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Drop Dead Gorgeous (Blu-ray Review)

When I saw the trailer for Drop Dead Gorgeous and then once the film released in 1999, later on home video, I just poked my nose up and said “nah!” and carried on. Young, adolescent, ignorant and stupid as I was in my youth as a “film lover” and one studying the art. I had heard this film had a pretty solid reputation over the years, and my curiosity to right my wrong of not even giving it a chance back in the day never scratched the itch. Once Warner Archive Collection announced it and offered it up for review, this was my opportunity to finally go back and check out the film. They’ve released it for the first time on the format this week (October 6th is the actual street day), and you can order it from them or the paid Amazon Associates link at the end of the review. Unfortunately, aside from the film’s trailer, there aren’t any old or new extras to be found on the disc. But, fans should rejoice in what is a pretty excellent presentation for the film in its first showing on Blu-ray.

Film

An annual beauty pageant in small-town Minnesota turns ridiculously competitive and ultimately chaotic in this biting comedy. Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), the daughter of hard-drinking mom Annette (Ellen Barkin), and Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), who is motivated by her former beauty-queen mother, Gladys (Kirstie Alley), are among the top contenders in the event. As Amber, Becky, and other local girls prepare for the big day, bizarre incidents occur, leading up to an ending with a bang.

Drop Dead Gorgeous probably feels a lot more “right at home” with comedy as it is now, especially in television, than when it was originally released in 1999.  At that time, the faux documentary approach was more akin to a Christopher Guest knock off rather than just a creative decision on how to tell a story. If anything this is a very dark comedy done in the stylings of Christopher Guest. Stupid me from the past that I mentioned up top had no idea that the story was told this way, hit the strides that it does and probably would’ve been something he found quite good. Don’t be “film ignorant” folks, always walk in with an open mind or give something a shot.

Michael Patrick Jann’s film lends opportunity to give many actors, especially younger ones a real chance to shine. Sure, the turns from Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney and Sam McMurray are quite wonderful and give you the sort of chops you’d expect from them in an improvisation, comedic situation. Its really the young pageant entrants who carry and impress most in this film. Amy Adams makes her debut in the film and truly shines every time you see her enter a frame. You can just see her potential to become the marquee name she is now right away. Brittany Murphy continues on her bubbly rise her to leading lady and continues the charming presence she introduced us to in clueless.

Both Kirsten Dunst and Denise Richards shine and radiate all over this movie. Dunst shows some real chops and ability to play a straight character with terrific comedic timing while also feeling a genuine well rounded and three dimensional character. Richards is a blast of fun and really make every frame she’s in quite special. There’s a complete charisma and spirited comedic effort with here. Quite possibly, this is at least one of her top performances if not THE best one. And its funny that this one comes in the same year as her most derided performance in The World Is Not Enough. Those who have be poo poo’ing on her for years with that film should really take a look her and see she truly did have herself some talent (Beyond just your Starship Troopers and Wild Things).

I’m happy to have now seen Drop Dead Gorgeous, its pretty fun but also pretty fun. It doesn’t quite soar to the heights of a Christopher Guest film, but its darkness suits it right. And coming when it did, you could also credit it as an influence for the documentary comedy stylings that would begin to take over television sitcoms just a couple years later. I’ll definitely return to it again, and I really enjoyed watching this cast just go to work.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  There was no information regarding the transfer of Drop Dead Gorgeous to Blu-ray, so we could assume its a 1080p one (At best 2K), but holy crap does this look good. Its very detailed and carries a very film reel, cinematic look to it with a very handsome grain structure and a lot of depth in the image. People are going to be very impressed with how this Blu-ray turned out for the film after waiting for it so long. In a way it makes up for the lack of bonus materials on the disc.

Depth:  This transfer really has a good depth of field, especially with the usage of the confessional style approach to a lot of scenes where it features a prominent foreground character. You get a really three dimensional scale with a pushback on the background and plenty of free, spacious eventful things happening behind the speaker. Movements are cinematic and smooth in their nature and no distortions with rapid movements occur.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and hone in on being natural and carry a little bit heavier grain. Finer details show through quite good with patterns and textures on dark surfaces, hair and fabircs. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors have a natural feel with a good life-like look to them. The parade and pageant bring about a more boisterous and flashy affair with colors coming across more striking and bold. Blue in particular looks quite lovely in these moments.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures are quite visible, mostly in their best light of the close ups and medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

DynamicsDrop Dead Gorgeous takes stage with a great 5.1 mix that does a very good job of feeling natural and life like with the events unfolding on screen. There are a myriad of environments and this mix does well to make them feel natural. The track has a good, balance of vocals, music and effects that weaves well and keeps the vocals center as the characters are meant to sort of feeled mic’d for an interview in the film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Primarily the subwoofer adds a lot to the music in the film but there are some altercations, fires and other moments with effects that it comes through quite well.

Surround Sound Presentation:  There is a lot going on with the front here, as it mainly wants your attention there. But, this mix does have some very good ambient contributions that make scenes feel genuine and place you perfectly in the fold. The pageant really does liven things up when it appears with a much more concert feel.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are of prominence and really fit in with their environments in such a terrific, natural way.

Extras

Trailer (HD, 2:02)

Summary

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a pretty funny dark comedy with plenty to appreciate. It plays quite well now 21 years later. Warner Archive Collection finally adds it to the Blu-ray roster with a pretty outstanding presentation. What it excels at in video and audio, it almost makes up for in only carrying a trailer as a bonus feature. BUT, for a film that took 14 years to get to the format, I’ll always choose the finest presentation over new bonus features as its the health of the film first, the rest later. Fans really should snatch this one up and upgrade from their DVD.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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