Prostitution has long been called the world’s oldest profession. When you think about it this can’t be right. There has to be some previous calling for he men such as hunting, fishing or farming to generate whatever they used for currency in order to pay for the carnal services of the prostitute. Whatever its placement in history this means of earning a living has been a popular archetype for literature, films and television. Usually the ladies of the night are used as police informants, general low lives or on occasion as comic relief. What doesn’t come immediately to mind is a romantic comedy based on a prostitute. It has been tried numerous times in the past but no film as been as successful in this theme as the 1990 classic romantic comedy, ‘Pretty Woman’. There seems to be something about actresses playing a hooker that leads to the attention of the nominating committee for the Academy Awards. Julia Roberts garnered her second of three Oscar nods for her portrayal of Vivian Ward, the titular pretty woman. This is a film that has made most ‘best comedy’ lists and is still considered one of the best romantic comedies ever made. One reason for this it believe it or not the themes presented here are universal. It has the appeal of a handsome leading man and a beautiful leading lady both with a proven track record in box office and critical hits. It cost about $14 million to make in 1990 dollars and recouped that shortly after its opening weekend. That somehow pales in comparison to the effect it had on our culture. It has been parodied and spoofed and many films have made vein attempts to retell this story. The DVD released in 2006 and now there is the definitive edition of this classic in high definition. The Blu-ray release breathes new life into a movie that you most likely have seen many times in the past. Even if you have a copy of this in your collection if you have just upgraded to Blu-ray it is well worth the investment to get again.
This was the second screenplay for author J.F. Lawton. His first was the forgettable ‘Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death’. He would go on to writing such cable standards as ‘Blankman’, ‘Under Siege’ and ‘Chain Reaction’. It would be fair to say that ‘Pretty Woman’ was the high point of his career but the other films did deport themselves well in the story department. What separates this story from the other ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ tales is the way it is able to take a fairy tale and transpose it to modern times. There are elements here of ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Pygmalion’. There is just something about a woman down on her luck and a social outcast becoming a princess that just reaches out and grabs an audience. There are those that would say that this theme sets back the feminist cause a few hundred years but it is as old school as you can get for a romance. In the case here the woman is smart and resourceful and the touch of tragedy is she has to put that in the back of her hand as she plies her illegal trade. She is far more than the vacuous woman who gets by on her looks alone. Vivian is a survivor and doesn’t need a relationship to make it in life. When the rich and successful Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) comes around what draws him to her is that undeniable spirit that Vivian displays. Edward is a cool customer engaged in high finance and corporate takeovers. He is used to getting what he wants and paying well for it. Vivian represents an unlikely challenge for him. She may sell her body but her heart is not for sale.
Directing this film is Garry Marshall who was responsible for some of the best loved television series in America. He was there behind ‘Happy Days’, ‘Laverne and Shirley’ and ‘The Odd Couple’. For his film work he tended to stay with the romantic comedy format as well he should. He is a master of this format and would follow this film with ones like ‘Beaches’, ‘The Princess Diaries’ and eventually would reunite the leads here for ‘Runaway Bride’. There is a simple explanation for his success in this genre; there are few around that can match his style. Marshall knows how to please the audience. He paces the film impeccably giving us a brief set up and introduction to the lead characters. Then there is the initial confrontation where the gist of the story is set in motion. All of this leads up to the Hollywood approved happy ending. On paper this may sound pedantic but when you are watching a Garry Marshall movie all of that criticism flees. His films are great in how they are able too pull the audience in and hold them there. His films tend to be on the corny side but they are hits because it reaches something in the audience on an emotional level.
Vivian is a hooker. She earns her living with detached sale of sex to strangers. One day a man in a very expensive sports cars pulls up, Edward. He had just broken up with his girl friend in a rather nasty phone call and got lost while driving around. He pulls over and asks Vivian for directions which she will supply for $5. For another five she will personally take him to his destination. She tells him that she will take a taxi back too her corner but later Edward sees her waiting for a bus. He offers to hire her for an hour which stretches to a night and eventually a week. It is important to note that Edward was not cruising for sex. Their meeting was very innocent giving some modicum of moral high ground to the man; something not often afford in hooker flicks. Then the transformation begins as he buys her expensive clothes in stores that would otherwise kick her out. Then jewelry comes into play and we all know that love is starting to brew.
There have been many previous releases over the years of this film. The movie still holds up after over eighteen years as one of the finest examples of the genre so a new edition is warranted. The Blu-ray release is not as spectacular as some of the more recent high definition releases. With that said it does look and sound better than any of the previous editions. The video has been redone for 1080p and the colors are naturally brighter and more robust in the color palette than the DVD variation. The audio was not done in one of the new formats and remains a basic Dolby 5.1 mix. Thanks to the greatly expanded storage capacity of the format this soundtrack was provided in uncompressed audio. The difference is the sound field has broadened out and is more expansive than ever. The extras are ported from the DVD and includes a commentary track with Garry Marshall, a blooper reel and a look at the wrap party. This film remains a must have for any collection.