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review added: 8/9/00



Steel Magnolias
Special Edition - 1989 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Steel Magnolias: Special Edition Film Rating: B

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

Specs and Features

119 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:13:00, in chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers (My Best Friend's Wedding and Stepmom), audio commentary by director Herbert Ross, deleted scenes, isolated film score, In Full Bloom: Remembering Steel Magnolias featurette, filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, production notes, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned

If ever there were an Oprah DVD club, Steel Magnolias could very well be the inaugural disc. It has everything a great Oprah film requires - women holding hands, tons of tissue-grabbing, tear-jerking moments, cute talk with the townsfolk at holiday gatherings and semi-deep discussions of life. I can even remember an entire episode of Oprah devoted to Steel Magnolias. After all, it sported an all-star, mostly female cast, with the exception of young, up and comer Julia Roberts in a supporting role as Shelby, the diabetic daughter of M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field). Together, they are a group of friends that are constantly there for each other to provide moral support and a shoulder to cry on.

At the time of its release (and to a certain extent even now), the comparisons to Terms of Endearment were inevitable. Both are family-centered comedy/dramas, with a colorful cast anchored by screen legend Shirley MacLaine, and both have become classics in their own right. But while Steel Magnolias is an entertaining film, it doesn't have the strength in writing nor in direction that made Terms of Endearment a hit with both critics and audiences.

In the small parish of Chinquapin, LA, everything happens in a hair salon owned by Truvy (Dolly Parton). There, she dishes up gossip and hairdos with her friends: the shy, awkward Annelle (Daryl Hannah), cantankerous Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), rich chatterbox Clairee (Olympia Dukasis), bride-to-be Shelby and her mother M'Lynn. Everything that happens in the movie occurs on special occasions. Special occasions call for special hair, and at the start of the film everyone is getting ready for Shelby's marriage to Jackson (Dylan McDermott). It is in this first scene that we learn that Shelby is diabetic, and her plans to have kids with Jackson are dangerous because of the strain child birth would put on her body.

The entire first half of the movie takes place on Shelby's wedding day. The rest of the film takes place on other holidays and special events. At the Eatenton family Christmas gathering, M'Lynn learns, much to her dismay, that Shelby is indeed pregnant. What is good news to the rest of her friends, is a reason to worry for M'Lynn. Later on in the film, there is a wedding shower on Halloween, a birthday party on the Fourth of July, and an Easter anniversary. This part of the story feels a little forced to me, but the strong ensemble acting carries it off, with memorable performances by MacLaine and Dukakis.

For a lot of the cast, Steel Magnolias was a departure from their normal film fare. Dolly Parton (whom I've always thought of as a charming, natural actress) was playing a part that was not written expressly for her. Olympia Dukakis, who many times plays stuffy New Englanders, played a southern widow. Daryl Hannah, for a change, was allowed not only to keep her clothing on, but to actually show some acting chops. All things considered, she's pretty good in this film, and kudos to director Ross for cutting out a scene of her in her underwear because it had no purpose in the film. Of the things I like about this movie, the acting is at the top of the list and that's what makes repeat viewing a pleasure.

Columbia TriStar has preserved the original aspect ratio of Steel Magnolias with an anamorphic treatment on DVD. Video quality is above average, with most of the drawbacks from the transfer to DVD kept at a minimum. Digital artifacts are occasionally noticeable, but are never so prevalent that they become bothersome, and I saw very little edge enhancement. The source print is fairly free of defects, but it looks a little on the soft side. Color reproduction is accurate, with faithful flesh tones and good shadow detail and black level. The sound, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Most dialogue-driven sound mixes tend to be geared toward the front end of the sound system, but this Dolby Digital 2.0 track features a really lethargic mix. Dialogue levels are very subdued, and I had to compensate by cranking the volume. All this holds true not only on the English track, but also on the Spanish and Portuguese tracks.

Extra-wise, this is a good, but not a great disc. The commentary by director Herbert Ross is an average effort. When he actually takes the time to discuss his movie, it is informative, if a little slow. The problem is, there are long pauses between his comments. So long, in fact, that many times I forgot I was even listening to the commentary. The isolated score is a good option for those who are interested, but the score is not that memorable a piece of music. In Full Bloom: Remembering Steel Magnolias, the half-hour featurette, is good but somewhat one-sided. We hear quite a bit from the people behind the scenes, but only from one cast member, Shirley MacLaine. Screenwriter Robert Harling (whose play of the same name was based loosely on his sister and mother) has a lot to say, and it's quite evident that Steel Magnolias is his baby. He put a lot of energy into the film and served as a sort of consultant for Ross. The four or five deleted scenes amount to two minutes of nothing special. Their absence from the film is not noticed. The remainder of the features - two trailers (the Steel Magnolias trailer is conspicuously absent), bios, production notes, and an assortment of language and subtitle options - are tied together with some really cheesy menu screens. And I do mean cheesy - music swells, magnolias dance across the screen, teeth sparkle, and eyes twinkle. Really overdone.

On DVD, Steel Magnolias looks better than it ever has outside of the big screen, and it's got a fair set of extras. The sound is just a little disappointing, but that's the only real complaint I have about this DVD. It's always good to see Sony continuing to put their catalogue titles out on DVD. If you liked Steel Magnolias, this disc is well worth the purchase price.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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