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review added: 2/24/03



Thelma & Louise
Special Edition - 1991 (2003) - MGM

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Thelma & Louise: Special Edition Film Rating: A

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

Specs and Features

129 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, keep case with slipcase, dual-sided, RSDL dual-layered (DVD-18, layer switch at 63:27 in chapter 17), audio commentary (with director Ridley Scott), audio commentary (with actors Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and screenwriter Callie Khouri), 16 deleted and extended scenes (with optional deleted footage marker), extended ending (with optional commentary by Ridley Scott), Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey documentary, original theatrical featurette (with optional promotional narration), multi-angle storyboard sequence for "The Final Chase" scene, photo gallery, original theatrical trailer and home video preview, Hannibal theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots, Part of You, Part of Me music video by Glenn Frey, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned


Every so often, a movie will hit just the right buttons at just the right time and spark a national debate. Sometimes, the movie was designed from the very start to spark that debate. Say, for instance, every other film directed by Oliver Stone. But sometimes, the controversy catches everybody off guard. Critics have no expectations for the movie before they go in. Early audiences aren't prepared for anything other than a typical Friday night at the movies. Even the filmmakers themselves are shocked to discover that the fun little movie they thought they were making is resonating far beyond anything they intended or anticipated. One such movie, indeed perhaps the quintessential example of this phenomenon, was Thelma & Louise.

You know the story, even if you've never seen the film. Louise (Susan Sarandon) talks her good friend Thelma (Geena Davis) into leaving town for a weekend of fun, fishing, and relaxation. The pair makes an early pit stop at a bar and the fun road trip quickly degenerates into a nightmare. When Thelma is attacked in the parking lot, Louise saves her and ends up shooting the rapist. Louise knows nobody (no man anyway) is going to believe the real story, so they make a run for the border. But, as Louise tells pursuing cop Hal (Harvey Keitel), they've got "kind of a snowball thing going on". Thelma and Louise become modern-day outlaws, doing whatever it takes to win their freedom.

To say that Thelma & Louise struck a chord is kind of like saying that Mozart wrote a couple of tunes. Women in 1991 were primed and ready to see a couple of their own shake off the bonds of domesticity and hit the road in a mint green Thunderbird. Some critics, mostly men, tsk-tsk'ed the movie, complaining that murder, armed robbery, and forcing a highway patrolman into the trunk of his car at gunpoint were hardly the ideals that feminists should be championing. But come on guys, it's a movie. It's not a documentary. It's not an instructional tape. It's a great big, widescreen, gorgeously shot, rock-and-roll soundtrack road movie. What other clues do you need that this is escapist, wish-fulfillment entertainment? If John Rambo can go back and win the war in Vietnam, then surely Thelma and Louise can blow up a tanker truck in the name of every woman who's been turned into a sex object by some anonymous dork in a greasy baseball cap.

More than ten years after its premiere, Thelma & Louise holds up surprisingly well. In fact, I think it's a better movie now than I did at the time. Part of the credit goes to Callie Khouri's Oscar-winning screenplay. This is a much better written script than this genre usually gets. The main characters are extremely well developed but interestingly enough, so are the secondary roles. Keitel's sympathetic lawman, Louise's on-again/off-again boyfriend Jimmy, and even Thelma's boorish husband Daryl are all a lot deeper than you'd expect. The casting of these roles couldn't be better. Sarandon and Davis are, of course, terrific in their iconic roles, as is Keitel in a change-of-pace part. Equally good are Christopher McDonald (absolutely hysterical as Daryl), Michael Madsen (surprisingly touching as Jimmy), and some guy named Brad Pitt who wins over Thelma and every other woman and gay man in the audience by flashing his smile and taking off his shirt.

And let's not forget director Ridley Scott. At the time, Scott seemed an unlikely choice to helm this movie (although he'd pioneered the "strong women" sub-genre with Alien and would return to it with G.I. Jane). But in retrospect, he was probably the best thing that could have happened to this script. This disc's documentary, Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey, reveals that Khouri had considered directing the film herself with a budget of less than a million dollars and certainly that would have been do-able. But it would have been a much, much different movie. Scott and cinematographer Adrian Biddle open the movie up, reveling in the landscape and putting Thelma & Louise in the same category as the classic westerns of John Ford. In fact, Thelma & Louise owes a tremendous debt to another western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, from the understated but effective comedy that arises out of Sarandon and Davis's easy rapport to the use of a final freeze-frame image that burns itself into your memory. Personally, I think Thelma & Louise is much better than Butch Cassidy. More is at stake in this movie and Scott, Khouri, and the cast make you feel it at every turn. Besides, Thelma & Louise doesn't have a musical interlude as irritating as Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head (although Glenn Frey's single, Part of Me, Part of You comes awfully close).

MGM's new special edition upgrade gives Thelma & Louise the respect it deserves on DVD. The 16x9 enhanced image is very nice, capturing the dusty landscape and ribbons of asphalt beautifully. It's a shade less vibrant and alive than some of Scott's other movies have appeared on disc but it's a huge improvement over T&L's previous video incarnations. The audio is slightly disappointing, sounding curiously flat much of the time and not engaging the depth of field I'd have liked, but it's definitely serviceable.

If you're a fan of the movie, the extras, spread over both sides of this dual-sided disc, will more than satisfy. The aforementioned documentary, directed by Charles de Lauzirika, appears on the flip side of the disc. This piece is very well done, collecting new interviews from all the key players (except for Keitel, who was approached for this disc but chooses not participate in any DVDs of his films). A lot of DVD documentaries wrap things up with a scant two or three minutes covering the release of the film, but you can't really do that with a movie like this. Thankfully, de Lauzirika devotes a fair amount of time to the controversy surrounding Thelma & Louise, including its surprise appearance on the cover of Time magazine. Also included is the movie's original making-of featurette. It's typical EPK stuff, although MGM has attempted to make it more interesting by allowing you the option of watching it with or without the original promotional narration. It's a neat idea and without the narration, you can hear a tiny bit more natural sound from the behind-the-scenes footage.

Other extras on the flip side include a multi-angle feature spotlighting Sherman Labby's storyboards for the final chase sequence, an extensive photo gallery, a typically unimaginative music video for Glenn Frey's non-hit single, and a fistful of trailers and TV spots. The home video preview, designed for retailers upon the movie's original VHS and laserdisc release, is pretty amusing (no pay-per-view until 2/22/92!).

Back on the movie side, a pair of audio commentaries lead the pack. Ridley Scott's track is recycled from an earlier release and it's just OK. Scott improved at the art of commentary as he did more of them and there are several instances of him just describing what we see on screen in this early track. The second commentary, by Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis and Callie Khouri, is a lot more fun. There's plenty of good information here and the three women clearly enjoy each other's company. Plus, after listening to countless commentaries where the participants haven't seen the movie in years, it's refreshing to hear Geena Davis gleefully admit to seeing this plenty of times and point out her favorite bits.

The deleted footage on side A is also well worth watching, as there are very few brand new scenes. Instead, we get extended versions of scenes that still remain in the movie. Scott and editor Thom Noble did an expert job at cutting these scenes down, excising a large number of interesting but not vital moments. We also get to see an interrogation scene between Hal and Jimmy, pairing Keitel and Madsen on screen a couple years before Reservoir Dogs. Finally, an extended ending with commentary by Scott is included here. In case you haven't seen the movie, I won't discuss it here. Suffice to say that the trims in this case make a world of difference in the tone of the movie's conclusion.

While female-driven action movies have become a bit more commonplace lately, Thelma & Louise remains unique. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis aren't Charlie's Angels or Buffy. They are ordinary, middle-aged women chasing the kind of freedom men have enjoyed in these kinds of movies for decades. The movie's controversy may have faded but its power to entertain has certainly not. Thelma & Louise remains one of Ridley Scott's very best films. Now it can also hold its own with Ridley Scott's best DVDs.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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