Thelma & Louise (Special Edition) Review

The Film

The highlights of Ridley Scott’s career can be compared, with a little imagination but with some accuracy, to those of Stanley Kubrick’s, another technically brilliant director who was frequently accused of making heartless and cold films. Thus, Blade Runner is Scott’s 2001, Gladiator is his Spartacus, and Black Hawk Down is his Full Metal Jacket. At first glance, Thelma and Louise is difficult to place in the canon of his work, feeling more indebted to Callie Khouri’s script than his direction; however, when viewed as a kind of wry study in the foibles of Americana that Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita ended up being, this fits nicely in after all. This is, of course, a very restrictive reading of the film that was both praised and blasted for being, as one furious critic put it, ‘a feminist mission statement on film’; while the ‘shock’ value of the film has now faded thanks to over-familiarity, the sense of freshness and humour has not.

The plot concerns Thelma (Davis), a downtrodden housewife who has had the bad fortune to be married to the oafish Darryl (McDonald), and her best friend Louise (Sarandon), a waitress who has seen better days, as they plan a trip together away from the confines of work, partners and the humdrum realities of life. Unfortunately, after Louise shoots and kills a would-be rapist, they find themselves on the run from the FBI and police, led by the sympathetic Hal (Keitel); however, as they travel, they discover that the dull reality of their lives up until now has been little more than a male-dominated facade, as they rob convenience stores, punish lecherous truck drivers and intimidate police officers, as well as Thelma having a liaison with the charming JD (Pitt). However, the police are not far behind…

In Scott’s commentary, he mentions that Khouri’s original intention was to direct the film herself, on a very low budget, and for it to have an almost documentary feel (read: no humour). While his staging of the film may be lacking in the integrity that she may well have brought to the project, it is also vastly more entertaining. As even his detractors will gladly admit (albeit in the context of having more sticks to beat him with), Scott is a superb visual director, and, after a necessarily drab and visually flat opening, the sheer sensation of the women’s trip across America is conveyed brilliantly, especially in the final, infamous scenes set in Utah and the Grand Canyon, as a potentially dialogue-heavy script is brought vividly to life. Scott’s career is often summed up as having little of any real interest between Blade Runner and Gladiator, despite his being Oscar-nominated for this; it is, of course, likely that those who say that haven’t seen this film.

In terms of the infamy that the so-called ‘feminist’ message aroused, it’s actually very hard to see what the difficulty is. The tone here is not the hypocritical reverse chauvinism of Sex and the City or even the snide rantings of a stereotypical ‘chick flick’ such as Boys on the Side, but is instead an intelligent and reasoned look at two ordinary women who realise that there is more to life than what they are currently experiencing. It’s absurd to try and paint the film as a piece of feminist polemic for man-hating lesbians, as the film almost entirely ignores any hints of homo-eroticism between the two, as well as presenting as many sympathetic as unsympathetic male characters.

Sarandon and Davis (who were both Oscar-nominated) are both terrific in difficult, multi-faceted roles; while Davis has the more obvious ‘journey’ from mousy wife to independent woman, Sarandon manages to bring a character to life who, at times, seems to spend more time reacting to other people than actually acting on her own impetus. Keitel, in a pleasant change of pace from scumbags, murderers and other villains, is strong in an underwritten part that a more experienced writer might have built up into a genuinely remarkable performance, and the rest of the cast are all variously amusing, infuriating, and, in Pitt’s case, an almost comic display of poster-boy sexuality. Technical credits are excellent, with Adrian Biddle’s cinematography working splendidly well, and Hans Zimmer’s score (one of his earlier collaborations with Scott) is also strong, even if it occasionally threatens to turn into an Elton John song at points.

This is a superbly directed, intelligently scripted and very well acted film that will, inevitably, have greater repercussions for women than men, but is still highly accessible to both sexes. There are minor faults, such as a rather overblown move into action film territory in the final reel that is only redeemed by the iconic ending, but they are ultimately minor niggles in what genuinely is a female answer to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with all the charm, wit and fun that this indicates.

The Picture

After some fine transfers lately on such discs as The Usual Suspects and Road House, this represents a significant step down for MGM. In the first 20 minutes or so, there is such bad shimmering at points that some scenes verge on the unwatchable; granted, Scott’s intention was to make the early scenes visually restrained and low-key, but such treatment indicates that something very strange has happened to the film’s digital conversion. Thankfully, after this first stretch, the transfer does improve considerably, but it’s still very disappointing for such a high-profile release in anamorphic widescreen from a mainstream studio to have such flaws.

The Sound

Thankfully, no such problems affect the sound, which is clear and strong throughout, with some excellent use of surrounds enhancing the film’s more action-orientated scenes, as well as dialogue and music being presented nicely throughout. Although the 5.1 remix is very obviously a remix, with some periods where no surround effects are noticeable beyond the front speakers, this is, overall, a pleasing effort.

The Extras

MGM’s second attempt at a Thelma and Louise disc, this retains the couple of interesting extras from the first effort and adds several more, and keeps the entire lot on one disc (which may well have had something to do with the disappointing picture quality). First up are two commentaries, one by Ridley Scott and one by Sarandon, Davis and Khouri. As anyone who has ever listened to a track by Scott before will know, he is extremely adept at dissecting his films, and does a fine job here, literately discussing the themes, technical effects and eventual reception of the film. Although a bit ‘vintage’ (he refers to G.I Jane as his previous film, and the aborted I Am Legend as his next), and with some occasional patches of silence, this is still fine stuff, although his brief comments about Blade Runner here make one long to hear a proper track on that! The second track is more anecdotal, as you’d expect- thankfully, all the participants have been recorded together, so there is some good banter throughout, although this might be of more interest to the film’s female fans.

The other extras are a pleasingly extensive bunch, as produced by the estimable Charlie de Lauzirika, and cover just about all the bases. The best is probably an hour-long documentary called ‘The Last Journey’, which has interviews with Scott, Khouri and just about all the principal actors, excluding Harvey Keitel, and which features some very amusing anecdotes, not least Brad Pitt’s rather embarrassed recollections of how he became, er, ‘excited’ in the big sex scene with Davis. With a decent amount of time spent on the film’s reception post-release, and including some good insight into the film’s status as a feminist mission statement for good or ill, this is highly recommended viewing. Eight deleted scenes are included, unfortunately without director’s commentary; they add little to the film, but their presence is reasonably welcome anyway, as is an alternate ending that emphasises narrative closure at the expense of the iconic.

Remaining features are more standard, although still nice to see; there is a storyboard-to-film comparison of the final chase, an original featurette that is only worth watching for passing novelty value, and the usual round of photo galleries, trailers- which utterly trivialise the film by representing it as a kind of goofy comedy- TV spots, as well as a rather bizarre ‘Home Video Trailer’, which was intended for video stockists to promote the film. Overall, then, another fine collection of supplements from MGM, and it’s difficult to think of any way that they could have been improved upon.

Conclusion

MGM seem to have a schizophrenic attitude towards their R2 DVDs. On the one hand, films like this and The Usual Suspects get excellent, superbly conceived packages with genuinely insightful and interesting extras; on the other, films like Bull Durham and Sweet Smell of Success get nothing more than a trailer (which, in the case of the former, is much less than the R1 equivalent.) However, one should be grateful for the successes, of which this is undoubtedly one, albeit with some quite substantial reservations about the picture quality early on. Recommended for fans of the film, as well as anyone who likes Ridley Scott DVDs!

Film
8 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:56:55

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