THE BODYGUARD - Blu-ray review

It's not that the film is all bad. I liked some of the music and Whitney Houston's singing.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

First, some interesting trivia.  Well, at least this stuff is interesting to me, but I'm easy:

"The Bodyguard" got generally dismal reviews when Warners released it in 1992 and then went on to take in well over $120,000,000 in U.S. box office receipts and over $400,000,000 worldwide.  So much for reviewers.  The compact disc of the film's music became one of the biggest-selling soundtrack albums in history.  Lawrence Kasdan wrote the movie in the early Seventies as a first-ever script that took a while to find a home; meanwhile, he went on to write a few other things you might know, like "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," "Silverado," "The Accidental Tourist," "Grand Canyon," and a couple of yawners, "Wyatt Earp" and "Dreamcatcher."  Filmmakers originally intended "The Bodyguard" for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross, but McQueen bowed out, and studios thought the premise too controversial.  Then Ross was going to make it with Ryan O'Neal, but the two actors had a falling out.  Finally, Kevin Costner championed the film, starring in it with the late Whitney Houston, the singer making her big-screen debut.  Two years after Warners made the picture, a Hong Kong studio reworked the story as "The Defender" (1994) with Jet Li.  You can see this thing's been around, and it carries a history.

But is "The Bodyguard" any good?  Frankly, I'd have to lump it in with Kasdan's yawners.

The story itself is about as unlikely as one could imagine, and about as hackneyed as well.  Nor does it help that Costner and Houston never exactly light up the screen with their chemistry.

The plot is pretty simple.  A hugely rich and successful pop-star, singer, and actress, Rachel Marron (Houston), finds herself stalked and threatened by what her personal manager, Bill Devaney (Bill Cobbs), presumes to be a psychotic killer.  Ex Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Costner) hires himself out to protect her and her eight-year-old son.  Naturally, it's hate at first sight.  Rachel thinks Frank is too fussy and overprotective, and Frank thinks Rachel is arrogant and foolhardy.  They're both right.  Just as naturally, the two eventually fall in love.  Or in lust, it's hard to tell.

This kind of thing is always happening in fiction.  The rich girl is always falling in love with the handsome hired help.  It's a chestnut so old that even Mark Twain spoofed it over a hundred years ago in "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  Tom Sawyer is talking to his band of naive young followers, telling them that if they're going to be a real gang, they have to kidnap people and ransom them.  "Say, do we kill the women, too?" asks one of the kids.  "Well, Ben Rogers, if I was as ignorant as you I wouldn't let on.  Kill the women?  No--nobody ever saw anything in the books like that.  You fetch them to the cave, and you're always as polite as pie to them; and by-and-by they fall in love with you and never want to go home any more."  Tom learned all about this cliché from old potboilers he'd read.  And here Kasdan comes up with a variation of the idea for a modern movie.

It's not that the film is all bad.  I liked some of the music and Whitney Houston's singing.  Not enough to buy the soundtrack album as millions of other people did, but enough to find it pleasant.  I liked the house the filmmakers used for Rachel's place, too, Beverly House in Beverly Hills, California, the location for dozens of other movies (including the famous horse's head mansion in "The Godfather").  I liked the reference in the movie to Kurosawa's samurai saga, "Yojimbo," a film about a warrior who hires himself out (as Costner's character does) and whose English title was literally "The Bodyguard."  I liked Costner's haircut, which I guess the filmmakers intended as a reminder of Steve McQueen, and I liked the name of Costner's character, Frank.  Or perhaps you don't remember one of McQueen's most famous roles as Frank Bullitt.  A proposed chase scene that never came off at the end of "The Bodyguard" might have helped after all, especially if Costner's character drove a Mustang.  And I liked a couple of the actors.  The kid who plays Rachel's son, Fletcher (DeVaughan Nixon), is friendly and agreeable; and the fellow who plays Rachel's security chief, the muscle-headed Tony Scipelli (Mike Starr), makes a loveable tough guy.

Beyond that, I dunno.  Mick Jackson directed, a man who appears to be a rather reserved British chap known mostly for his television work and the Hollywood films "L.A. Story" and "Volcano."  He doesn't seem to have been entirely sure if the script demanded more in the way of earnest reality or out-and-out action, and as a proper gentleman he chose the former course.  Someone should have told him the story was a sudsy melodrama, though, because he handles it as seriously as an episode of "Masterpiece Theater."  Then, too, somebody should have warned him about American editing techniques, which are often chaotic and confusing--long, quick, loud, soft--the shots intermingled in almost random order; they never, for instance, help us to understand why Rachel ever warms up to her cold companion in the first place.  Maybe she just thinks he's cute.

"The Bodyguard" is mostly an overlong character study involving two uninteresting people we don't really want to know much about in the first place.  Red herrings and coincidences are the only things that disturb the plot's tedium.  The last half hour finally begins to generate a modicum of tension, but it doesn't come soon enough.  Maybe McQueen knew what he was doing all along.  He read the script.

Warner Bros. first released "The Bodyguard" on DVD in 1997 in a fullscreen, 1.33.1 edition.  We've come a long from those early days to the present Blu-ray, although it may be that there is only so much the video engineers could do with the image.  Using a dual-layer BD50, an MPEG-4/AVC codec, and preserving the theatrical aspect ratio, 1.85:1, the transfer still looks far from perfect.

The image looks dark and murky in the opening scenes and almost all indoor shots, with a somewhat rough edge to it.  This was probably inherent to the original print and perhaps the result of natural lighting conditions.  A small degree of grain is also noticeable in the darker scenes, as might be expected, but it makes some of these scenes look positively smoke-filled at times.  Fortunately, it isn't a big problem, as it occurs infrequently; otherwise, the colors are generally solid, vivid, and natural, except in the matter of skin tones, which can occasionally be too pinkish or too orangish.  Detailing and definition are only average, again quite possibly what the original print looked like.

The sound engineers reproduced the sonics using lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and it makes the most of its opportunities.  Bass and dynamics are especially strong, and the front-channel stereo spread often sounds impressive.  The surround channels kick in sparingly, but when they do become apparent, they're effective.  Oddly, there isn't a lot of musical ambient bloom in a movie so devoted to continuous pop music; still, during selected scenes, especially action sequences, there is an impressive array of squealing tires and crashing glass spread around the listening area.  The soundtrack also handles things like rain and applause well in the surrounds, heightening the feeling of being in actual live locations.

There are three primary extras on the disc, all in standard definition.  The first is a 2004 making-of documentary called "Memories of The Bodyguard."  In its twenty-six minutes it features comments by Kasdan, Costner, the film producer, the soundtrack producer, and, in archival footage from 1992, Ms. Houston.  For me, however, it was a little too concerned with people simply extolling the virtues of the film and praising Costner for having the determination to make it, and not enough actual substance, not enough solid behind-the-scenes material.  Oh, well.  The second item is a music video of the movie's most famous tune, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," sung by Ms. Houston.   The third item is a widescreen theatrical trailer.

Beyond these three things, there are thirty-eight scene selections; English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, and other subtitles; and English, German, and Italian captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
No doubt, there are a few nice touches in "The Bodyguard," Houston's singing being one of them.  But the film moves rather slowly, and its plot developments are either telescoped well in advance or tacked on to make the story seem more exciting than it really is.  None of it adds up; there are plot holes and questions all the way through, and it's worse when it's over and you begin to think about it.

If you like the music in the movie, I'd have to say the CD soundtrack might be a better buy than the Blu-ray disc.  But what do I know; the house in the movie interested me than the story.


Film Value