Mommie Dearest appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Dearest may be 25 years old, but this erratic transfer often made it look even older.
At times the picture seemed hazy and fuzzy. This softness didn’t appear overwhelming, but much of the film looked worn in this manner, with only sporadic examples of crispness. This improved as the movie progressed, though, and the second half looked better than the first. Problems still emerged, but not with the same frequency. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no significant concerns, but I noticed some moderate edge enhancement.
Print flaws were more significant issue. Grain appeared heavy throughout much of Dearest, and I also saw somewhat frequent occurrences of grit and speckles. A few larger defects such as blotches and scratches appeared as well. Again, this situation got better as the movie went on, though it continued to show defects through its end.
Colors varied. Occasionally the film mustered some reasonably lively and dynamic hues, but much of the time the hues seemed flat and muddy. Skin tones tended to look pinkish. Black levels could appear acceptably dark at times, but shadow detail was often excessively heavy. Low light scenes came across as a bit too thick. The higher quality of the film’s second half helped redeem the transfer somewhat, but this remained a lackluster image.
Reworked from the original monaural audio, Mommie Dearest offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I’m not sure why the DVD’s producers bothered to do so, as the chatty movie did little to span beyond its one-channel origins. Music swelled from the sides and a little environmental material also came from those areas. Nonetheless, the mix stayed focused in the center much of the time and didn’t offer much expansion.
At least the quality was perfectly adequate. Speech could be a little dense, but the lines were usually acceptably natural, and they always remained easily intelligible. The score was somewhat muter but offered decent clarity. Although the music could have boasted greater range, it seemed fairly distinctive. Effects were also clean and relatively accurate, though they lacked much punch. While the mix never excelled, it worked fine given the movie’s subject and its age.
When we head to the extras on this “Hollywood Royalty Edition” of Mommie Dearest, we start with an audio commentary from filmmaker John Waters. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the flick. Waters had nothing to do with Dearest, but he loves camp, so someone figured he was a logical choice to dissect it.
That makes sense, though the end result is less than stellar. Waters talks about the movie’s reception and reputation, the real-life Joan Crawford, differences between Hollywood in Crawford’s era and today, and his take on the flick. He doesn’t think it’s all that campy, and he defends it much of the time. Waters mixes some catty comments with honest insights, and this works at times. However, he just doesn’t have a lot to say, so he repeats some of the same ideas. He apologizes for Crawford’s behavior much of the time and frequently makes similar comments. Waters presents a decent track that moves at an acceptable pace, but if you skip it, you won’t really miss out on anything.
Three featurettes appear. The Revival of Joan runs 14 minutes, 13 seconds as it presents movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We hear from producer/screenwriter Frank Yablans and actors Rutanya Alda and Diana Scarwid.
They discuss how the project moved to the screen, the adaptation of the book, finding a director and a cast, aspects of the characters and performances, sets and wardrobe. Yablans dominates the piece as he tells his vision of the movie and why he wanted to do it. We get a reasonable amount of detail and insight packed into this short program.
For the 13-minute and 42-second Life with Joan, we hear from Yablans, Alda and Scarwid. The show tells us of an alternate opening concept, Faye Dunway’s attitude on the set and her work with the others, other character and performance notes, the film’s over the top elements, and a few scene specifics. “Life” really acts as a companion piece to “Revival”. There’s no narrative reason to separate them, as they’re both quite similar in their presentation and strengths. “Life” provides another informative piece with nice details about the film.
Finally, Joan Lives On lasts 16 minutes and three seconds. It features Yablans, Scarwid, Alda, Waters, and drag actor John “Lypsinka” Epperson. It looks at the film’s reception and its publicity campaign, its afterlife as a camp classic and its popularity with gay audiences, its adaptation as a live drag performance, favorite sequences, Dunaway’s refusal to discuss the film, the way the flick affects the public perception of Crawford, and its legacy.
Again, “Lives” fits in with the other two featurettes. All three could have easily been joined together as one long documentary. It provides a good look at the movie’s enduring notoriety and finishes off the programs well.
A Photo Gallery presents 34 images. These mostly offer shots from the flick, though we also get a few behind the scenes snaps and publicity pictures. None of them seem particularly memorable.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, a few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Reds, and Titanic. The DVD’s opening also presents a short cartoon called “The Practically True, Almost Factual Sorta Accurate Chronicles of Gay History”. If there was ever any doubt what this release’s target audience is, that eliminates it.
And that target audience will continue to delight in the campy silliness of Mommie Dearest. Though I’m not a big fan of camp, I must admit this film’s many over-the-top moments kept me entertained until it fizzled during its second hour. The DVD offers erratic and less than impressive visuals along with decent audio and some fairly interesting extras.
Overall, this ends up as an erratic DVD. The problematic transfer disappoints but the rest of the disc works acceptably well. At least it comes with a very low list price, so fans of this cult classic probably won’t complain too much about the disc’s negatives.