Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt
Somebody said get a life... so they did.
Won for Best Screenplay.
Nominated for Best Director; Best Leading Actress-Susan Sarandon; Best Leading Actress-Geena Davis; Best Cinematography; Best Film Editing.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Runtime: 129 min.
Release Date: 2/4/2003
• Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott
• Audio Commentary with Actors Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon and Writer Callie Khouri
• Deleted Scenes
• Extended Ending with Optional Director’s Commentary
• “Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey” Documentary
• Original Theatrical Featurette
• Photo Galleries
• Multi-Angle Storyboards
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Glenn Frey Music Video
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Thelma & Louise: Special Edition (1991)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 24, 2002)
Welcome to Thelma & Louise, perhaps the most controversial flick from 1991. The movie inspired incessant debate after it hit screens in the spring of that year. It also earned positive box office receipts that made it a decent hit even though it didn’t fall into line with the standard mentality.
That’s because Thelma essentially offers a guy’s movie in chick flick clothing. Had it featured two male protagonists, the movie likely wouldn’t have caused any stir whatsoever. Instead, with two women at the fore, Thelma became a political and social statement, whether anyone behind it intended it that way.
Y’know, it’s been a long time since 1991, and I don’t recall how the filmmakers explained Thelma at the time. I’m sure I’ll get a crash course when I examine this DVD’s supplements, but I consciously decided to write my movie-related comments before I checked out those materials because I didn’t want them to affect my thoughts. How well my opinions will gibe with their intentions remains to be seen.
Set in Arkansas, Thelma focuses on two lower-middle-class women in their mid-thirties. Louise (Susan Sarandon) works as a waitress in a diner, and she maintains an erratic relationship with boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen), a lounge musician who spends much of his time on the road. Thelma (Geena Davis) lives with her controlling husband Darryl (Christopher McDonald), a carpet salesman who spends many suspiciously long hours at work.
Thelma and Louise plan a girl’s weekend out at the borrowed cabin of a friend, but Thelma lacks the courage to ask Darryl’s permission to go. However, she gets up the gumption to simply leave, and the pair hit the road. On the way to the cabin, the moderately emancipated Thelma wants to stop at a roadside country bar for a quick bit of fun. The more levelheaded Louise resists, but she gives in to her friend’s pleas.
Thelma goes a little nuts and drinks too much. She then dances with local lothario Harlan (Timothy Carhart), who puts some moves on her. When Thelma becomes physically ill due to all the booze, he goes outside with her for some air, and he then attempts to rape her when she resists his entreaties for sex.
Louise halts this when she pulls a pistol on Harlan, and this seems to end the matter. However, the decidedly misogynistic Harlan doesn’t know when to keep quiet, and he tosses some disparaging remarks at the women. Louise loses it and shoots Harlan. The women then hit the road, where they become fugitives.
The path becomes both darker and lighter as they drive. They head toward Oklahoma City, and Louise asks Jimmy to wire them a substantial amount of money. When they arrive, however, they find that Jimmy brought the cash in person. In addition, Louise gets over the trauma of the attempted rape as she connects with sexy young hitchhiker J.D. (Brad Pitt).
Of course, the authorities become involved as well, mostly represented by Arkansas state trooper Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel). He suspects the women and leads the investigation. However, he also attempts to counterbalance the usual aggressiveness of the law enforcement officials, as he does his best to keep his cronies from shooting before they think.
The police pursuit leads to the movie’s darker elements, but Thelma and Louise generally keep things pretty light. Although they’re on the run from the law, they enjoy the time of their life. They embrace their status as outlaws, albeit in a generally polite way. This causes them to loosen up and have fun for the first time in many years.
Therein lies a lot of the controversy caused by Thelma & Louise. The movie’s message engendered an immense amount of debate, and I can understand why. One could see the story as a call to arms for women to fight back against their male oppressors. The standard line views the film’s men as totally flawed and unsympathetic, while the women come across as virtuous.
However, the standard line gets things wrong. For one, the men appear much less one-dimensional than I recalled. Actually, that’s not completely true, as a number of them really do seem cartoony. From start to finish, Darryl never resembles a real person, and a lewd trucker the women encounter also seems stereotypically buffoonish. Of course, Harlan comes across as evil personified.
Other than Darryl, however, the movie’s most prominent men actually display greater nuance than one expects. Clearly Hal provides the most sympathetic male, as he so actively attempts to save Thelma and Louise. In a weird way, this could make some see him as a negative character, since he tries to get the women to behave on his terms, whereas they want to do things their own way. While some might view his methods as misguided, few can see Hal as anything other than a well-intentioned character, however.
Jimmy provides another fairly complex role. On one hand, we know he’s not without flaws, since he and Louise clearly have a rocky relationship. He also shows a violent temper during one scene. However, he attempts to help Louise and he seems generally interested in her welfare, unlike the cold and self-absorbed Darryl.
And then there’s J.D. The physical embodiment of Thelma’s freedom, he gives her sexual pleasure for the first time in her life and also acts like a rebel role model. Purely hedonistic, J.D. shows some concern for the fate of the women, but he mainly exists to look out for his own good. One can’t consider him as a positive role model, but he clearly doesn’t create a negative force, even though his actions indirectly lead to further legal concerns for Thelma and Louise.
While at least half of the prominent males in Thelma provided personalities more multifaceted than we’re normally led to believe, the women remain the focus of the piece, and they offer the most complex characters. Actually, they sometimes seem quite simple, but from that superficiality stems their depth.
Or maybe I’m just reacting like everyone else and reading too much into the roles. If you make Thelma and Louise men instead of women but change almost nothing else about it, we likely wouldn’t have much of a discussion. At its heart, Thelma really offers nothing more than a buddy flick with bandit tendencies. Admittedly, the story takes a path that accentuates the gender of its leads. The attempted rape remains at the core of the tale and motivates a lot of the actions. That episode also creates many of the flick’s most politically charged emotions, as the women reflect the poor treatment of rape victims when they deal with the law.
But the movie doesn’t frequently deal with these issues. Instead, it mostly focuses on the joy experienced by the women as they lead their newfound lawless existence. Does it glorify this path? To some degree, sure, but it’s not the first movie to do so.
However, few – if any – of its predecessors took that route with solely female protagonists. Bonnie and Clyde included some of those elements, but obviously that relationship heavily featured a man, and its violent ending made it tough for us to see much glorification.
Of course, Thelma provides its own frightfully controversial conclusion. As I don’t like to give spoilers, I won’t elaborate on it, but I expect most folks will know what occurs. Thelma finishes with either a beautiful act of sisterhood and self-determination or a desperate and pathetic waste. It’s up to the individual viewer to figure out which path seems preferred, but there doesn’t appear to be much middle ground.
Which makes sense, as few folks line up in between the poles created by Thelma. Except for me, perhaps, as I don’t really maintain any extreme feelings toward the movie. I feel somewhat surprised that the film seems less heavy-handed than I recalled. Sure, some crude moments occur, and the misogyny tends to intensify as the piece progresses. However, as I noted when I discussed the male characters, the portrayals seem much less black and white than I remembered, and Thelma and Louise come across as substantially less heroic as well.
Ultimately I think that Thelma & Louise provides an intriguing and entertaining piece of work, though perhaps not one that deserves so much attention. Without all of the controversy, I doubt I’d have devoted so many words to my discussion of it. At its heart, it seems like little more than a simple outlaw flick that becomes unusual simply due to the gender of its protagonists. For all of the sociological and political debate over the film, that core remains.
The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C+ / Bonus A-
Thelma & Louise appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided DVD-14; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I never saw the original DVD release of Thelma, so I can’t compare the two, but this remastered version provided a generally positive picture.
Sharpness remained solid throughout the film. The movie usually maintained nicely delineated and accurate imagery. A few small signs of softness cropped up on occasion, but those remained minor. Unfortunately, the picture seemed a little rough at times, as I periodically noticed distinct examples of jagged edges and moiré effects. Some moderate edge enhancement also created haloes around actors and objects for some shots. Print flaws seemed reasonably modest. I detected some light grain and various amounts of speckles. The latter created the most frequent concerns, as the specks cropped up a little too often during the movie. However, they remained sporadic and never caused any extreme issues.
Thelma usually went with a naturalistic palette that came across as a little dense at times. Some skin tones occasionally adopted a pinkish hue, and the colors simply seemed somewhat heavy on occasion. However, much of the time they looked quite solid, and I noticed no bad problems with them. Black levels came across as reasonably deep and rich, while shadow detail usually appeared accurately thick. Some low-light sequences were a little murky, but most seemed fine. The DVD handled the smokiness of the country bar quite well. The image of Thelma & Louise often seemed excellent, but a smattering of concerns knocked my grade down to a “B”.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Thelma & Louise appeared somewhat disappointing, even when I took into account the movie’s era. The soundfield maintained a heavy emphasis on the forward channels most of the time. Within that spectrum, elements seemed fairly well placed, though the effects came across as somewhat “speaker-specific”; for example, vehicles moved from side to side awkwardly. Music displayed decent stereo imaging for the most part, though even that issue created some concerns, as with some vocals that seemed too firmly placed in the left front speaker.
Surround usage appeared minimal. The track offered some light reinforcement of music and effects, and it also provided modest atmospherics to some scenes. Toward the end of the film, the action elements kicked the rears up a notch, but they still remained pretty passive. Even a rainstorm sequence stayed firmly focused on the front. The soundfield simply didn’t make very good use of the surrounds.
Audio quality seemed erratic as well. Speech tended to sound somewhat thin and flat, and I also noticed slight edginess at times. The lines remained intelligible, but they lacked the natural quality I expected. Music also came across as stiff and lackluster, especially during the scene at the country bar. Charlie Sexton’s tunes sounded very mid-range heavy and failed to display the appropriate spark. Effects fared a bit better. I noticed some distortion to the louder elements, but these pieces usually seemed acceptably clean and accurate, and they boasted decent bass response at times. For example, the rumble of trucks brought nice depth to the mix. In the end, however, Thelma & Louise gave us a decidedly mediocre soundtrack, even when compared against other films of its era.
For this new special edition DVD of Thelma & Louise, MGM pulled out quite a few stops. The extras appear on both sides of this DVD-14. On side one, we find the movie itself plus a mix of other features. These include two audio commentaries, and we start with one from director Ridley Scott. A carryover from the old DVD originally released in 1997, Scott provides a running, screen-specific track that usually seems quite interesting. He starts the piece with a quick run-through of his career prior to Thelma and he gets into a number of other issues not related to this film. After that, Scott tends to focus more strongly on Thelma, and he discusses many notes related to its production. These include working with the actors, cinematographic decisions, scoring concerns, and a mix of other subjects. As always with Scott, he goes through the areas concisely and makes them interesting. This track suffers from one moderate concern, however, as it offers a few fairly substantial silent spots. Without those Scott’s commentary would provide a terrific effort, but as it stands, it remains intriguing and informative despite the gaps.
For the second commentary, we hear from actors Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon plus writer Callie Khouri. For the most part, this piece presents a running, screen-specific track, and the three women sit together. However, occasionally we get remarks that clearly emanate from separately recorded interviews. Kudos to the DVD’s producers for including those extra bits, for otherwise the commentary really would have lagged. As it is, the track includes more than a few examples of dead space, so the additional interviews really help make the piece more involving.
In any case, the “chick track” provides a generally lively and informative program. Davis dominates the combined portion to a moderate degree, especially since it seems to take a little while for Khouri and Sarandon to warm up to the format. Davis comes out of the box swinging, and the three interact well. We learn a lot of fun tidbits about their experiences on the set as well as their route to the project. Khouri appears mostly during the separate interviews, and she gives us useful notes about how she came to write the script, various plot considerations, and even cool details like how she chose to set it initially in Arkansas. All in all, this commentary seems entertaining and illuminating.
Side One also includes some cut footage. Within the Deleted Scenes area we get 16 clips. Some of these present totally unused scenes, while others extended existing pieces. The segments run between 26 seconds and nine minutes for a total of 40 minutes, 11 seconds worth of material. Though I don’t know if any of this belonged in the movie, we see a lot of good stuff here. The scenes add to the background of the male characters and they also provide some fun moments as an argument between Thelma and Louise about beef jerky. Overall, these clips offer a lot of intriguing material.
In addition to these, we find the movie’s Extended Ending, another carryover from the old 1997 DVD. It runs for three minute and 39 seconds and really does simply show a longer version of the existing conclusion. It makes the finale more definite, and the movie’s actual finish works better. You can watch the ending with or without commentary from Ridley Scott, who lets us know why they went with the current conclusion.
Now we move to the second side of this disc, and we begin with a new documentary called Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey. It splits into three different areas: “Conception & Casting”, “Production & Performance”, and “Reaction & Resonance”. Taken as a whole, these last a total of 59 minutes, 30 seconds. These feature the standard mix of shots from the set, movie clips, and interviews. We hear from writer/co-producer Callie Khouri, producer Mimi Polk Gitlin, director Ridley Scott, composer Hans Zimmer, and actors Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Christopher McDonald, Michael Madsen, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jason Beghe and Brad Pitt.
Though a little dry at times, “Journey” covers a lot of territory, and it usually does so well. Inevitably, the program repeats a moderate amount of material heard in the commentaries, but since it includes so many additional participants, we get a good spread of alternate viewpoints. I felt particularly pleased to see Pitt, though given his long-term support of this kind of feature, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The piece follows the film in logical order from the writing of the script through reactions to the finished movie, and it gives us a clear and concise depiction of the production.
Less useful is the original theatrical featurette. This five-minute and 19-second clip features film snippets, images from the shoot, and interviews with Scott, Sarandon and Davis. Though some of the production shots seem interesting, this piece otherwise comes across as nothing more than the usual puffy palaver. In a nice touch, we can watch the featurette with or without the promotional narration. Since this allows us to hear the production sound for the shots from the set and it eliminates inane lines such as “somebody said ‘get a life’ – so they did”, I advocate cutting the extra material.
After this we get a section with Multi-angle Storyboards. You can flip from the boards on their own and a storyboard/shot comparison image via the angle button on your remote. Both show filmed incarnations of the boards along with music from the movie; the version with the movie clips doesn’t include the flick’s audio, probably since they slowed the shots to give us more time to watch the boards.
The Photo Gallery splits into 12 sections. These offer between seven and 89 stills for a total of 438 photos. This seems like a nice collection, and we get to see some cool images such as alternate versions of the iconic Polaroid shot.
A few minor extras finish off Thelma & Louise. We get a dull music video for the dull song “Part of You, Part of Me” from the dull beer salesman Glenn Frey. The video offers nothing more than the standard montage of movie clips and lip-synch footage, and it seems… well, dull. We also discover the movie’s theatrical trailer as well as a home video preview from 1991 and an ad for the DVD of Scott’s Hannibal. Lastly, the package includes three TV spots and some good notes inside the set’s booklet.
More than a decade down the road, Thelma & Louise lacks some of the spark caused by then-current controversies, but it still offers an interesting a well executed outlaw flick. The gender of its protagonists continues to give it a nice twist, and the movie seems solid across the board. The DVD provides good but unexceptional picture along with mediocre sound and a very positive collection of supplements; with two audio commentaries, a fairly long documentary, scads of deleted scenes, MGM give us our money’s worth here. Thelma & Louise occasionally seems a little dated, but it generally continues to work well, and this DVD largely presents it in a fine way.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3043 Stars|| Number of Votes: 46|