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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/12/99

Notting Hill
Collector's Edition - 1999 (1999) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Notting Hill: Collector's Edition Film Ratings: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B+

Specs and Features

124 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35.1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:13, at the start of chapter 8), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Roger Michell, producer Duncan Kenworthy, and writer Richard Curtis), featurette Hugh Grant's Movie Tips, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer (plus 2 trailers for The Bone Collector and The Story of Us), music highlights (access to scenes with music), The Travel Book (map of Notting Hill, both real and imagined), production notes, cast and crew bios, DVD-ROM features (including more cast & crew bios, and production info.), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

I've never been more conflicted in my whole life. On one hand, I found Notting Hill to be so very cute and utterly romantic. On the other hand, I thought by the end that the whole thing failed miserably. I have my theories as to why, and if you thought you wouldn't hear them, you're crazy. Click back now, or read on about why I have schizo feelings for this film on DVD.

Notting Hill is a romantic comedy "from the creators of Four Weddings and a Funeral", and it has the same sort of shape as that film as well. A nebbish Englishman falls for a beautiful American, and his friends are witnesses to all the failed shenanigans. This time around, the Englishman (played again by Hugh Grant) is a bookseller for a travel bookshop in England's famed Notting Hill business district. One day, as he finds that business isn't quite as good as it should be, in walks a beautiful woman (Julia Roberts), who witnesses his interaction with a would be shoplifter. She has a faint smile etched on her face, and through her standoffishness, shows a bit of attraction to him. He nervously converses with her and she goes her merry way. Somewhere in the whole exchange, Grant recognizes Roberts as being one of the most famous actresses in the world: Anna Scott. Obviously, that's not the last time they see each other. He ends up bumping into her (literally) on the street outside his home, and takes her inside to clean her up. She kisses him (because she wants to, I guess) and from there, a sort of love affair blooms. The comedic conflict lies in the fact that he's an average bloke, and the press hounds her relentlessly. He loves her, but every time he gets close, something goes wrong which sends her on her way for 6 months at a time. That leaves him retreating into theater houses, or his VCR, trying to be with her in any way he can (all to a pop tune montage). And all the while, his gallery of wacky friends comment on or influence his life choices.

I think it's with his friends that this film fails. Whereas in Four Weddings the friends made the picture, in Notting Hill they break it. If the film focused completely on Grant and Roberts, we might have fallen for the relationship and wanted them to get together. As it stands, the film is overlong and filled with a bunch of moments that are supposed to be endearing, but end up being annoying. We learn more about Grant's friends in the film than we do about who Grant really is. He's nice and sweet, and his wife walked out on him shortly after they were married. That's all we really get to know about him. Well, that and the fact that he used to be in love with his best friend's current wife. Oh, wait. His nickname in school was "Floppy" because of his hair. THAT'S it.

There are some moments in Notting Hill that are a pure joy to behold. All concern Grant and Roberts, and every time the two pop up together, I just hope that the film focuses on them. There is one friend of Grant's that I liked, and who helped make the film a bit funnier. He's Spike, played with sloppy glee by Rhys Ifans. If the film just had Grant and Roberts, and Ifans in it occasionally, it would have been an incredibly funny and romantic film. With everything else going on, it's only occasionally funny, a bit overlong, and more syrupy than sweet. I want to like it (a lot) but just can't. Lord, how I wished they dropped those friends. Grant is great, Roberts is wonderful, and the dialogue between them is sharp, witty and real. I just hate the friends. I didn't like any of them aside from Spike, who lives with Grant anyway, so it kind of fits into the funny parts of the film anyway.

This special edition DVD of Notting Hill is about as "eh" as the film itself. The picture and sound are both terrific, in full anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound - no problems there. The disc is a full-blown special edition, but it seems pretty sparse in the big picture. The commentary is nice. The three principles behind the camera discuss the film, the actors and the environment in a friendly way. These aren't your stuffy British intellectuals (even if they are British and intellectual). They laugh and make fun of stuff like any other group of friends. But I missed hearing Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. This would have been a prime time to get the two to talk with each other about the film. I'm sure schedules didn't allow either to be on board, but it would have been fun anyway. Other extras include a cute behind-the-scenes bit, with Hugh Grant talking with the crew about the film. He even brings his parents along for some of it. There's a nice assortment of deleted scenes, a map of Notting Hill with descriptions of the shops on the strip, a theatrical trailer for the film (with a couple others for other Universal movies), production notes, cast/crew bios, and access to all the songs used in the film. It sounds pretty packed, and when it comes to the film, I guess it's more than anyone would have wanted anyway. But there just seems to be something lacking. There are some ROM based things, but that doesn't fill the void. Maybe it's the lack of Julia Roberts. This disc is very Roberts-light, and she's even light in the film. Gosh, I'm so torn when it comes to this film.

I'm going to leave it at that. The film is good (could have been better), the disc is good (picture and sound quality both rock), and the extras are fine (could have been better, but what's here is good enough). This isn't a great DVD, but it's not bad either. If you loved the film, you'll love this disc. If you haven't seen the film, check it out as a rental. I'm gonna watch it again, and see if I can put my finger on exactly why I can't really love this film. But, I'm still betting that it's those damn friends.

Todd Doogan
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