner of the beauty shop (Dolly Parton, 9 to 5); her homely assistant Annelle (Daryl Hannah, Splash); their cranky neighbor, Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment); and the town busybody, Clairee (Olympia Dukakis, Moonstruck) -- have no shortage of advice.
Steel Magnolias is a charming Southern comedy that veers straight into tear-jerker territory. The women are remarkable, each actress plays to her own strength, and the restul features some of the best work from everyone involved. Julia Roberts made a career for herslf with this role; Dolly Parton gets the rare chance to perform a character not pre-written for her; Daryl Hannah reveals a certain panache for character roles; and Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis do what they do best. The movie opens up the script to include men, but they all know what the focus is and rightfully so. This is a story about the wonderful steely resolve that hides behind the genteel nature of a Southern Belle, no matter what her age. The film celebrates life and everything that makes it worth living -- love, laughter, and friends. A true affirmation and a great film.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the transfer is a step-up from previous DVD releases with greater clarity and finer detail. Greens are more saturated, and the color palette is more vivid than the washed out prints we're used to seeing. But there is a limit as to how far restoration can bring this 1989 feature. The picture was soft to begin with, as many of the actresses demanded a diffused focus to present them on the big screen. It's never going to be as sharp as a film shot in the digital era. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio amps up the original two channel mix to a full five speakers, but retains its dialogue heavy origins.
Bonus features include the same commentary director Herbert Ross recorded for Sony's July 2000 "Special Edition" DVD, and it's slow, sparse, and difficult to understand at times. Also included is composer Georges Delerue's isolated music score which disappears for long stretches of the film. Missing from this Blu-ray are the ten deleted scenes and poignant "making of" featurette from Sony's previous release. It's a shame those aren't here, because they were excellent supplements for fans to explore.
You can't go wrong with Steel Magnolias which features a knockout cast and a script that brings out laughter and tears in equal doses often simultaneously. The dialogue is brisk, the performances are spot on, and it's gentle comedy packs an emotional wallop. Just be aware: This limited edition Twilight Time release is only available through Screen Archives Entertainment. With a mere 3,000 discs minted, Steel Magnolias (Blu-ray) could quickly become a collector's item, so get your copy while you still can.
A joyouse film gets a deserving HD facelift, but is guilty of skipping the
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Isolated Score