LOVE STORY – Blu-ray review

It’s probably the film you most love to hate.  Or the film you hate to love.  It’s one of the biggest box-office hits of the 70’s.  It’s one of the biggest romances of all time.  It features one of the biggest-selling theme songs ever written for a movie.

Paramount’s “Love Story” from 1970 not only set attendance records and made more money for Paramount Pictures than any film up that time, it set audiences and reviewers at one another’s throats.  Still does.

Alexander Walker, the noted film critic for the “London Evening Standard,” once famously described the movie as “Camille with bullshit.”  If you already like “Love Story” a lot, you might as well skip on down to the Video, Audio, and Extras sections.  Otherwise, you’ll have to listen to me groan on about it.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  And Hate means you’ve had to watch “Love Story” more than once.  Yeah, I exaggerate.  It’s not that bad.  It’s just drippy, slow, unrealistic, unbelievable, poorly written, and badly acted.  I mean, other than that, it’s OK.

Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw star as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers.  Only it isn’t Shakespeare.  Erich Segal wrote it.  But otherwise it’s exactly like “Romeo and Juliet.”  Except for the characters.  And the dialogue.  And the setting.  And the story.

I have to admit that Arthur Hiller (“Plaza Suite,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Silver Streak,” “The In-Laws,” “The Lonely Guy”) directed the film to perfection.  He manipulates every move to pull every string and push every button with an unerring refinement.  The entire aim of the film is to make us shed a tear at exactly the right moment.  If you can keep from chuckling at that point, or gagging, you’ll love the film.

So, why would anyone chuckle or gag at so serious a subject as death, which is what “Love Story” is ultimately all about?  (That and wealth and class warfare and snobbery and, oh, yes, a little love thrown in.)  Because writer Segal and director Hiller throw in every romantic cliché they can think of along the way to the finish, and then cap the climax with the biggest cliché of them all.  I suppose it all works fine if you’ve never seen a romance before.  On the other hand, if Paramount had made this picture in the 1930’s, they would have gotten Bette Davis or Greta Garbo to star.

The stereotypes begin with the introduction of the two main characters.  Ryan O’Neal plays a young Harvard law student from a rich, aristocratic family of blue bloods.  We know he’s rich because his name is Oliver Barrett IV.  We almost expect Jim Backus in the person of Thurston Howell III to show up at any minute.  Ali MacGraw plays a young Radcliffe music student from a middle-class, blue-collar working family.  We know she’s from a middle-class background because her name is Jennifer Cavelleri, and, of course, anyone with an Italian-American last name must be middle-class.  Naturally, Oliver’s parents (Ray Milland and Katherine Balfour), especially his father, object to his marrying beneath his station, and Jennifer’s father (John Marley) delights in it, even if he is a devoted Catholic and the young people admit to him they’re atheists.

Not to worry.  Oliver and Jennifer are both impossibly handsome and beautiful, as the case may be, and they’re desperately in love, despite the differences in their backgrounds.  That’s all that matters, regardless of whether they’re Montagues or Capulets.  Er, Barretts or Cavelleris.

Now, what else could you want to make the sentimentality complete?  The Big C.  Or some such terminal illness; it isn’t clear.  The point is, if you’re going to make a serious tearjerker, somebody’s got to die.  It’s in the handbook of romantic platitudes.  Just ask Nicholas Sparks.  It’s reaching pretty low to pull a string, but it seems to work every time, and fans of the movie dote on it.

The two leads are in almost every scene, and they’re not very good.  Both O’Neal and MacGraw seem artificial and awkward in their roles, their snarky, Hollywood dialogue not helping the situation.  O’Neal’s character is so cool, he drives a classic MG-TD, which he motors around the Massachusetts landscape in the dead of winter with the top down.  And MacGraw’s character is so cool, she uses mild profanity throughout the film, showing how liberated women were in 1970.  I came to dislike both of the characters in the first fifteen minutes I met them.  Ray Milland and John Marley as the fathers are the best things about the film, making the younger actors look like amateurs.

Needless to say, director Hiller provides the requisite “love montage,” where we see the couple play in the snow and walk hand in hand to yucky, romantic music.  And that brings up Francis Lai’s celebrated love theme, which sounds fine the first time we hear it but begins to grate by the hundredth repetition.  Today, the music seems as dated and corny as most of the rest of the film.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unaccountably nominated “Love Story” for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, and Music.  It won only for Music.  Something I’m sure some Academy members still regret.

The film comes to us in its native aspect ratio, 1.85:1, transferred to Blu-ray using an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50.  The video engineers retain plenty of natural film grain and provide good, deep colors and probably as much detail as the original print allowed.  It’s a good-looking picture in most respects, if a tad soft on occasion.

The audio replication uses lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which offers a fairly narrow front-channel stereo spread and very little surround sound except certain environmental noises.  The midrange sounds slightly veiled, with dialogue sometimes a tad pinched and nasal.

The two primary extras on the disc are an audio commentary by director Arthur Hiller and a fifteen-minute, making-of promotional featurette, “Love Story:  A Classic Remembered,” made in 2000.

The extras conclude with eighteen scene selections; bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English, French, Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
If you love “Love Story,” you’ll no doubt love this new Blu-ray transfer, obviously the best we’ve seen and heard the film for general home use.  Still, if you don’t much care for the movie, the picture and sound are hardly worth your while.  This reviewer finds the story and characters too sappy.  To each his own.