The Preacher's Wife has a special place in my heart, but not for any reasons you might think. When I worked as a projectionist, I had to move a 35mm print of it a couple blocks from one theater to another, and had a mishap that kept me there til about 3 AM. I don't want that story to tie up this whole review, but if anyone cares to hear more about it just let me know and I'll be glad to elaborate it in the reviews forum.
Anyways, this was my main reason for revisiting and reviewing this title which has now been released on Blu-Ray by Touchstone Entertainment.
The Preacher's Wife, directed by Penny Marshall and released during the 1996 holiday season, is a Capraesque Christmas movie about a much-needed miracle, based on 1947's The Bishop's Wife. Courtney B. Vance plays Reverend Henry Biggs, who is starting to get burned out with his work, and his wife Julia, played by the late Whitney Houston, is feeling like that fire in their marriage is losing its flame. After resorting to borrowing an old sermon from his father-in-law, the prior preacher, for the day's service and being criticized for it, Henry returns home and tells God "I sure could use a little help", and a second later an angel named Dudley (played by Denzel Washington with the same character name as The Bishop's Wife's character) lands in his front yard.
Dudley doesn't hide his identity from Henry, but Henry doesn't quite believe him. There's nothing "magical" about his appearance (he appears as an ordinary man) so he can be seen by everyone else too, but to them he says he's only a temporary assistant. He quickly befriends Henry's wife and their son Jeremiah (played by Justin Pierre Edmund), who also narrates the movie from his perspective. Julia and Jeremiah are charmed by his friendliness, but Henry gets annoyed thinking he's trying to steal their attention from him. However he soon realizes how to get his job and his family's relationship back in order with Dudley's help.
The Preacher's Wife has a fine supporting cast, including Gregory Hines as a sleazy businessman who wants to redevelop the neighborhood and thus rob it of its personality, and a brief appearance by Lionel Richie as a local musician. Whitney's mother Cissy Houston (a legendary gospel singer in her own right who also had a few disco hits in the 70s) also has a bit part in the film.
Although I'm not at all religious, I've always found The Preacher's Wife to be a nice and uplifting film. Certainly parts of it are a bit clichéd, but its intentions are pure and inoffensive, and you can't really argue with that. (Some have criticized it for being inferior to The Bishop's Wife, but not having seen that I can only judge it on its own merits.) While not a musical, there are a couple performances by the church choir (again, I'm not religious but I do like the harmonic sound of gospel singing) as well as a song performed by children for their Christmas play and Whitney Houston signing "I Believe in You and Me" at a local jazz club. What I appreciate about these parts is that the songs aren't cut short, they're allowed to be performed in their entirety without worrying about slowing down the film or not.
The Preacher's Wife is presented on Blu-Ray in its proper 1.85 aspect ratio, encoded in AVC format at 1080p. It looks just like the 35mm print I projected in its initial run, unspoiled by any unnecessary sharpening or digital clean-up. Many scenes have intentional film grain, which is left untouched as it should be. Just for fun I also put on my laserdisc of the movie, and it goes without saying that the Blu-Ray picture is a great improvement over that- I noticed several details I had forgotten about since its theatrical run. The disc is dual-layer and I noticed no compression artifacts.
English subtitles done closed-caption style (but a different transcription than the captions on the laserdisc) are included as well as Spanish subtitles. The movie is chaptered differently than the laserdisc, with 22 chapters instead of 17.
Audio is in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. While The Preacher's Wife is filled with great music, the sound mix doesn't call a lot of attention to itself. Surrounds and LFE are used very sparingly, but the dialogue is always clear and the choral voices in the church scenes are spread across the front channels at a slightly higher volume than the dialogue. (The laserdisc included a 5.1 Dolby Digital AC3 track and I remember being a bit disappointed by the minimal use of surround. Comparing this with the Blu-Ray, the Blu-Ray disc sounds a bit brighter.)
A four-minute promotional featurette in 4x3 standard-def is included with the actors speaking about their roles and some production footage. There is also a trailer which is really a one-minute spot included on other VHS titles promoting the film's first video release. Both of these also include English captions and Spanish subtitles.
The disc opens with 1080p HD trailers in Dolby 5.1 sound for The Odd Life of Timothy Green, a promotional spot for the upcoming Blu-Ray release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which looks very nice, but likely will have the naughty bits censored like the previous DVD release) and, the first time I've seen this on Blu-Ray, an anti-smoking PSA which has been on a number of DVDs in the past few years (it's the one with the guy with an artificial voice box singing "You don't always die from tobacco"). Presumably this was included because there is some smoking in The Preacher's Wife, but whatever the case all of the opening trailers can have a pop-up menu brought up that will start the movie should you not want to sit through them. On the main menu there is an option for "Sneak Peeks" which plays another set of trailers- the Timothy Green and Roger Rabbit spots are repeated, followed by three separate promos for ABC TV series on DVD. Although these promos are still in hi-def, most of the shows promoted are only being released on standard DVD which is a shame since they look good here. All trailers except the Roger Rabbit promo and smoking PSA have optional Spanish subtitles.
Overall The Preacher's Wife is a nice, feel-good holiday movie with some great music and Buena Vista has given it a worthy hi-def presentation at a low price on Blu-Ray disc that won't disappoint those who already love the movie. Recommended.