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Moonstruck – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

It’s not as though The Criterion Collection doesn’t have its share of comedies or romantic films, let alone downright hilarious features. That in mind, seeing 1987’s Moonstruck enter the collection is the kind of move that will ideally not only help restore the value to be found in this Norman Jewison-directed, John Patrick Shanley-written romantic comedy but perhaps even settle some debates concerning who “deserved” an Academy Award. From where I sit, Moonstruck remains a delightful feature that is well-written, performed, and highly entertaining. Now the film has a deluxe release, arriving on Blu-ray with a brand-new restoration. For many, that’s amoré for this feature.

Film:

Cher stars as Loretta Castorini, a bookkeeper from Brooklyn with a family that’s as Italian as her name suggests. Following an awkward proposal from her boyfriend, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), he leaves for Sicily to be with his dying mother. Believing her first marriage was cursed, Lorretta decides to go out of her way to follow various traditions, leading her to meet Johnny’s estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a dramatic bread maker who lost part of his hand in an accident he blames his brother for. Naturally, Loretta and Ronny fall for each other after initially sparring, as some people are just that moonstruck.

There’s more to this story, which involves the other Loretta family members, namely her mother and father (Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis). That’s where a lot of the joy comes from – the amount of stuff going on. While around 100 minutes with credits, this is a film that wastes little time, relying on the strong chemistry between all of the characters, sharp writing, and the lively work from Cher, Cage, and others to guide so much of the action.

While the film works as a romantic comedy, it’s just as good as a straight-up comedy. The key reason comes from its specificity. I feel as though I’ve been declaring this a lot lately, but the more specific films can be about their place, setting, culture, the more relatable it ends up feeling to an audience. You don’t need to be a superstitious Italian to understand things like family, relationships, and various forms of drama. Moonstruck gets this, and while it’s not a film that’s trying to be cryptic in the portrayals of traditional culture, the work is done to show how a multigenerational Italian family gets through arguments as much as tender moments.

For their efforts, Moonstruck was awarded three Oscars for Cher, Dukakis, and Shanley for his screenplay. Each is well-earned. Were there other great performances from that year? Of course there were. There generally always are. That said, this doesn’t diminish the quality work coming from the winners, let alone make it clear which is better or worse. As it stands, there’s just a lot to like and praise about what the actors are doing here.

Cher, in particular, taps into an energy that maneuvers her around her superstar status to someone more grounded, and often quite funny in the way she projects frustrations at these various silly men in her life. At the same time, while many of the performances all stand out (Gardenia was nominated as well), I will shout out Cage, who easily brings a wild man energy to what could be a more familiar type of role. That’s what you tend to get with Cage, a “non-conventionally attractive” leading man, who pours all of his energy into being borderline crazy. Somehow, that all works with the rest of the film, which proves to be sweet and very funny.

For 80s comedies, let alone romantic comedies in general, it may be easy to look at the tropes and have no problem figuring out where the story will take the viewer. Moonstruck isn’t going for much in the way of ambitious plotting. It’s all in the casting, the attitude, and the writing. There’s a madcap element here, and it goes right along with the sense of yearning seen in each of the characters. They all have things on their mind, and speaking up about it is just one aspect that makes for such a winning film.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Details: This new digital restoration was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The color for the restoration was referenced from an HD transfer supervised and approved by Norman Jewison.

Clarity/Detail: Moonstruck looks wonderful. Compared to the previous 2011 release, this is a substantial upgrade allowing for more of the city to be felt in the picture. Elements such as the bakery or the restaurant these characters frequently come to life in stronger ways than before. The level of detail found in the costumes and locations allows for the film’s authenticity to shine quite brightly.

Depth: the dimensionality of various scenes plays well to keep characters from every appearing flat onscreen. Scenes in the homes show this best, given all the activity in the foreground and background. An opera sequence is another standout.

Black Levels: The black levels are great. Nighttime scenes play well thanks to how the film handles the various dates these characters go on—no sign of crushing.

Color Reproduction: While the film has the sort of look an 80s studio comedy features, Jewison is a strong enough director to bring in the right people for costumes and locations. As a result, there’s a lot to enjoy in how the colors shine through, with lots of dark materials still popping enough to see the finer details.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with the appropriate amount of grain.

 

Audio:

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from a magnetic track using Avid’s Pro Tools and iZotope RX.

Dynamics: There’s a lot to enjoy about this mix, as the presentation is strong enough to deliver on the film’s Italian-themed score, the placement of certain music cues, and the dialogue. It’s all very effective in delivering on a quality audio track.

Low-Frequency Extension: There’s no real action or big moments to really push the sub-woofer to any major highs, but the audio isn’t flat either.

Surround Sound Presentation: Strong and center-focused, but enough is going on in the sound design to apply the supporting channels when needed.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.

 

Extras:

Moonstruck features a couple of new featurettes/interviews, along with all of the bonus material available from previous releases and some other additions. There’s enough here to satisfy any major fan of the film.

Features Include:

  • Introduction By Cher (HD, 11:58) – This intro has an intro by Leonard Maltin, recorded in 2013 as a part of an AFI program.
  • Audio Commentary Featuring Cher, Director Norman Jewison, and Writer John Patrick Shanley – Recorded in 1998, from what I listened to, it is a fairly scene specific track, but not the most exciting one, as everyone was recorded separately. That said, fans will surely find some good stories.
  • John Patrick Shanley (HD, 16:19) – A newly recorded interview with the film’s writer, who has plenty of thoughts on the film and its success.
  • Stefano Albertini (HD, 12:02) – Literature and cinema scholar Stefano Albertini discusses how La Boheme and opera contribute to Moonstruck’s tone.
  • City Lights (SD, 33:15) – An interview with director Norman Jewison on the Canadian TV program City Lights, where he talks about the making of the film and more.
  • Today – Excerpts from NBC’s Today, from back in 1987, featuring interviews with Cher (SD, 2:31), Nicolas Cage (SD, 4:20), and Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia (SD, 6:20).
  • Moonstruck:  At the Heart of an Italian Family Documentary (SD, 25:30) – Recorded in 2006, this is a good enough featurette that features interviews with the cast and crew both during and in retrospect to the production. A nice compliment to the film.
  • AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions (SD, 11:37) – The title is a little misleading, but this is a fun interview with Danny Aiello from 2002.
  • Harold Lloyd Master Seminar (HD, 36:37) – An audio interview from 1989 with Shanley.
  • Music of Moonstruck (SD, 6:24) – A short but sweet little extra, focusing on the film’s music, with composer Dick Hyman and director Norman Jewison.
  • Trailer (HD, 2:00)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Emily VanDer Werff

 

Summary:

Moonstruck is a modern classic of its genre. It’s a terrific comedy that earned the praise it received, even if there’s a notion that it feels old fashioned by whatever new standards some may have for romantic comedies. Watching it again, I just see a whole lot to admire that continues to shine for the film. Helping that is this terrific Blu-ray presentation, with the superb technical presentation I’d expect from Criterion, along with a great bevy of extras sure to satisfy fans. Grab a pizza pie and enjoy some Moonstruck.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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