"Moonstruck" may be the most perfect romantic comedy ever made. To confirm my impression I asked a best friend, Film Professor Logan Bickford, a man who loves the film as much as I do, to what he attributed the movie's success. He suggested it wasn't just because "Moonstruck" tells a compelling story about two engaging people, which it does, but because the picture has so many sympathetic peripheral characters and appealing subplots. I think it's just the great music by Puccini, but I'm biased.
And, of course, it's the acting. Cher won an Oscar for her brilliant and humorous portrayal of an independent-minded Italian woman who falls in love with a one-handed, opera-loving baker, played by Nicholas Cage. Affairs are complicated, however, because Cage is the younger brother of Cher's fiancee, played by Danny Aiello. Sticky situation. Also portrayed with consummate skill are Cher's parents, played by Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis. Their stories, and their own romantic interests, are almost as appealing as Cher's. As matters proceed, there is not a false note anywhere to be found. Like "Casablanca," "Moonstruck" is a film that simply can't be imagined in any other form. Nothing can be added, and nothing can be taken away. Director Norman Jewison and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley have made a film that is perfectly beautiful, thoughtful, poignant, funny, and fun. Like the full moon, it is enchanting to look at time and again.
As for picture quality, it is fine, with a few instances of jittery pixels and some minor image blur. But, more important, I am sure a good many potential buyers will be surprised and possibly annoyed that MGM chose to release the film in a 1.33:1 standard-screen version only, usually the death knell for a DVD. Since this had not been MGM's usual practice, I called the studio to ask them about it. The answer from their spokesperson was the one I expected. They said that offering two versions of the same film on one disc, both standard and widescreen, was costly, so they were going to offer just one version for the foreseeable future. Now, they needed to hear from the marketplace to determine just which format to provide. They agreed that only about three persons in ten prefer DVD films in standard screen, but they said they were trying to please as many people as possible. For the moment their plans are to continue to do standard-screen releases of their more "family-oriented material."
Of greater consequence, however, I asked MGM if they had trimmed "Moonstruck" via pan-and-scan, the process whereby only a portion of a widescreen image is used to fill up a TV screen, often leaving out as much as twenty-five to fifty per cent of the sides of each frame. They said, no, this was not a pan-and-scan print. The consumer was not getting less for his money with "Moonstruck," but more. They explained that like many films made with an eye toward future release on TV, "Moonstruck" was originally shot in a 1.33:l ratio and later matted at the top and bottom to accommodate a wider, 1.85:1 movie-house screen. In other words, according to them the theater version had portions of the top and bottom masked, and on the DVD (and presumably on their almost-identical VHS tape) we are able to see the entire picture, just as it was filmed. But there are a couple of problems with this scenario. Most directors and cameramen who shoot in 1.33:1 know that their film will later be matted for theatrical release and compensate for this when they plan a shot. They may not want, probably don't want, everything they film to show up later. The other concern is that if the film was shot in a ratio of 1.33:1 and a TV screen is 1.33:1, why do MGM declare in print that it was "modified to fit your screen"? Modified from what, and in what way?
I think the real issue here is that the folks at MGM are experimenting like everyone else to see what the public prefers. I don't mean to impugn their artistic integrity, but profit is the ultimate motive of any business, and whatever sells best and cheapest is what a company will most likely do. As to my own preferences, I told MGM I'd like to see all films on DVD presented the way they were originally shown in theaters, matted or not. I think a director's foremost intent when filming a movie is how it is going to look on a theater screen, with its "look" on a TV screen secondary. Buying a DVD film in widescreen is the safest way to be reasonably sure that what one is getting at home is what a director primarily intended. This is especially important when you consider that almost no manufacturers of standard-screen DVDs, including MGM, tell the buyer if their film was originally shot in widescreen and then cut up via pan-and-scan, or, as is claimed for "Moonstruck," it was originally shot in 1.33:1 and later cut for theatrical release. Moreover, how would an average consumer know what the original theatrical release looked like for comparison, with the video often coming out many months or years later?
Be all that as it may, the image on "Moonstruck" looks fine, regardless of size, and we will have to trust MGM's word that no material was lost from either side. If it really bothers you, I can only quote Cher from the movie: "Snap out of it!" This is the way it is, so live with it. Nevertheless, if you would like to make your own views known on the subject, by all means contact the studios and let them know how you feel. And, of course, post your comments on the message boards as well.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is also worth mentioning, even though there aren't a lot of opportunities to show it off in a picture like this. The biggest musical numbers come from two recordings played in the film: "That's Amore" by Dean Martin and excerpts from "La Boheme" with Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi, both many years old. Like the dialogue, though, they come up well in their new trappings, even if the operatic numbers are a bit shrill. The audience applause at the Met is convincingly behind and to the sides of the listener, a minor yet pleasingly realistic effect. The sound does what it needs to do.
Like other recent MGM releases, production notes and trivia are included in a booklet insert rather than on the disc, and a good feature-length audio commentary is provided by Cher, Jewison, and Shanley. There's little else, however, but thirty-two scene selections and a theatrical trailer. English and French are provided as spoken languages, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
"Moonstruck" is a film for all ages, and its story of love and family transcends all ethnic and national boundaries. I recommend it with all my heart.