Pretty Woman (Special Edition)
Despite the hand-wringing that accompanied the release of Pretty Woman in the cinemas as regards it making prostitution look like an attractively profitable career, I doubt that any young women were convinced by the ease with which Julia Roberts' hooker bagged a corporate raider.
Indeed, the only two notably famous and, therefore, wealthy people to have associated with prostitutes on Sunset Strip are Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant. Whilst one apparently spent time with what you might see referred to as a shemale, the other looked suitably embarrassed having been caught with a woman who looked as though even her mother might find her difficult to love.
The fuss about prostitution was, if it needs said, frippery of an order so high that one feels pangs of vertigo just thinking about it. Pretty Woman was, of course, a rewrite of the Pygmalion story in which a classless young woman was taken under the wing of a man of much higher social standing before being introduced into a society that had been previously far out of reach. This time, the treatment was rather more daring than it had been with, say, My Fair Lady, as Julia Roberts played Vivian Ward, a gum-chewing, thigh-high-boot-wearing Los Angelean prostitute who meets financier Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) whilst he's struggling with a Lotus Espirit on his way to his Beverly Hills hotel.
In town to close a business deal to take over and break up a shipping yard, Lewis initially asks Ward to stay with him for a night before raising his offer for the entire week as he needs a companion for dinner dates and social engagements. Ward can't believe her luck as Lewis bankrolls a full makeover on Rodeo Drive and, very soon, Lewis and Ward begin to fall in love with one another. Neither of them, however, can get away from who they are and what they are meant to be doing - one is taking over and breaking up, by any means possible, a well-established family shipping business whilst the other is only a hooker and Lewis' attorney, Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), can't seem to let her forget that.
But just who was changing who in Pretty Woman à la Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle? Were you sticking purely to the lineage of the sexes, Edward Lewis is quite obviously the Henry Higgins character, dragging Vivian Ward's Eliza out of the gutter of the sex industry and, over the course of a week, makes her into a lady fit to be seen on his arm at a business and social engagement at a polo match, thus echoing the engagement at the races in My Fair Lady. Then again, is Pretty Woman playing with the roles of Doolittle and Higgins and is it Vivian who is teaching Edward to come out of his boorish business meetings and, rather than tear James Morse's (Ralph Bellamy) shipbuilding business apart, that he come to terms with his love for his father and invest his considerable wealth to build big ships?
Frankly, I don't actually think the subtext of Pretty Woman really matters - this film didn't get to be as successful as it was by being clever - Pretty Woman appealed simply by being a good, old-fashioned love story, albeit one with prostitutes. It may well be...in fact, it is, considered derisory by many but Pretty Woman does have a certain naive charm and look past the machinations of corporate ruination and pimping - the sorry side of both Edward and Vivian's professions - and this is a simple story about two people finding each other, making one another feel better and, finally, falling in love.
That is also the film's major failing - there really isn't very much to get excited about if you find neither of the leads appealing. With My Fair Lady, for example, I found myself warming to Higgins and Doolittle despite their obvious faults whereas there's nothing to suggest that, in Pretty Woman, Lewis and Ward won't end up both as a couple and happier. In Pretty Woman, the good remain good whilst the bad, Jason Alexander's Philip Stuckey and William Gallo's pimp/pusher Carlos, remain bad. But that's no reason to sneer at Pretty Woman - there are many who don't want any more than a love story, a happy ending and the villains to get their comeuppance and Pretty Woman delivers all of these.
Of course, anyone who enjoyed this film will no doubt have enjoyed it in one of its earlier releases on DVD but this Special Edition not only offers an improved picture but also a re-edited version of the film, including footage that had previously been cut. The major changes to the film are concerned with realism that the theatrical version chose to ignore. Early drafts of the script were to have Vivian portrayed as both more sexual and a heavy drugs user. Indeed, in the original theatrical cut, the impression was given that the night on which Vivian and Edward meet was her first night as a prostitute and that it was the Laura San Giacomo character, Kit De Luca, who consumed any drugs that were taken. This time, Vivian is still clean of drugs but there is more of a suggestion that she is an experienced prostitute but not enough to imply that she might pose an extraordinarily high risk to Edward's health. The most obvious new footage is of Vivian trying to track down Kit down at the Blue Banana with Edward being confronted by Kit's pimp/dealer. More could have been made of this scene but it's played largely for laughs with Edward's driver resolving things quickly with the opening of his jacket. Being Pretty Woman, this is, of course, balanced by more footage later in the film of Vivian and Edward enjoying the breaks that he's taking from the office. In particular, one scene of them horse-riding is more reminiscent of the later Gere/Roberts film Runaway Bride than Pretty Woman.
I'm not sure, though, that these scenes make for a better film and I find myself preferring, in a manner similar to being asked which hand I would rather have removed, the original cut. There is very little in it, though, and the impression that these edits were done solely to justify a re-release, sadly, never really passes.
As you can see from the screenshots below, this picture quality on this release is a great improvement over that of the 2001 release - the picture is sharper, it has a greater depth and the colours are much richer.
Similarly, the audio track is also an improvement with a little less noise, more bass and a greater ability to handle the dynamics of the music on the soundtrack. Pretty Woman is never going to be the kind of film to demonstrate a home cinema system so don't think of it in those terms, simply that it now has the soundtrack that complements the picture best.
Commentary: Director Garry Marshall sits alone for this, which is a real missed opportunity as it would have been a treat for fans of the film to have Gere and Roberts reunited fifteen years after the making of this film. Marshall, though, is a welcoming presence and jokes, discusses his selection of films and has a lot of fun looking back at the making of Pretty Woman. More importantly, he really never stops talking and never sounds dull, simply that he covers everything that a fan of the film could want and that he does it with no small amount of grace. And it's worth mentioning that he clearly enjoys doing a commentary for this film as this is his second - it has not been carried over from the 2001 release.
Blooper Reel (2m38s): The picture quality is terrible and so is the quality of the bloopers. Indeed, even Dennis Nordern would think twice about using them and that probably says all that one needs to.
Live From The Wrap Party (4m05s): Not only does Richard Gere play piano in Pretty Woman but he does it again here, this time playing Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood at the wrap party for the film with Julia Roberts on backing vocals and Garry Marshall on drums.
Production Featurette (3m47s): This is the same production featurette that was on the previous release and the passage of time has not improved it. All that can be said in its favour is that it's short.
Wild Women Do Music Video (4m12s): Again, this is carried over from the last release of Pretty Woman and for fans of clunky eighties funk/pop - Notorious-era Duran Duran - it's, well, still not indispensable. It's no I Will Survive, either, in terms of female empowerment.
LA Pretty Woman Tour (Various): But this is a good extra - Garry Marshall provides a commentary over footage of the locations that were used in the making of the film. It's a shame, given that people do look out for and visit film locations that more DVD's don't include this type of feature.
It's foolish to criticise it too much - those that love won't listen and those that don't will not be convinced of its charms - and, as if an example were needed, my wife and I have disagreed over this film's merits for as long as we've been together. She, needless to say, considers it one of the greatest films ever made whilst I make my excuses during each and every, far too frequent showing of it.
Although I can't think of the need to own this film ever arising, excepting a fascist dictatorship rising to power that was headed by a fanatical Julia Roberts fan, I would recommend this version over previous releases of this film on DVD simply because of the improved picture quality.
That improved picture quality doesn't, however, extend to the cover of the DVD, which continues to not only carry the image of Julia Roberts' head on Shelley Michelle's body in the manner of the poorest nude celebrity fakes but suggests a Richard Gere with a head of lustrous brown hair. Never mind the pursuit of riches through prostitution, Richard Gere with brown hair is where Pretty Woman's relationship with the truth breaks down completely.