If you had only seen Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in "Runaway Bride," you probably wouldn't understand what all the fuss was about when the two made their first picture together. "Pretty Woman" 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.
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 money-grubbing 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.
Buena Vista's picture quality is typical of their transfers. It is very smooth and fine grained, with good color depth. But there is a thin veneer slightly masking the image's ultimate brilliance. 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 presented in a 1.74:1 aspect ratio, close to the 1.85:1 ratio originally projected in its theatrical release.
The Dolby Stereo Surround is respectable, but as one might imagine the "surround" only comes into its own during musical accompaniment. This is a film of dialogue, after all, and in such matters the front stereo is fine, if a bit limited in deep bass. Compare, for instance, Roy Orbison's 1964 title song, "Oh, Pretty Woman," on the film's soundtrack to DCC Compact Classics' superb gold CD remastering, and you'll see what I mean.
For the tenth anniversary special edition, Buena Vista have included several bonus items on the disc. This may become a trend with BV. There is an audio commentary by director Garry Marshall that adds enjoyment the second time around. There is a brief production featurette and an even more brief behind-the-scenes featurette that are fun while they last, although they don't amount to much. There's a music video with Natalie Cole, "Wild Women Do," which is all right for those who enjoy this kind of music; I don't. A chapter list and a theatrical trailer round out the freebies.
"Pretty Woman" is the most unpredictably predictable 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 recommend buying the DVD as well.