If I base my evaluation of 1976’s “A Star is Born,” recently released in a Warner Bros. Blu-ray book, solely on the music, the film is fine. Not great, mind you. But fine. The music was written for a specific time, that good old age of rock ‘n’ roll, and I suppose, in that context, it’s appropriate. Although the film’s soundtrack doesn’t blend with my definition of classic rock ‘n’ roll, it’s fairly catchy and excellently performed, despite being louder than perhaps the entire 1970s combined.
But if I base my evaluation on more than just the film’s music, and on things like its storyline, performances and overall cinematic value, it falls shorter than it would have liked. “A Star is Born” does its best to ride the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson wave all the way to the end of its entirely too long 140 minute run time, but it can’t succeed because the characters each performer plays on screen are shallow at best and emotionally unbalanced at worst. What’s more, their romance (if you want to call it that), feels forced and less authentic than the music they blast during their serious and casual interactions. More on that momentarily.
The enclosed press release from Warner Bros. provides virtually no plot summary, but instead simply refers to Streisand’s “fire” and Kristofferson’s “magnetism” as key selling points. It neglects to mention that this rendition is a third attempt, following a 1937 version with names you’ll recognize right away in the lead roles (Janet Gaynor and Fredric March) and a 1954 film that gave the reigns to director George Cukor and leads Judy Garland and James Mason. Having not seen these earlier versions, I won’t compare or contrast the 1976 edition to them. What I can state is how unoptimistic I am about them after having seen this one.
The story is nothing we haven’t seen before, with a successful renegade celebrity musician, John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), coming down from his career’s peak and a young, working-class girl, Esther Hoffman (Streisand), who is trying to make ends meet crossing paths thanks to their passion for music. There are some supporting characters, like Esther’s backup singers (Venetta Fields and Clydie King) and John’s entourage (agents and managers, mostly, played by Gary Busey and Oliver Clark), but as we learn from very early on, they’re simply there to take up space and fill time. This is Streisand’s film. And Kristofferson’s, too. Wait a minute…is there sufficient room for both?!
Thus, this question is truly what lies at the film’s heart and soul. Can these two coexist and succeed as one? If so, how long will it last? If not, why? Rather than ruin the film for you, I’ll simply state that you shouldn’t try to gage their affection for one another as a measuring stick. It’s fairly bizarre, to be blunt and direct. Fighting off thugs, composing deep lyrics in a drunken stupor and driving in a jeep with no seatbelts into the middle of the desert to erect a home are all examples of said affection. Behind it all, however, lies the music, which is hopefully the real reason people flock to “A Star is Born.” If it isn’t, maybe they just have a knack for opposites attracting or anti-heroes pushing those around them so far away they are left with no one to clean up after the physical, emotional and legal messes they make.
The music is probably what most folks remember “A Star is Born” for, and given the fact that the song “Evergreen” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, you can’t blame them. It also won several Golden Globes, but accolades aside, it’s hard to reward this title a whole lot further. Sure, rock ‘n’ roll (and all the fun that came with it, like drugs, alcohol, excessive partying and so forth) is placed onto a very high pedestal for its fans to worship once again (as if they don’t already). But in order to do so, a film buff shouldn’t have to rely on a script that scrapes the bottom of the barrel and comes up short. That same film buff also shouldn’t have to connect big names like Streisand and Kristofferson, who they know for doing far better work, with a film that doesn’t offer up much more than their star power and singing ability.
Maybe I’m writing from a different perspective (without a doubt, it is a younger one), but if you were to remove this film’s music, you probably wouldn’t have a film at all. And anytime one element in a movie is that important, it speaks to the overall shortcomings that a title shouldn’t possess in order to carry its own weight. Both lead characters are flawed and imperfect, as is their romance, which feels more like it is being held together with Elmer’s glue than with passion or energy. Quite frankly, Kristofferson underacts here, and Streisand overacts, which would be fine if they offset. They don’t.
Blu-ray disc is pretty kind to “A Star is Born,” but just like the romance between our lead characters, the 1.85:1 1080p High Definition video transfer is imperfect. The stand out is the coloration, without a doubt. Brights are sharp and vivid, as is the excessively utilized natural light. My main issue was the film’s grain, which wasn’t all that distracting in the long run, but it remained noticeable more often than not. The concert scenes are, unsurprisingly, the film’s strongest, with raw energy on display visually in a special way.
Would you be shocked to hear that this is probably the best element of the presentation? The original soundtrack was remastered in an English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio transfer that is loud and clear to a point where you can almost feel yourself being motivated to stand up and scream. The dialogue holds its own, too, and the emotion our leading players exhibit, while easy to see through, is not challenging to hear. Additional selections are French and Spanish 1.0s, while English, French and Spanish subtitles are offered.
A healthy selection here, including a 40-page Blu-ray book with rare behind-the-scenes photos to drool over and some nifty production tidbits, filmographies and then some. We also have a Streisand audio commentary, wardrobe tests, theatrical trailer and deleted scenes/alternate takes with optional commentary. If you’re dying for more insight, it’s here, but if you’re not, you’ll make it.
A Final Word:
I didn’t dislike the music this film is known for all that much. I just disliked the film itself. The characters come up lacking, big time. The plot is overdone and the scrip is underdone. Any hope of interaction between Streisand and Kristofferson feeling natural or authentic dissipates in moments, and the entire production isn’t good enough to stand up to the rock ‘n’ roll that made it what it is.