WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise is a hugely fun ride, an exquisitely filmed road adventure about two women increasingly embittered by their roles within a male-centric universe. The film has been heralded as a "women's empowerment" film, and I suppose some aspects of the movie can be seen as such. But beneath its surface, Thelma & Louise is something less cut and dry. If you take a closer look at this popular film, you'll find yourself curious and even confused about the ingredients that added up to a film which controversially divided a filmgoing public across gender lines.
Susan Sarandon plays Louise Sawyer, a rather straightlaced Arkansas waitress who's getting on in years and yearns ever-longingly for a little adventure in her played-by-the-book existence. Geena Davis plays Thelma Dickinson, a somewhat dunderheaded housewife who's married to the hilariously testosterone-infused Darryl (Christopher MacDonald), a character and performance that inspires laughter during every second of screentime. The two ladies, feeling a largely unspoken desire to escape their Man-shackled bonds, set off together for a weekend excursion. After their joyride turns disastrous at a honky-tonk bar, Thelma and Louise feel those Man shackles winding ever more tightly around their increasingly hopeless lives. Soon, the gals are fleeing across the Great American Midwest, south toward Mexico, cops on their heels, led by the subtly sympathetic Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) and the food-obsessed Max (Stephen Tobolowski). Thelma and Louise gradually become bad-ass grrrls tearing up a new frontier, sliding inexorably into petty crime and cynicism. They find some joy along the way, primarily in the form of hitchhiker J.D. (newcomer Brad Pitt, in the abdominals-bared role that catapulted him to megastardom), but theirs is a story that's on a collision course with tragedy.
And therein lies the film's most potent controversy. Does Thelma & Louise deserve its ending? I've watched the film a few times, and I'm increasingly unsure. I remember my first viewing of the film, nearly 12 years ago, in a packed theater on a Saturday night. The women were whooping and hollering. When the ending came to that fateful freeze-frame, there was stunned silence, and then...applause and cheers. I think it's safe to say that the reaction of that audience neatly captures the reaction of most women everywhere.
But c'mon now. I'm as happy as the next 21st century dude about the notion of female empowerment, but what really leads these two increasingly sour characters to their ultimate choice? Okay, you've got the would-be rapist in the honky-tonk parking lot. Fine. Louise makes a stunning and thoughtless decision and exacts some harsh revenge. You've got Darryl, who's only an idiot, and hardly represents all men. Beyond that point in the film, all I see is a string of bad decisions and selfishness. When we meet Louise's guy, Jimmy Lennox (Michael Madsen), it's clear that he's a stand-up fella who's extremely interested in Louise's well-being. We also watch Hal Slocumb go from a doing-his-job cop to a man who's intimately invested in Thelma and Louise's shared plight. Even the sly J.D. gives Thelma the time of her life between the sheets—although he does, with one nasty pilfer, provide one of the film's major turning points. (And what's to be made of Thelma's quivering thigh sweats for the randy J.D., only a day or two after her horrendous near-rape?)
The fun of the movie is watching the two ladies become all-out road-crusty outlaws, slinging back mini booze bottles, chain-smoking, brandishing firearms, and raising Hell—all amidst wide-open, spectacular desert vistas. The picture fades into grayer regions, though, when you examine the movie's events and motivations. The characters and the film's large, appreciative female audience seem to be sharing a collective cry, "Fight the Man!" And, hey, that's cool, but in the end, how many men in the universe of Thelma & Louise truly instigated the rash decision that's at the movie's end (the decision that actually represents the movie's core statement)?
In no way should you consider this a poor review. I love the way Thelma & Louise gives me new questions to ponder each time I view it. I'm just not sure whether its legions of supporters are clear on what the movie is truly saying.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
MGM presents Thelma & Louise in a nicely detailed anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. The transfer has been struck from a new high-definition master, and the results blow away the previous non-anamorphic release, which was dark and somewhat ugly but, admittedly, offered richer colors. This new transfer lacks the warmth of the previous release but is really quite pleasing, full of impressive detail that reaches into backgrounds.
The cinematography reflects Ridley Scott's love for smoky haze and wide-open vistas, and sometimes the foggy look will trick you into thinking the film lacks clarity. However, I believe it's all intended, and ultimately the haze only adds to the lead characters' increasing sense of inner anguish.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track isn't particularly dynamic or rich. I was a bit disappointed in this track's loss of fidelity. Highs sounded thin, although dialog was mostly accurate. The track seemed centered at the screen. Hanz Zimmer's score fared well, holding up as the most rich-sounding element of the track. Surround activity was practically nil.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Thelma & Louise finally arrives as a fine special edition. You might remember the previous DVD, which offered admittedly pleasing supplements but suffered from poor image quality. This release improves drastically on the image and adds some special goodies.
You'll find two Audio Commentaries on Side 1, and each is a required listen. The Ridley Scott track is ported over from the previous release, and the track proves once again that Scott is one of the great commentators on disc. He is always articulate and willing to share the smallest details of the production. He seems to have the entire history of the film's production preserved in his noggin.
The next commentary is a new one by Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, and screenwriter Callie Khouri. This one isn't as structured and tends to breeze off into tangents but spends a great deal of its length discussing the controversy of the film.
I was surprised to see included on Side 1 the Extended Ending that appeared on the previous release. (Seems like a natural inclusion on Side 2, to save disc real estate, but no matter.) This is an alternative take on the controversial ending that lasts only a few seconds more but leaves a more gruesome impression. You can choose to view this footage with Ridley Scott commentary.
Also on Side 1 are 16 Deleted/Extended Scenes that total more than 40 minutes! These are actually small snippets of scene extensions presented with lengths of finished film so that you can understand context. You can choose to view these scenes with onscreen prompts that tell you when you're viewing deleted footage.
All this deleted material appears in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and 2.0 audio.
The first category of extras on the flip side is Documentaries & Featurettes. The first and best of the two pieces included here is Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey, an entertaining and informative 47-minute new documentary that talks about the film from script to audience reaction. The documentary includes terrific new talking-head interviews with pretty much all involved—Ridley Scott, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Brad Pitt, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, writer Callie Khouri, composer Hanz Zimmer, Stephen Tobolowsky, and even Jason Beghe (the cop who pulls the girls over). One notable exception is Harvey Keitel. Ridley Scott talks for a while about his interest in making a film for women. One revelation is that the writer, Callie Khouri, originally wanted to direct the film and Scott wanted to produce. The script was originally sent to Michelle Pfieffer and Jodie Foster. I enjoyed the humorous behind-the-scenes stories of blisteringly hot locations, tight schedules, and organic relationships on the set. Special mention should be paid to Brad Pitt's recollection of filming his sex scene with Geena Davis. Pitt admits that his "soldier started to salute." The later minutes of the documentary are devoted to the popular and critical reaction to the film, particularly the controversial ending. You can choose to watch the documentary in three parts: Conception & Casting, Production & Performance, and Reaction & Resonance.
The second piece is the 5-minute Original Theatrical Featurette. This one includes promotional cast and crew interviews from the set, and focuses on filming the gas-truck explosion. You can choose to watch this featurette with or without cheesy promotional narration
Next up is Multi-Angle Storyboards: The Final Chase, in which you can watch the final scene play out in storyboards to the Hans Zimmer soundtrack. You can toggle between Angle 1: Storyboards by Sherman Labby or Angle 2: Storyboard/Shot Comparison.
In the Photo Gallery, you can skip through a plethora of photographs under twelve categories: Cast and Crew, Leaving Town, Silver Bullet bar, Aftermath, J.D. & the Motel, Investigation, On the Road, Desertscapes, State Trooper, Trucker, Final Chase, and Promotion.
You also get Trailers & TV Spots, which include the trailer for this film, the home video preview, and the trailer for Hannibal. Finally, you can watch the "Part of You, Part of Me" Music Video by Glenn Frey.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Thelma & Louise is a great time at the movies. It also requires more of its audience than you might think. Look closely at the motivations of these two women, and the film becomes something different than perhaps most of its audience has perceived. This is a gorgeous set that is a must for any library.