When you're talking about guilty pleasures Cruel Intentions has to be somewhere near the top of your list. What else can you say about a film that stars a pair of sexed up siblings working in cahoots to deflower virgins and get revenge on their enemies? With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon as the main attractions it's easy to see why the movie was so popular when it was released in 1999.
Cruel Intentions was directed by Roger Kumble and went on to garner two follows ups though they didn't quite capture the success this one reaped. The film is essentially a modern updated to the 18th century novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" and joins the ranks of Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont as movie incarnations. Granted this rendition is designed to appease hormonal teens rather than titillate the more sophisticated adult audient so you have to take many things into consideration while watching it.
Cruel Intentions starts out with Sebastian Valmont (Phillippe) visiting his psychiatrist and talking about all that ails him. She smiles, gives him a book, and calls him a schmuck as he's leaving her office. Meanwhile her distraught daughter is on hold to complain about some boy who used her and posted nude pictures on the internet. As it turns out it's our boy Sebastian so right from the start we are given a glimpse at his callous personality and immediately get a notion of events yet to come.
Up next we are introduced to Kathryn Merteuil (Gellar) who is speaking with Mrs. Caldwell (Christine Baranski) and her daughter Cecile (Selma Blair) about enrollment in her prep school. Kathryn plays the sweet and innocent little thing but Sebastian interrupts the meeting to dole out his acidic charm. Shortly thereafter we learn that Kathryn is plotting to turn the virginal Cecile into the school's biggest slut. The catalyst behind the scheme is the fact that Cecile is dating someone who dumped her like a bad habit. Sebastian doesn't really want any part in it but he does have another conquest in mind.
In a recent issue of a teen magazine there was an article from Annette Hargrove (Witherspoon) about why she wants to wait until marriage for sex. Considering Annette is transferring to Sebastian's school this presents an intriguing challenge that entices his libido. To make things even more interesting Kathryn places a bet with Sebastian regarding the matter. If he fails in bedding Annette she gets his prized 1956 Jaguar, however if he succeeds he not only gets to shag Annette but he'll also get his brains screwed out by his step-sister. A tempting offer to anyone I suppose even more so for Sebastian when Kathryn tells him he can "put it anywhere".
As Sebastian begins to play his little game with Annette something begins to change within him. The challenge she represents and the time they spend together draws him closer to her and he eventually begins to fall in love. It's a predictable twist that brings about other plot developments that don't work as well as they should have. The story is handled with an immature hand that prevents it from having any real impact. It's entertaining throughout but there are many flaws that it can be difficult getting past them.
Another such flaw is the fact that the characters are all played out to the extreme. Sebastian is too melodramatic and sophisticated for his own good, Kathryn is a catty coke-head who serves no real purpose other than providing eye-candy and darker moments, and Annette is a little too preachy about love and her virginity. The three never have any real chemistry despite their scripted relationship with each other in the film and they feel perpetually at odds. It's hard to bite on the Sebastian loves Annette scenario and even hard to believe that Kathryn could be as powerful as she is because she is such a weak character. I did find the corrupting of Cecile to be an entertaining sub-plot but again most scenes involving her character felt like wasted potential.
Overall Cruel Intentions is entertaining, but only lightly so. It's the guilty pleasure of guilty pleasures that came from the 90's and presents attractive young actors in sexed up roles. There were many moments throughout the picture where the potential of the project was at the cusp of realization but it faltered like so many teen dramas do. Overacting and a weaker script are to blame and in the end we are left with a hormonally vicious look at high society youth.
Cruel Intentions is served up on a 50 GB Blu-ray disc that utilizes 1080p high definition with AVC MPEG-4 encoding. The transfer here is very fine for a movie that was released eight years ago. Granted that's not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things but we have all seen transfers that were sub-par. This is not one of them.
The picture quality here is brilliant with impeccably vibrant colors and a defined sharpness. For as bright as the picture is shadows offer a decent amount of depth and there was no blocking what-so-ever. There are a few flaws to point out but for the most part they are minor. A slight amount of grain permeates the image but not to a distracting degree. A few flashes of dirt popped up here and there and for that matter so did some edge enhancement. Lastly, even though the palette is mostly impressive there were a few points where colors (flesh tones particularly) seemed to be off. Most all of this seems like it was a part of the master and not a byproduct of this transfer. Overall this is a fine looking presentation for Cruel Intentions but it's not as "high definition" as one might expect.
Audio for Cruel Intentions comes in three different forms on this Blu-ray release. French and English 5.1 selections are present but the main attraction is easily the uncompressed English PCM 5.1. For both the uncompressed and regular 5.1 tracks the sound quality is quite good though I found the PCM edged out the latter. The audio is crystal clear with no discernable defects. It sounds sharp and natural though it's presence on the rear channels was more muted than I would have liked. The directionality is limited mostly to music and the occasional bit of dialogue or sound effect. Otherwise you can expect to hear some presence in the sound field but it's very subtle.
A bunch of bonus material makes its way to the Cruel Intentions Blu-ray disc. However, if you are upgrading from the previous Standard Definition release then prepare to be treated to the same supplemental features.
As far as what's included here let's start off with the collection of six deleted scenes with an introduction by Director Roger Kumble. These vary in length and content with some mildly interesting character interactions tossed into the mix and some material that was too racy for the "R" rating. On the lighter side of things there are also two music videos included in the extras menu.
The main attraction here is the audio commentary with a boatload of the production staff. Kumble is joined by many others such as producer Heather Zeegen and cinematographer Theo Van De Sande. Quite honestly though there are more people that contribute to the commentary but with so many voices many of them get lost in the shuffle. This is one of those audio tracks where the commentators laugh a lot and talk about how great they did so it can get very annoying if you're looking for information about the movie. There are a few tidbits wedged in between the silly discussion but you really have to stick it out in order to get to them.
Up next is a making of featurette that is basically a self-serving collection of interviews with the cast. This is one of those "pat yourself on the back for a job well done" kind of featurettes of if you know that going in you can at least take it with a grain of salt. Better than that is the look behind the creation of the film in "Finding a Visual Style". This feature is significantly meatier and offers more information about the production of the movie than the previous featurette did.
Cruel Intentions is one of those films that seems to be a standard inclusion in many DVD collections but does it deserve the upgrade to Blu-ray? Considering the video and audio aren't completely "top of the line" I suppose it depends on your appreciation of the movie itself.
I personally found it to be a fun, yet flawed, take on Dangerous Liaisons. With names like Gellar, Phillippe, and Witherspoon in the credits it certainly features a lot of promising talent but the performances churned out here are decidedly none of their best. The tale of sex and deceit moves along briskly enough but there are some weak links in the chain of events. If for any reason you haven't seen the film I can easily recommend the Blu-ray though an SD upgrade isn't entirely necessary in my opinion.
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