EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY - Blu-ray (20th Century-Fox 1998) Fox Home Video
Andy Tennant’s Ever After (1998) is a sumptuously mounted and ever so slight revision of the traditional Cinderella fable. While the story is drawn from fiction, eschewing Charles Perrault’s influences to concentrated on the Brothers Grimm, the inclusion of various figures from history is sincerely flawed. Though the body of the piece is firmly set in France, circa 1500 or thereabouts, the royalty on tap here is not drawn from life. Indeed, King Francis I summoned Leonardo da Vinci to his court around 1516, 3-years before King Henry II (featured in this movie as an adult) was actually born. Neither of these monarch’s wives were named Marie (Claude and Eleanor, respectively), and Henry II was actually wed to Catherine de' Medici while barely a teenager himself. The couple had no known children. Meanwhile, Diane de Poitiers, a highborn French woman is most likely the inspiration for the character of Danielle (the Cinderella role played by Drew Barrymore). Okay, so much for historical accuracy, begging the query as to why any of the aforementioned should be a part of our story at all, as evidently, accuracy is of no lasting consequence to screenwriters, Susannah Grant, Rick Parks and, Andy Tennant. Expunging the general need for supernatural pantomime ascribed to all Cinderellas of the past – no fairy godmother or singing mice in this one – Tennant’s retelling, while firmly rooted in a pseudo-magical 16th century never-never-land of opulence and pageantry, is nevertheless presented to us as historical fiction here, set in the age of the French Renaissance, but with a contemporary bias toward post-modern feminism.
Ever After is anchored by two memorable performances: the first from Drew Barrymore, as the titular heroine, the other, from Anjelica Huston as the miserly and vindictive stepmother. “Nothing is final until you're dead”, Huston’s dark and wicked matron suggests to her daughters, “…and even then, I'm sure God negotiates.” There was, in fact, nothing in director, Andy Tennant’s background that ought to have made him ideally suited for this sort of plushly padded entertainment; Tennant, appearing as an extra in Grease, then again in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band (both in 1978). For a while it looked as though Tennant would make his name as an actor, debuting as Babyface in Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), and then, in Midnight Madness (1980) and, again, as a greaser in the much-maligned Grease 2 (1982). But Tennant’s strengths lay elsewhere, and in 1988 he was giving the opportunity to both write and produce Moving Target an NBC made-for-television movie. Tennant’s directorial debut followed one year later, shooting an episode of The Wonder Years. This led to more directing jobs on television. Then, in 1995, Tennant made the leap to movies with the featherweight comedy, It Takes Two, followed by Fools Rush In (1997), made and released just prior to Ever After: A Cinderella Story.
Drew Barrymore stars as Danielle De Barbarac. Born to privilege, the young Danielle’s world is shattered when her father, Auguste (Jeroen Krabbe) dies of a heart attack in her arms. Danielle’s stepmother, the vindictive Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent (Angelica Huston) seizes the opportunity to relegate Danielle as the family’s servant, waiting hand and foot on her own daughters’ every whim; the spoiled and simpering, Marguerite (Megan Dodds) and infinitely more understanding, Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey). However, a ray of hope materializes after Danielle inadvertently attacks the handsome, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) whom she first mistakes as a common thief. The prince must marry – and soon, such is the royal decree and wish of his parents, King Francis (Timothy West) and Queen Mary (Judy Parfitt). Henry seeks the counsel of his trusted friend, Leonardo (Patrick Godfrey). Meanwhile, Danielle skulks away to impersonate a lady of stature. She arrives at a lavish court ball and wins Henry's heart. But the Baroness has other plans. She exposes Danielle as a fraud, incurring Henry's wrath. The Baroness then sells Danielle’s bond in servitude to the unscrupulous, Pierre Le Pieu (Richard O'Brien). But Pierre gets more than he bargained for when Danielle proves herself to be a formidable enemy. Henry's wedding day to Princess Gabriella (Virginia Garcia) arrives. But as the groom reluctantly prepares to take his bride to the altar, she weeps so terribly for another, Henry cannot but realize, once and for all, his own heart belongs to another as well. Rushing to Pierre's foreboding castle, Henry is startled to discover Danielle already on her way home. Now, the Prince offers her his hand in marriage. Recognizing the fidelity and sincerity with which the offer has been made, Danielle agrees to marry Henry. Straining to be different, Ever After is book-ended by a rather bland and needless pro and epilogue, in which a bed-ridden Grande Dame (Jeanne Moreau) is attempting to rectify certain errors in translation of the fairy tale, as told by the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (Joerg Stadler) and Jacob (Andy Henderson). In the end, the pair depart the Grande Dame’s castle, presumably to go off and rewrite the story to suit the conventions of this movie.
Ever After is a rather straight-forward retelling of the 19th century fairy story. At the time of the theatrical release, Andy Tennant touted his movie as 'something new'. But actually, the opposite is quite true. Apart from the aforementioned bookends, the rest of the story is pretty much what we all remember from childhood. Let’s be honest. There is only so much one can do with something that has been so succinctly carved into our collective consciousness for centuries. And, notwithstanding the iconic Disney animated offering from 1950 (minus the magical fairy godmother and singing mice), Ever After benefits immensely from Michael Howell’s sumptuous production design and Andrew Dunn’s lush cinematography. That said, director, Tennant is particularly engaged on this outing. What might otherwise have become a cliché-ridden and predictable regurgitation of a story we know all too well, is instead refreshingly bright and high-spirited. There is just enough comedy to sustain the subtleties in the romance without crushing it into romantic farce. Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott make for a winning couple we can truly cheer for to come together. Angelica Houston is a formidable villain, striking just the right chord of menace. In the end, Ever After may distinctly fall short of bringing ‘something new’ to this time-honored tale, but it does its level best to resurrect the winsome escapism of all those ‘happily-ever-afters’ on record before it.
Fox Home Video gives us another Blu-ray exported from tired old digital files used to master the DVD. This is not a 1080p re-scan but a 720p image bumped up to a 1080p signal. The results, predictably, do not live up to expectations. Yes, the image tightens up. It is also sharper than the DVD – marginally so, and, with ever so slightly bolder colors. Alas, the image lacks that 'wow' factor, and, never snaps together as it should. The image isn’t awful – just underwhelming – a cardinal sin of all Fox Blu’s released during their early foray into the hi-def format. There is no excusable reason why Fox should have gone the quick and dirty route here. For certainly, the original film elements were in great shape, resulting in only the cost of a new hi-def scan with minimal – if any – clean-up. The audio is 5.1 DTS and nicely realized. There are no extras. Bottom line: Ever After is recommended as a charming update of the Cinderella Story. The Blu is less than perfect. Pity that. Judge and buy accordingly.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)