FATAL ATTRACTION – Blu-ray review

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Eddie provide their very different views on the movie, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.

The Film According to John:
When “Fatal Attraction” appeared in 1987 it became an instant success, something of a cultural phenomenon, actually, cleaning up at the box office and earning six Academy Award nominations. And they weren’t just smaller categories, either; the film got nods for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing, and Best Writing. It even got its own film parody a few years later, “Fatal Instinct.” Now, I admit I hadn’t seen “Fatal Attraction” since it first came out, at which time I thought it was a pretty good little thriller. So, I wondered how well it might hold up twenty-two years later, this time on high-definition Blu-ray.

The fact is, while it doesn’t stand up as well as I had hoped, it’s still effective. Part of the problem today is knowing exactly what is going to happen, of course. Watching it for the first time provided an element of uncertainty and surprise missing today. With that aspect dulled, what we have left is the acting, which is excellent, and the plot, which seems more far-fetched than ever. You weigh the two.

Michael Douglas, who was on a roll at the time with “Romancing the Stone,” “Wall Street,” “Basic Instinct,” and “Falling Down,” among others, stars as a decent family man, Dan Gallagher, who one day errs and stumbles. He’s a lawyer working at the time for a big publishing firm in New York City, he’s married to a beautiful, loving woman (Anne Archer), and he has a captivating six-year-old daughter (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). All is going well for his marriage of nine years when he meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), a smart, attractive editor for the publishing firm. One weekend when Dan’s wife and daughter are out of town, Dan and Alex decide to have a brief fling. They’re both grown-ups they figure, it will only be a one-time affair, and they know it cannot last. Dan thinks they’re both settled on this arrangement. What Dan doesn’t know is that Alex is a second cousin to Norman Bates, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees. And the goddaughter of Freddy Krueger.

When he tries to break off their two-day relationship, she goes nuts. First, she tries to kill herself. Then she starts phoning him and stalking him (before the word “stalk” became a part of our popular cultural lexicon). Finally, she goes completely over the edge, bringing the film to a climax that would make any slasher film proud.

Director Adrian Lyne (“Flashdance,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Indecent Proposal,” “Lolita,” “Unfaithful”) and screenwriter James Dearden create a commendable sense of rising danger, and before long we feel the suspense becoming tangible. That’s about the minimum one can expect from a good thriller, yet it’s something most thrillers never manage. Chalk one up for “Fatal Attraction.” Equally important, Douglas, Close, and Archer are excellent in their roles, each of them convincing us that they are who they are, rather than actors pretending. Chalk up another.

The problems I had with the movie were that I couldn’t feel much compassion for the main character, I couldn’t believe in the secondary character, and I found much of the action easy to foresee. First, do we really feel sorry for a guy who appears to have it made in life and then chooses to throw it all away for what is essentially a one-night stand? If this were an unanticipated moment of passion, yeah, maybe we’d feel a little more pity for the fellow, but, instead, we see Dan plan out his affair with Alex well in advance of the actual event. They discuss it over dinner and premeditate the act. What’s worse, Dan knows virtually nothing about this woman. What in the world was he thinking of? Is it a lark for him? That’s what it seems to him and to us, which doesn’t go a long way toward persuading us it’s normal or right.

Second, there’s Alex. As far as we can tell from the movie, she has always been a well-adjusted lady, an intelligent, well-respected book editor. So, why does she goes off unhinged? Does she really fall so madly in love with Dan after one weekend that she won’t give him up for anyone or anything? The movie never explains why Alex becomes so suddenly deranged, why she flips out so unexpectedly after presumably a lifetime of stability.

Finally, even though the movie does build up tension well, there really isn’t much in the story that one cannot anticipate. The film telegraphs most of its action a mile in advance. There’s even a scene involving a rabbit the filmmakers seem to have lifted almost directly from “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

Nevertheless, despite the several weaknesses in “Fatal Attraction,” it manages to do its job and keep one intrigued, especially if one hasn’t seen it before. Now, for a completely different point of view, I turn you over to my colleague and friend, Eddie Feng.

John’s film rating: 6/10

The Film According to Eddie:
When it was released in 1987, “Fatal Attraction” became something of a pop culture phenomenon. Its premise lead to a lot of ink spilled by the press and many watercooler discussions at the workplace. Yet, I must say…I don’t get it.

In “Fatal Attraction,” Michael Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a married man who has an affair with a woman (Glenn Close) one weekend while his wife and little daughter are gone. Dan’s a good man, and this is probably his first affair. What he doesn’t expect is that Alex Forrest will cling to him obsessively. She calls him at his office constantly, and then she calls him at home constantly. She threatens Dan’s little girl, and she terrorizes the family by boiling the Gallagher’s pet rabbit. And, she’s pregnant with Dan’s child.

Adultery and violence can lead to discussions that feel uncomfortable, and the movie tries very hard to make much out of its “controversial” subject matter. Despite the fact that Adrian Lyne is at the helm of the project (he also directed “Indecent Proposal” and “Lolita”), “Fatal Attraction” feels very pedestrian, even boring. The movie has a very flat tone, and the pacing drags until the final fifteen minutes or so. Also, rather than discussing adultery with any intelligence or moral authority, the movie degenerates into the usual blood-drenched climax. Everybody has a weapon shoved in someone else’s face, and everybody tries to kill someone else.

As I stated earlier in my review, there’s nothing wrong with making a movie about controversial subject matters. However, “Fatal Attraction” is simply a boring, poorly-made film. How this ever made so much money at the box office remains a mystery to me. To think that it garnered six Oscar nominations sends shudders down my spine. “The horror…the horror…”

Eddie’s film rating: 3/10

Video:
I can’t say the high-definition picture quality is the very best I’ve ever seen, but it is a big step up from the standard-def DVD. Paramount used a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec in the transfer and preserved the movie’s theatrical aspect ratio, 1.85:1. The first things one notices as the film begins is the natural film grain, which in the dim, outdoor shots is quite extensive, as a well as a bit of noise and age. Then we notice some fairly bright colors against some fairly dark backgrounds, making faces look somewhat dusky. The impression one gets in the first half hour or so is that of softness and roughness. Definition is fine but not award-winning. Fortunately, picture quality tends to improve as the movie goes on, though, and before one notices that much of it displays a pleasing naturalness. There are discrepancies, to be sure: You’ll find scenes of perfect clarity and a few others duller and fuzzier. Overall, the video transfer does its job capturing what was probably on the original print and should not displease any but the fussiest of viewers.

Audio:
The sound is more problematic than the picture quality. Even the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 the studio use can’t hide the fact that there isn’t much going on here. There is a limited front-channel stereo spread and very little surround activity. What the TrueHD mainly succeeds in doing is presenting a realistically firm and truthful midrange for dialogue, with little in the way of extended treble and only occasional instances of an ominous bass line in the background music.

Extras:
We couldn’t have any set of extras these days without the obligatory audio commentary by the director, and in this case Adrian Lyne does a good job explaining why he did what he did and how critics reacted to his decisions. It isn’t all that scintillating, but it is informative. Then we get three featurettes in standard definition: “Forever Fatal: Remembering Fatal Attraction,” about twenty-eight minutes with the stars and producers talking about how great the film is; “Social Attraction,” about ten minutes on the film’s popularity and the criticism it received from women’s groups in particular; and “Visual Attraction,” about twenty minutes on the photography, costumes, and makeup in the film. Following the featurettes we get about seven minutes of rehearsal footage with Douglas and Close; and a twelve-minute alternate ending in high def, with an introduction by Adrian Lyne. The alternate ending has its advantages, but you can see why the theatrical ending sold the picture.

The extras conclude with a widescreen trailer in high def; seventeen scene selections; bookmarks; pop-up menus; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Thoughts:
Notwithstanding the movie’s obvious shortcomings in logic and the difficulty one may have in undersrtanding or sympathizing with its characters, “Fatal Attraction” remains a reasonably efficient thriller, building tension slowly and releasing it, if too melodramatically, at least excitingly. Although I’d say the public’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film and the Academy’s nominations were overblown, it’s still a movie worth watching, if only for its exaggeration as a cautionary tale for potentially wayward husbands.

The film value for “Fatal Attraction” that you’ll find below is an average of John’s 6/10 and Eddie’s 3/10.

Reply