Blu-ray Review: “Thelma & Louise” at 20

Written by Blu-ray Reviews, Film

Bob Cashill goes on the road again with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as they hit Blu-ray.

Thelma & Louise (Fox/MGM, 1991)

To tie in with “Oscar Month” Fox has been reviving the ghosts of ceremonies past on Blu-ray, with fresh-to-the-format transfers of MGM titles it now handles, including Moonstruck (1987), Rain Man (1988), and Dances with Wolves (1990). I was most intriguing by the prospect of another spin in the Thunderbird with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, so take it away, girls…I mean, women.

The Story: No need to rehash that, right? Suffice it to say that Thelma & Louise has become a fable for our generation. It’s one of those films where just about everything went right, as if by magic, though another zeitgeist film, The Silence of the Lambs, gobbled up most of its six Oscars nominations. Its one win was for Callie Khouri’s constantly surprising, and canny, screenplay–putting guns in the hands of female protagonists was nothing new, but making Thelma (Davis) and Louise (Sarandon) the repository of the film’s grit and heart and great sassy humor and letting us be the judge of their actions was a masterstroke. The actresses are at the top of their game here, as if they had known each other forever, and by the end they glow with a spiritual fulfillment.

It’s their movie…but it’s too simplistic to say that the film is anti-male. If that had been Khouri’s intent co-stars Michael Madsen, as Louise’s boyfriend, wouldn’t have shown a wounded, sympathetic side, and Thelma’s awful husband (Christopher McDonald) wouldn’t have been so funny in his cluelessness. Nor would Thelma’s pickup, played so vividly by Brad Pitt in his first notable role, be so sly and sexy. There’s a richness to the human frailty and comedy in Khouri’s script that transcends easy labels, which I would not have figured director Ridley Scott to bring to fruition. Making his first film in the American outdoors (1987’s Someone to Watch Over Me was citified) the technocrat embraced the blue skies and working-class milieu and all the stuff of this country. He and DP Adrian Biddle render a captivating portrait of the West as experienced by two lovably idiosyncratic women who rebel against the more confining aspects of our wide open spaces.

Audio/Video: The tropical fish that Louise pauses to look at in one early scene pop in a way that they haven’t before, and the Blu-ray (2.35: 1 framing, AVC @ 28 MPS) gives those magnificent Grand Canyon vistas in the third act a lowering beauty that they did not possess in prior incarnations. Oh, yes, that hotly debated ending, reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–is it a statement about feminist solidarity in the face of male oppression? A betrayal of characters we’ve grown to care for, for all their flaws and missteps? Or just a cop out? Scott sees it as mythic, and the clarity of the image suggested to me a final union of these outlaw women with the filmic legends of John Ford country.

The English soundtrack is vibrant 5.1 DTS-HD. Several language options are available. I thought the Italian sounded both tough and flirtatious.

Special Features: While MGM has sprung for a revitalized image and spruced-up sound the extras have been repurposed from a 2003 special edition DVD, which in turn borrowed some of them from a first edition released in 1997, at the dawn of DVD time. I think my cousin’s young son, now in showbiz himself, saw it around then, and when he and his mom ran into Sarandon in a New York toy store he started chanting “Thelma and Louise! Thelma and Louise!”–thankfully to her amusement.

To continue: Just as an “old movie” isn’t an old movie if you’ve never seen it before, old supplements aren’t old supplements if you haven’t sat down with them before, and in this case I hadn’t seen all of them.

(Digression: Somewhere in the back of my cabinets is that 1997 edition–back when the packaging used the original poster artwork, a nit I must pick with this and many other reissues. If it worked then, why do the studios think it doesn’t work now? Do they lose the rights to it when they’re sold? Collectors like myself prize that material and dislike Photoshopped-looking images, even more evocative examples like the one used here.)

It’s a full house, too. Ridley Scott is one of the very best commentators in the business, thorough and attentive. He’s also one to tinker with his films on DVD, with better results than most filmmakers, but this one he quite sensibly left alone. This 1997 chat must have been the first he recorded for DVD, and it touches every base you might think of (amusingly he calls the women “girls” throughout). Less successful is a 2003 commentary with Khouri, Sarandon, and Davis, which has a fair amount of gaps and dead space–but making up for it is a 47-minute making of with most of the participants swapping stories (Pitt shares a funny revelation about his sex scene with Davis). The most interesting of the extras (including deleted scenes, storyboards of the last sequence, which was shot in 45 minutes as the sun went down and the clock ran out on the limited budget, and the theatrical trailer and TV ads) is the extended ending. This follows the women to the depths of their journey, a climax that Scott found to be too much of a downer, literally.

There’s also Glenn Frey’s music video, “Part of You, Part of Me.” Well, it was 1991.

Bottom Line: In his commentary Scott notes that Thelma and Louise would likely have gotten 10-15 years in prison for their crimes, which is to say they would have been out long ago by now and there could have been sequels. So be it–they passed into legend, and have never shone as brightly as they do now.