PRETTY WOMAN - Blu-Ray (Touchstone 1990) Buena Vista Home Video
I recall so well at the time of the release of Gary Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990), comedian Joan Rivers suggesting to a fellow interviewer that, at one time, Hollywood promoted the ‘nice girl’ to wind up as the heroine of her own proverbial ‘happily ever after’. “Now, we just raise our daughters to be hookers,” Rivers teased. And indeed, according to Marshall and this movie, that really is about all it took to land the catch of a lifetime – Prince Charming, reconstituted as a corporate raider with commitment issues. Pretty Woman is a delicious fable, just the sort that could only have been made palpable to movie goers at the end of the 1980’s; a decade revered for its improbable sex/farce rom/coms (Sixteen Candles – 1984, The Secret of My Success - 1987, Mannequin - 1987, among them). And since wish fulfillment never goes out of style, and Hollywood – at least then, was all about granting dreams come true (an honorable magic trick, back in the day), Pretty Woman endures and endears with its improbable scenario about a Hollywood hooker slumming it on the right side of the tracks. Of course, it does help when the prostitute in question is played by a relative unknown with a killer smile the size of a garage door, and oodles of that intangible sparkle that spells ‘star quality’ in thirty-red neon lights over the city of the angels. Julia Roberts, whose own tale of ‘discovery’ might have just as easily been declared valid fodder for those star-struck Cinderellas desiring fame and fortune, had appeared on the screen just two years earlier; first, in Mystic Pizza (1988), and then, more prominently showcased in the all-star tear-jerker, Steel Magnolias (1989). That she managed, with zero acting experience and no agent to come out of nowhere and to dominate the social fabric of our movie-going pop culture for most of the 1990’s was a story worthy of the fantastic fluff on tap in Pretty Woman. And indeed, after Pretty Woman, Roberts life would never be the same again.
Roberts went from unknown to overnight sensation after Pretty Woman became one of the most celebrated rom/coms in movie history, and, a colossal money-maker for Disney’s Touchstone apparatus. Herein, the Cinderella story became caught in that social caste divided by modern-day Beverly Hills, with its designer denizens, and, the neon-lit Babylon of Hollywood Blvd. – a place where good girls remained conspicuously absent, leaving their bad boys to troll for paid companionship with these bad girls from the streets, some of whom eventually wound up in dumpsters behind the seedier nightclubs. “Hey, how about a freebee? It’s my birthday?” Mercifully, our Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) was not destined for either such a fate, or ostensibly, this life. True confession – she cried the first time she sold sex for cash. And Viv’ has been given a real ‘leg up’, so to speak, in trusted friend, Kit De Luca (Laura San Giacomo), who never takes her profession seriously – telling a prospective gawker in his seventies, “Fifty bucks, grandpa. For seventy-five, the wife can watch.” Even better, was Vivian’s outlook after an accidental ‘cute meet’ and burgeoning romance with cool-as-ice corporate raider, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) who draws a unique parallel between his profession and hers – “We both screw people for money!” Viewed from the vantage of over 20-years removed from the decade that regularly eased us all into such featherweight pulp as though to have slipped into a tub of pure sour cream, and, in particular, with the rather ominous mobile of a darker critique of humanity that, today, has eclipsed our basic ability, even to suggest such light-hearted fluff could fly, Pretty Woman appears a little worse for the wear - its premise, pure soap and treacle, its characterizations, joyfully mindless and altogether from another planet. Honestly, don’t you just wish it was 1990 all over again? I know I do!
Even given that the Walt Disney Co.’s penchant for producing ‘family entertainment’ had veered into more adult fare with its establishing Touchstone Pictures in the mid-80’s, Vivian Ward, a Hollywood hooker minus the vices usually ascribed a working girl (drug addiction, bastard children, STDs, etc.) just felt like strange bedfellows (pun intended!). Make no mistake, Pretty Woman was, is, and shall always remain a fairy tale with its princess distilled into this bad girl with the proverbial ‘heart of gold’ who also just happens to be a real/reel whore in bed.The screenplay by J.F. Lawton opens with Edward Lewis, an emotionless shell who lives, eats and breathes corporate raiding. Unable to pry his limousine from the juggernaut of party guest’s cars at the home of his attorney, Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), Edward borrows Stuckey’s Lotus Esprit for the drive home. Problem – Edward’s never driven a stick shift before. So, his attempt to make it back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel prove a disaster. Edward cannot even navigate the streets of Los Angeles. Instead, he quickly finding himself on Hollywood Blvd. after hours and, in the presence of Vivian, working her corner with fellow hooker, Kit De Luca to pay the rent. Asking for directions, Edward gets more than he bargains for when Vivian offers to drive him back to the Beverly Wilshire for $50. “You can’t charge me for directions,” Edward insists, to which Vivian replies, “I can do anything I want, baby. I ain’t lost!” As Edward has just broken up with his current girlfriend, Jessica, he invites Vivian to his penthouse suite – entirely uncertain what his next move with her will be. Slowly, an unlikely romantic bond begins to develop between these two.
Edward decides to have Vivian stay the week. He needs a girl on his arm to accompany him on an attractive business deal, but without any romantic illusions. Vivian fits that bill. But the hotel's manager, Barney Thompson (Hector Elizondo) confronts her about the reasons for her staying in the penthouse. "Things that happen at other hotels don't happen at the Beverly Wilshire," he reminds her. Nevertheless, Barney has a heart. After Vivian breaks down in his office, he decides to help her achieve her goals for the week, to dress and behave the part of a lady of culture – thus, to live out the Cinderella dream inculcated in every young girl practically since birth. Edward tosses Vivian his credit cards, instructing her to get an evening dress suitable for the business dinner. But the sales girls working Rodeo Drive are exceedingly cruel to her. So, the next day, Edward takes Vivian to his favor women’s couturier and has its manager, Mr. Hollister (Larry Miller) suck up to her. Together, they bedeck our Vivian from horn to hoof in all the finery any self-respecting gal could afford. Barney also educates Vivian on the use of the various cutlery. Armed with her new outlook, Vivian works her magic on the new men in her life, easily winning Edward and Barney’s respect along the way. Barney also trains Vivian in the social etiquette of fine dining for her first big night out with Edward and rival father/son businessmen, James (Ralph Bellamy) and David Morse (Alex Hyde-White). But the meeting turns sour after Edward makes it clear he hopes to acquire and then dismantle James’ company through a hostile corporate takeover.
Meanwhile, Philip begins to suspect Edward’s infatuation with Vivian is growing into a love that may have softened his partner’s usual ruthless business savvy. Unable to resolve his feelings toward Vivian and repel Philip’s queries, Edward quietly confesses that Vivian is a prostitute. Philip is cynically amused, but later, while Edward is out, attempts to first seduce, then rape Vivian for having convinced Edward to forgo his corporate raiding and instead invest in the Morse’s plans to build ships for the navy. Unable to ward off Philip’s advances, Vivian narrowly escapes harm when Edward arrives in time to pry his old partner off of her. Philip challenges Edward to reconsider the terms of their relationship, calling Vivian a whore. In reply, Edward bashes Philip in the head, effectively terminating their alliance and throwing Philip out of the penthouse. Edward makes Vivian a proposition – to move her into a posh apartment of her own where she can continue to rely on his good graces and cater to him whenever he is in town. Instead, she declines his generous offer, suggesting that his terms represent merely a ‘geographical’ repositioning of her profession. She would still be a hooker, bought and paid for with more expensive things. Edward departs L.A. and Vivian returns to Kit, offering her some of the money Edward left her as an endowment, hopefully to encourage Kit to go to beauty school and give up hooking for good. Preparing her bags to go home, Vivian hears a car horn tooting just outside her window. She finds Edward, roses in hand, arriving by limo. Despite his fear of heights, the fairy tale prevails, as Edward scales Vivian’s fire escape to propose marriage – thus, fulfilling her desire to be made an honest woman. She, of course, accepts the offer, and the two embrace and kiss.
Pretty Woman is escapist fluff of the highest order. That is seems slightly too foreign to us now, or even moderately false in its joyful celebration of the Cinderella myth is our cross to bear, rather than any genuine fault baked into the story. What is particularly naïve about the narrative in retrospect is how all the elements of living dangerously have been excised from its subtext. And Richard Gere, previously to have been deified on celluloid as the male derivative of this world’s oldest profession in American Gigolo ten years earlier, has come full circle with Pretty Woman, a tale that ends far more happily for all concerned than his foray did for the character, Julian Kaye back in 1980. Interestingly, Pretty Woman makes an off-hand reference to ‘Gigolo’ when Vivian is confronted by a pair of ‘rich bitch’ sisters at the polo match who cattily suggest that Edward is the most eligible bachelor everyone is trying to land. “Well,” Vivian casually replies, “I’m not trying to land him. I’m just using him for sex!” Herein, a Hollywood hooker’s life is presented as curiously sexless, romantic fun, with more than a hint of glamour associated with the art of this charade. In the extended cut of Pretty Woman – not seen in theaters but previously released by Buena Vista Home Video for the ‘Anniversary Edition’ – the character of Carlos (Billy Gallo) a pimp, was modestly fleshed out in a key sequence to present at least something of the threat girls like Vivian and Kit daily face. Carlos threatens Edward in the alley behind ‘The Blue Banana’ – a club frequented by Vivian and Kit. *Alas, this scene does not appear on the Blu-ray. Even the death of ‘Skinny Marie’, a fellow prostitute addicted to crack at the beginning of the movie, is dolled up for sheer comic relief. The body is never shown. Instead, a man and woman are seen taking pictures of the alley cornered off by police. Asked by the presiding detective (Hank Azaria) if they are from the media, the woman casually replies, “No, we’re from Orlando.”
Pretty Woman is a showcase for Julia Roberts and she works it like a pro. Her performance sustains the movie with great sincerity, heart and an unvarnished honesty. It’s easy to see why Roberts became such a huge star. Richard Gere’s stoic and near expressionless corporate raider is another matter. As an actor, Gere has two expressions to draw from - mediocre and mediocre plus. Ironically, the mileage he gets from this limited range is rather impressive – perhaps because the character of Edward Lewis demands little else. Hector Elizondo is the most charming addition to the cast; a sort of 'male fairy Godmother' who finds something unique and enchanting in this girl from the wrong side of the tracks who desperately wants to better herself. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you, Miss Vivian,” he tells her at the end of her stay at the hotel, “Come and see us again!” And Elizondo’s Barney is as instrumental in convincing the commitment-shy Edward to reconsider his stance on taking the plunge yet again. When asked by Edward to see the necklace he borrowed from the House of Harry Winston gets safely returned, Barney, re-examining the gorgeous assemblage of diamonds and rubies, confides, “It must be a shame to give up something so beautiful” – his comment, of course, referring to Edward and Vivian about to go their separate ways. In the final analysis, Pretty Woman represents Touchstone Pictures at its most slickly packaged. Throughout the 1980’s, the company produced many less than perfect entertainments, nevertheless to catch the public’s fancy as well as their box office dollars; Adventures in Babysitting, Can’t Buy Me Love, Hello Again – in 1987, Beaches, 1988 among them. Pretty Woman represents the last of this breed. Indeed, Roberts would try to revisit the well for Touchstone again, this time playing a reporter pitted against Nick Nolte’s sexist in I Love Trouble (1994); a movie, that despite its many virtues, miserably tanked at the box office, proving that the age of cynicism was already upon us.
Buena Vista Home Video’s Blu-Ray of Pretty Woman is sure to infuriate fans on several levels. First, after providing the extended cut on DVD, Buena Vista has decided to limit its Blu-Ray release to only the theatrical cut. The limited ‘special features’ that were included on the extended cut – including Natalie Cole’s ‘Wild Women Do’ music video and a meandering audio commentary by Garry Marshall – are the only extra features regurgitated on this outing and presented in 480i – not 1080p. But perhaps the biggest oversight on this release is the studio’s failure to go back to original source masters for the film's 1080p upgrade. What we have here is a print – not an original camera negative. Badly done! The image is virtually identical to the previously issued ‘Anniversary Edition’ on standard DVD – its only marginal improvements coming from Blu-Ray’s superior bit rate, to ever-so-slightly tighten and sharpen the image with marginally more vibrant colors. The differences between the DVD and the Blu-Ray are negligible at best and frankly, a let down. Several scenes appear softly focused with a considerable loss of fine detail. The audio is uncompressed DTS 5.1 – thank heaven. Other extras include a blooper reel and vintage production featurette from 1990. Big deal!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)