Judge Brett Cullum will always love you.
Our reviews of Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance (published April 17th, 2013), The Bodyguard (Blu-ray) (published March 26th, 2012), and The Bodyguard / The Bodyguard 2 (published August 22nd, 2008) are also available.
Rachel: So you are prepared to die for me?
I should get tons of flack for this, but I liked The Bodyguard when it hit theatres in 1992. I went to see it twice, and cried both times when "I Will Always Love You" began playing over the final scenes. It's not the world's best movie by a long shot, but as a romantic thriller it works nicely. I see it as fantasy for hopeless romantics. It's unbelievable, cheesy, and absolutely sucks you in despite any shortcomings. Previously, it had only been available on a bare-bones fullscreen DVD. Now, thanks to Warner Brothers, The Bodyguard finally gets a "special edition" with an improved transfer and some new extras. Will I still love it? Will anyone ever think I'm cool again?
Facts of the Case
Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston, Waiting to Exhale) is an actress/pop star who is getting death threats as her career rises to a new level. Everybody wants to get close to her, but someone out there wants her dead. In steps legendary bodyguard Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner, Waterworld) to advise the star and her camp on how to protect Rachel. He finds out his new client is as much of a control freak as he is, and they begin to clash over how far is too far when your career and life hang in the balance. They begin to fall in love, much to their mutual surprise. Can Farmer keep Rachel alive and separate his feelings for her when it counts?
The Bodyguard took about fifteen years to get made. It began as a first script for Lawrence Kasdan, who got an agent out of it back in 1975, but who never saw the movie produced until Costner optioned it. It was supposed to be a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross back when it was conceived; a Ryan O'Neal-Diana Ross pairing was also considered at one point. Kasdan always remained involved with these incarnations of the movie, and was excited to see it finally come to life with then-reigning pop diva Whitney Houston. Costner got a skilled director, Mick Jackson (L.A. Story). Also on the team was a legendary music producer named David Foster (best known for producing most of Chicago's major albums), who would be in charge of the music and soundtrack recording. The director and producers told Whitney Houston not to take any acting lessons, because they wanted her to be natural in the part. The production went smoothly enough, and opened to huge box office and even bigger soundtrack sales. Houston's anthemic cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" became the biggest single that year, and remains "the perfect pop song" according to American Idol judge and creator Simon Cowell.
The movie works like gangbusters as long as you are willing to suspend your disbelief for two hours. The romance is rough and rocky, and much was made of the fact it showed an interracial couple unapologetically without even acknowledging the fact. Costner is stoic and Houston acts like a bitchy diva, but we root for them to get together because they both seem to be giving each other all they can give. He offers her safety, and she sings for him. The movie becomes a musical, and Houston seems to sing about their relationship more effectively than she could ever act it. Wise choice, because the songs are stunning and impact the audience in all the right ways. One odd side note is that Houston only wrote one song in the movie by herself, "The Queen of the Night." For all her ability with a ballad, deep down Whitney just wants to be funky. Here she's absolutely beautiful, and it's not hard to see why Farmer would fall for her.
The best sequences come from the music industry aspect of the story. There is one frightening club performance where Rachel gets pulled into a crowd, and they literally almost devour her and tear her apart. Never mind the killer out there, the fans are seen as scarier than any threat a single person could make. Rachel is alone in a sea of adoring fans, and we get to see a small glimpse of what it must be like to be famous. Houston's terror when she is pulled offstage is all too real, and you do feel for her character and also for her on a personal level. But yet this is what she does as a performer, and isolation is just part of the problems she's facing. The threats are scary even if the suspect list is a little bit short and obvious.
Costner plays subtle here, in one of his best roles. He's the tough guy samurai who even takes his girl to see Yojimbo at one point (ironically called "The Bodyguard" when released in the US). He loves Rachel, but has to draw the line to make sure he can still do the job he was meant to do. It's a romantic notion that he's willing to give his life for her, even if it is in his job description. Costner seems to excel when he's allowed to play someone distant and remote yet charming. He's sexy here, with his "all business" haircut and secret service style suits. It's hard to accept he'd be so tough as to be an effective bodyguard, but he does seem lithe and quick during the action scenes. His seduction of Rachel is nicely played, since the character does it almost by accident.
So what's the deal with calling this a "Special Edition"? This is the first time the movie has been released in widescreen, and it gets an all-new digital transfer. It looks soft and gauzy, but colors are popping and blacks seem rich and detailed. There remains some grain and dirt on the print, but nothing too distracting. The sound is delivered in a robust 5.1 stereo surround mix that makes the music appropriately the star. There is a well-rounded documentary on the making of the movie, with all the major players interviewed recently with one notable exception. Ms. Houston's bits are actually from interviews conducted in 1992, as noted beside her name (the diva didn't show up!). There is also the music video for "I Will Always Love You," which is presented fullscreen in two-channel stereo. Also included is a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a silly damn movie. In the real world, the likes of Britney Spears are protected by large black men, and she runs off with her back-up dancer, not security guys. The Bodyguard is a melodramatic potboiler that offers a skewed reality of the situation. It's also a groaner on many levels. Rachel Marron is nominated for a best actress Oscar, and yet we never see her act. Had the award been for "Best Song" it could have worked. Or change the venue to the Grammys. Unfortunately, all the Academy Award nonsense did was highlight Whitney Houston as a first-time actress not doing as well as a true pro could have. She's passable in her role, but the acting definitely pales next to her singing. It was silly to have her try to pass for Oscar material. They should have let her take acting lessons if they wanted that angle.
There was a famous case in Britain where a man sued his neighbor because she was playing "I Will Always Love You" non-stop back when it came out. The judge in the UK sided with the man, saying repeatedly hearing the song could be considered "psychological torture." The problem now with looking at The Bodyguard is we've been pummeled by its multi-platinum soundtrack so much that it's hard to hear it as anything but "overplayed" today. It doesn't seem as effective now that we know all the songs by heart. It was fresh then; it's stale now.
And the real issue? We know Whitney is all bitch and diva by now, and not the sweet young thing anyone would want to protect ten years ago. Her current personal problems make it hard to watch The Bodyguard and divorce yourself from images of Bobby Brown, admitted drug problems, and her emaciated appearance at several shows in recent years. Whitney has become an addict, and The National Enquirer and E! have let us all know how she behaves in reality. If she were a serious actress I could dismiss the tabloid truths and block them out, but The Bodyguard phenomenon was created out of America's perception of her as a sweetheart—and we aren't buying that bologna any more. Costner suffers the same fate as well. We can't forgive him for all the stinkers he made after this movie, like Waterworld or The Postman, so it's hard to think his subtle performance here is good. It is; but the movie relied on us romanticizing him as well. Costner even wanted to make a sequel with Princess Diana at one point, to use the same formula of a non-actor matched with his stoic delivery. They were relying on Costner's and Houston's public personas to carry the movie, and those have fallen by the wayside over the passing years.
The Bodyguard was such a product of the early '90s that it's hard to watch it now with untainted eyes. We aren't romantically attached to its stars like we were, and the soundtrack has hit "oldies" stations with a vengeance. It's still a great fantasy for those of us who crave romance, but unfortunately it takes more suspension of disbelief than it did back in the day. But even with all that said, I still get a lump in my throat in those final scenes of Frank saying good-bye to Rachel. It's the Casablanca complex—a beautiful woman, a strong man, and a plane waiting. Works like a charm every time. For fans of the movie this "Special Edition" will fit the bill nicely. Yeah, I'm still uncool. The movie is dated, but it remains sweet and effective as long as you can block out the current state of its leads.
The Bodyguard is guilty of being a product of its day, and Warner Brothers is guilty of calling it a "Special Edition" even when it resembles a pretty standard release by today's standards. But the movie is a guilty pleasure, and I'm a softy. I'm all for simple romance, and for that reason it's free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Making-of Documentary: "Memories of The Bodyguard"
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