In general I find it quite hard to enjoy romantic comedies. It's
not the simplistic plots or predictable story that ruins them for me; it's
the fact that I just can't suspend my disbelief. I just can't swallow
that a drop-dead gorgeous woman and a solid hunk of a man, both wonderful,
witty people in their mid 30's, can't get a date to save their lives.
One of the few romantic comedies that I not only tolerate but actually
really enjoy has just made it to HD DVD, the charming and very humorous
Notting Hill. The film is just as funny as always and the image
on this disc make it a great addition to any high definition collection.
Thacker is so awkward, in a cute and endearing way, that Anna calls him a few days later. After meeting him again for a moment during a press junket, Anna agrees to go out with the shy man. One thing leads to another and over a couple of days the two begin to get close. Until Anna's movie star boyfriend shows up unexpectedly.
William doesn't see Anna after that, and gets on with his life. Then one day he answers the door to find Anna there once again. Some nude pictures of her have turned up and she just wants to hide from the paparazzi for a bit, and William's house is the first place she thought of. They spend a wonderful day together, picking up where the old romance left off and taking it to the next level, until the press find out that she's there. Anna rushes off in a huff, leaving William alone and heartbroken once more. This time he doesn't get over it so easily, and as the days grow into weeks and months, he still doesn't hear from her or really know if he wants to.
This is what every romantic comedy should be but often isn't: funny, touching, and endearing without being sappy or maudlin. The thing that really makes the movie so fun is how many good laughs there are. Even my 11 and 15 year old boys, the antithesis of the audience this film is shooting for, laughed through the whole movie. A lot of the humor comes from people reacting to Anna Scott's presence. When William brings her to his sister's birthday party the guests reactions are priceless. One of the best bits however is when they leave the party. After they step out of the door all of the other guests loudly cheer the fact that a major star was at their get together, something that Anna and William easily hear. Without missing a beat William says "They do that every time I leave. Embarrassing really." The nice thing is that they don't overdo that aspect so the jokes don't get old.
The film is really accented by getting a big name like Julia Roberts to play the role of someone who is basically Julia Roberts. It's a lot easier to identify with William's friend's reactions when they see her. Yes, the film still would have worked with a lesser name, but it wouldn't have had the impact that it does. (Compare this film with Hitch where they didn't get a huge name to play the 'rich and famous' role.)
Roberts also does a magnificent job in the role. She is not only gorgeous and charming, but she manages to really breathe life into the role. Near the end when she's in the bookshop, heartbroken but not wanting to show it, she plasters a big smile on her face and acts cheerful, but it's easy to tell that she's desperately holding back the tears. A really impressive performance.
The director, Roger Mitchell, also did a great job. Not only is the story told in a well thought out and enjoyable fashion, but he even had the audacity to put in an amazingly beautiful montage. After William has lost Anna for the second time, he walks down Portobello Road which is filled with vendors selling their wares. As Ain't No Sunshine plays, and in seemingly one shot, the seasons change. It gets cold, then rainy, and then it snows. The snow melts as spring arrives. The people in the background also transform as he takes this walk through time, his sister who is lovey-dovey with her boyfriend at the beginning is fighting with him at the end and the woman who was pregnant only a few steps ago holds a young baby as he finishes his walk. It is a lovely scene that you'd only expect to find in an art house movie.
The HD DVD Disc:
The VC-1 encoded, 1080p, 2.35:1 image looks very good on this disc. The first thing that strikes viewers is how realistic and natural the movie appears. Many recent movies have had the colors enhanced and image tinkered with so much that it no longer looks real. While the colors are bright and solid the images themselves take on a slightly unnatural appearance. That isn't the case with this movie. Originally released back in 1999 this encode gives the production a film-like quality and feel. The skin tones are accurate and the colors are warm but not overblown. The level of detail is very good even in low light situations. The best looking parts of the film are the exterior scenes, which are bright and colorful. The interior scenes sometimes look a tad under-lit, but this isn't a distraction. Digitally the transfer looks just as good. There is only a little bit of aliasing, most prominent in the scene where Anna is wearing William's pinstriped shirt, and some very light posterization in one or two spots. Though it doesn't look like the movie was remastered for this HD DVD release, there was a spot or two on the print, it looks really good.
This disc comes with a Dolby TrueHD track, a DD 5.1 track and a French dub in stereo. The film doesn't have a dynamic score, it's mainly dialog based and centered on the screen, but the voices are clean and clear and the easy to understand. The times that the audio really shines are when the songs kick in. Then the room fills with music that is both full and warm. It's just too bad that they didn't use the full soundstage a bit more forcefully in the rest of the film. The bass channel is used sparingly but effectively. The soundtrack fits the movie very well.
This disc includes all of the extras from the previous "Ultimate Edition" of the film. (Of course, if that was the 'ultimate' edition, what is this one?) The bonus features start off with a commentary track by director Roger Mitchell, writer Richard Curtis, and producer Duncan Kenworthy. Like the film itself, this is just an enjoyable commentary track. The trio has some very amusing anecdotes about the filming of the movie, signing Roberts to the film, and they discuss earlier incarnations of the script. I loved their comments about the scene where William is awkwardly saying goodnight to Anna when she spends the night at his place. They say that the scene is a very typical "Hugh Grant" moment, but that he's actually acting his socks off and that in real life he's no where near the shy and uncertain person he often plays. Watching the featurette that he hosts, you see some of his real personality and they are right. One of the most fun and interesting commentaries I've heard in a while.
There are three featurettes too. Spotlight on Location is a love-fest where all the cast and crew talk about how much fun the movie is to make and how good it will be. *Yawn*. Seasonal Walk on Portobello Rd. shows how the excellent montage sequence from the film was created. This was a lot of fun and informative. Finally one of the stars gives viewers some pointers on how to act of a movie set in Hugh Grant's Movie Tips. This was a funny and entertaining bonus item...just the sort of thing that adds value to a disc.
This HD DVD is rounded out with music videos for Elvis Costello's She, and Shania Twain's You've Got a Way, a Travel Book (a map of Notting Hill,) and a photo montage.
Though I'm not a fan of romantic comedies in general, I always enjoy seeing this film. The cast is wonderful (the supporting cast nearly eclipses the stars) and the story, while clearly in the realm of fantasy, isn't as insipid and stupid as many others in the genre are. The HD DVD image is very good and a solid improvement over the SD version (which was good in its own right.) A great movie to watch while you're curled up with someone special, this is Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review
are not from the HD DVD and do not necessarily represent the image quality
on the disc.