Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky
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.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
German DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Runtime: 129 min.
Release Date: 2/8/2011
• Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott
• Audio Commentary with Actors Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon and Writer Callie Khouri
• Deleted and Extended 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
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
Thelma & Louise [Blu-Ray] (1991)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 24, 2011)
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 disc’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 correspond 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 Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B / Bonus A-
Thelma & Louise appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a consistently positive presentation.
Sharpness remained solid throughout the film, as the movie usually maintained nicely delineated and accurate imagery. A few small signs of softness cropped up on occasion, but those remained minor. No issues with jaggies or moiré effects appeared, and I noticed no edge enhancement. In addition, print flaws were insignificant; I noticed a couple of small specks but nothing more.
Thelma went with a naturalistic palette that came across well. On occasion, the hues were a little dense, which was an artifact of the era’s film stocks. 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 appeared accurately thick. Low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Thelma & Louise appeared fine when I took into account the movie’s era. The soundfield maintained an emphasis on the forward channels most of the time. Within that spectrum, elements seemed fairly well placed, and surround usage was pretty good. Usually the mix went with environmental material, but it boasted more active moments, most of which involved the movie’s action scenes. The nightclub sequence was also vivid, and the track offered a positive sense of place.
Audio quality seemed fine. Speech was reasonably natural and concise, and music showed fair reproduction. At times the score and tunes could be a little dense, but they usually demonstrated pretty nice vivacity. Effects also acted their age on occasion, but I thought those elements were good most of the time, and some moderately powerful bass emerged. Nothing here dazzled, but it ended up as an above-average track for its era.
Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here. These include two audio commentaries, and we start with one from director Ridley Scott. A carryover from the original DVD 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 disc’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.
The set 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. 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, 44 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.
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 three TV spots.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the DVD? Yup – it omits a nice still gallery. That one was more substantial than most, so its absence disappoints.
Two decades 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 Blu-ray provides very good picture, pretty solid audio and an informative collection of supplements. Thelma & Louise occasionally seems a little dated, but it generally continues to work well, and the Blu-ray becomes easily its best home video incarnation to date.
To rate this film please visit the Special Edition review of THELMA & LOUISE