Pretty Woman is the most predictably unpredictable romantic comedy around; bouncy and subtle, too.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

If you had only seen Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in 1999's "Runaway Bride," you probably wouldn't understand what all the fuss was about when the two made their first picture together. "Pretty Woman," from 1990, is funnier and more romantic than "Runaway Bride," with a verve and allure the two stars found hard to duplicate the second time around. The older film is hard to resist for anyone but diehard malcontents.

Anyway, this is Buena Vista's third DVD release of the movie, starting with a regular edition, followed by a 10th Anniversary Edition, and now this 15th Anniversary Special Edition. Do you detect a pattern here? Certainly, one cannot complain about the popularity of the title or about BV's desire to milk it for everything it's got. Besides, the new edition sports better sound and a few more extras, and for a lot of people that may be worth an upgrade in itself. It wouldn't be for me, but that's another story.

Persons attempting to find a reality in "Pretty Woman" will be sorely disappointed. It's a fairy tale from beginning to end. Roberts plays the Cinderella girl, Vivian Ward. Amusingly, in their back-cover blurb for the film Buena Vista go out their way to describe Roberts' character as anything but what she is. BV describe her as a "carefree...energetic spirit." True, but she's also a prostitute, a down-on-her-luck Hollywood hooker who becomes a modern-day Eliza Doolittle.

Gere plays Edward Lewis, a cool, calculating multimillionaire who specializes in corporate takeovers. He buys failing companies cheap and sells them off piecemeal for a profit. Because he is trying to avoid romantic involvements, Edward hires Vivian to spend first a night with him and then a week as his female companion. Apparently, he needs such an associate for social events in order to further a big financial deal, and since he has just broken up with his girlfriend, he pays for her presence. His arrangement with Vivian is purely business. Both of them traffic in buying and selling, so they understand each other perfectly. Little does Edward know that just as Henry Higgins became fond of Eliza, so does he fall in love with Vivian. Their tentative romance springs from a mutual distrust, and the comedy derives from the clashes of their two very different worlds.

Roberts got an Oscar nomination for her role in 1990, and we can readily see she deserved the acclaim. Her character is at once vivacious, energetic, and swaggering, while at the same time limited in Edward's high-society environment. Vivian sees her vulnerabilities and has the common sense to accept them.

Gere's performance, on the other hand, is low-key and restrained. Partly, it's the character he's playing, but Gere also has the grace to understand that this is Roberts' picture and he needs to stand aside and let her have her day. Several other standout performances are turned in by Jason Alexander as Edward's moneygrubbing lawyer; Laura San Giacomo as Vivian's roommate and fellow streetwalker; and the inimitable Hector Elizondo as a seemingly pompous hotel manager who soon befriends the floundering Vivian.

Incidentally, like the 10th Anniversary Edition, this 15th Anniversary Edition contains about six more minutes of material than the original theatrical version. I suppose you could call it a Director's Cut, although there is no mention of it on the packaging.

Buena Vista's picture quality was fairly good in the 10th Anniversary Edition, very smooth and fine grained, with good color depth. But there was a thin veneer slightly masking the image's ultimate brilliance that annoyed me slightly. This time, we appear to get the same transfer, so the same evaluation applies. Both transfers are done at a reasonably high bit rate, ensuring strong, solid colors, if not perfect definition. I might add that much of the story is purposely photographed with a golden glow--lighting and filters, no doubt--and this, too, lends to the film's dusky aura in some scenes. The picture is again presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio that closely matches its 1.85:1 dimensions originally projected in movie houses.

The Dolby Stereo Surround on the earlier editions was respectable, but the new one sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. This is a film of dialogue, and for such matters the front-channel stereo hasn't changed a lot except to appear a touch clearer. The main differences come into play with greater rear-channel surround ambiance in 5.1 and, as I said, greater clarity all the way around. There also appears to my ears to be a bit more deep bass involved, enough to give the sound a fuller, more commanding air, but that may be as much imagination as actuality.

For the 15th Anniversary Special Edition, Buena Vista have included several bonus items on the disc that were not there previously. This may become a trend with BV, putting out a another edition of "Pretty Woman" every five or ten years. First, there is an "all-new" audio commentary by director Garry Marshall that adds to our enjoyment. I'm not sure what all he had new to say, but the packaging claims it's "all-new," and from the fifteen or twenty minutes I made comparing commentaries, he does, indeed, have a whole new line of patter on display. He's a fun guy to listen to, very frank and very honest and very entertaining. In addition, there is a two-minute blooper reel that's cute; a four-minute wrap-up party featurette with really ugly video quality; Sneak Peeks at a half a dozen or so other BV titles; and a satisfying segment called "L.A.: The Pretty Woman Tour," about ten minutes long in which director Marshall leads us around the locations in Hollywood and Los Angeles that he used for his movie.

The other bonuses are carried over from the previous disc: a brief, three-minute promotional; a music video with Natalie Cole, "Wild Women Do," which is all right for those who enjoy such music, which I don't; the same twenty scene selections; and a fuzzy, fullscreen theatrical trailer.

There are more language options involved now than before: English and French spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. Plus, there are fancier menu graphics and more appealing cover art. So, yeah, you get a little more of everything this time out.

Parting Thoughts:
"Pretty Woman" is the most predictably unpredictable romantic comedy around; bouncy and subtle, too. The tensions generated by the two principals are both expected and unexpected, making it appealing to watch again and again. Call me a softy, but I loved the film and bought the romance. I can easily recommend buying the DVD as well, unless you already own one of the first two editions, and you're happy with it.


Film Value