Four Weddings and a Funeral is one of my favorite comedies, but until now it's been saddled with a lackluster transfer. Finally, the release of the "Deluxe Edition" sets things right, giving us a remastered, anamorphic widescreen transfer, a vastly improved Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and some interesting special features.
The movie review below is the same as my earlier review of the film; skip ahead to the DVD section if you want to read about what's different in this release.
There's nobody who plays the "slightly confused but good-hearted and boyishly charming" character quite so well as Hugh Grant, and while I think he's been reprising that basic role too often for the welfare of his career, in Four Weddings and a Funeral he's clearly at the top of his game. Paired up with Andie MacDowell and a plethora of excellent British supporting actors, Grant shines in this completely charming romantic comedy, which actually lives up to its description (as so few romantic comedies really do) by delivering both a compelling romance and a healthy dose of hilarity.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a clever as well as a very fun (and funny) movie, starting from the fact that its structure is genuinely based on the get-togethers of the title. Except for a few short scenes, all of the story action in the film takes place on the actual days of each of the weddings and the funeral. You'd think that would limit the development of the characters or the story, but it doesn't: in fact, it makes the film more effective, as we get to know the characters by seeing how they react both publicly and privately to the various stresses and possibilities of a large social event. The episodic structure also perfectly complements the basic plot of the film, which is the "two ships passing in the night" relationship between Charlie (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell).
Another way of describing Four Weddings and a Funeral might be that it takes a bunch of excellent British actors, tosses them together, and stirs vigorously. (The supporting cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas, John Hannah, Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson, James Fleet, and David Haig.) While the central storyline focuses on Charles and Carrie, the side stories of the other friends and their attempts at finding love and/or marriage are captured very well and add another layer of enjoyment to the film.
MacDowell plays Carrie in a fairly calm and reserved manner with relatively little by way of outright comedy, which allows her to be in some ways a foil for Grant's inspired blend of panic and charm. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Hugh Grant is in fine form here, possibly because he doesn't overplay the character of Charles; he strikes just the right notes here. (Kudos also have to go to the scriptwriters for some brilliant use of profanity, which is impossible to appreciate out of context but is completely hilarious in the film.)
The unexpected events at the finale of the film work as well as they do precisely because we do care about the happiness of these characters. Further, the film has been honest and above-board with us about the flaws and foibles of the characters, and has never given the sense of manipulating events to place obstacles in the way of the characters; they have plenty of problems and missed opportunities, but these seem to arise naturally from the circumstances of the characters' lives. As a result, there's a sense that the film truly is character-driven, that there's no deus ex machina that will descend from the heavens to make sure that all misunderstandings are resolved and that a happy ending is guaranteed. That's really the brilliance of having the funeral, a section of the story that is unabashedly sorrowful, as part of the film: with comedy and tragedy both having their place in the film, who's to say whether the ending might not be bittersweet?
Doing a side-by-side comparison of the 2000 release with this new 2006 transfer makes it very clear that the Deluxe Edition delivers a significantly better viewing experience. To begin with, the film finally gets an anamorphic treatment, and the original widescreen version (1.85:1) no longer has to share disc space with a pan-and-scan version. Hurrah! That's not the end of it, though. The transfer has also been significantly cleaned up. While there are still flaws in the image, they're almost entirely reserved for those shots with the credits or other text superimposed on the screen... and even then, the image is cleaner than the 2000 version. In the main body of the film, the print is much cleaner, with no noticeable flaws and a distinctly cleaner, more pleasant appearance. Some of the shots feel like they aren't as crisp as they could be, such as the middle-distance shots at the weddings that have a lot of faces in the frame, but overall it looks fine. Another positive note is that the edge enhancement, which was a distracting element at times in the earlier transfer, is hardly in evidence at all here.
The brand-new Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is a vast improvement over the alternately flat-sounding and harsh-sounding Dolby 2.0 track that the earlier release suffered from. The new track is clean and crisp, with a nice depth and texture to it, and a pleasant, full feel to the music. Dubbed French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also provided, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
In addition to a much better transfer, we also get a nice set of special features in this Deluxe Edition, starting with an interesting audio commentary from writer Richard Curtis, producer Duncan Kenworthy, and director Mike Newell. The mix of the three filmmakers works out very well, as they discuss with each other some of the interesting incidents and decisions involved with the making of the film, and the energy level of the commentary track stays strong.
A set of deleted scenes is another very interesting special feature. We're treated to five different deleted scenes, each of which has an optional introduction from producer Duncan Kenworthy, commenting on the scene and why it wasn't included in the final cut.
Several featurettes are also included. The most substantial is a 30-minute making-of piece called "The Wedding Planners," which is reasonably interesting. "Four Weddings and a Funeral: In the Making" runs only seven minutes and is really a promotional piece. "Two Actors and a Director" is short (5 minutes) but interesting, taking a look at the casting decisions for the film. Filling out the special features section is a photo gallery, television promotional segments, and a theatrical trailer.
I can finally give a "highly recommended" for this truly funny film, now that it has a transfer that does it justice. If you already have this delightful romantic comedy in your collection, I'd say that it's worth making an upgrade: the improved image and sound really make the viewing experience much more enjoyable. And if you haven't picked up Four Weddings and a Funeral, now's a great moment to do so. The Deluxe Edition is "highly recommended."