To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday... An OAR Import!

To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday might feel a bit like a TV movie. It's not, it was shot for and played in theaters. But it was directed by Michael Pressman, a director who mostly does TV. Although he also did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. And it's written by David E. Kelley, who also works almost exclusively in television. Although he also wrote Lake Placid, and the unexpected intelligence and wit in that flick is just as present and crucial here. But my point is, it's not a TV movie; it's a widescreen theatrical film, and so its domestic fullscreen DVD isn't doing it any justice.
It's said that Kelley wrote this film for his wife, Michelle Pfeiffer. I'm not sure how true that is, since it's based on a pre-existing play; but she certainly stars in the titular role as Gillian, a character who actually doesn't have as much screen time as you might think, because she's dead before the film begins. She mostly appears as a ghost of sorts, but it's never really suggested anything supernatural or magical is going on. It's all in the head of her widowed husband, Peter Gallagher, who's been having a tough time letting go. Gallagher doesn't seem like the kind of actor you'd want to trust with aw eighty role like this, but he pulls it off surprisingly well. Anyway, his sister and brother in law (Kathy Baker and Bruce Altman) are concerned and show up to Gillian's birthday party (which Gallagher still celebrates) not only with a blind date in the hopes of setting him up and restoring him to some degree of normalcy, but also a plot to take his daughter, played by Claire Danes, back home with them.
It's often dismissed as a sentimental film, which it certainly is. But it's not your average romance that gets caught up and ultimately stumbles in the trap of being sappy and trite. This is a film that's deliberately exploring sentimentality and playing with it; it's what the characters are struggling with. And the combination of the snappy writing and excellent ensemble cast (Seth Green and Freddie Prinze Jr. show up in minor roles just to flesh out Danes' character's life) manage to elevate the film above its peers.
So when Sony originally released this movie on home video, it received a fullscreen VHS and a widescreen laserdisc: pretty much what you'd expect. Unfortunately, when the DVD was released in 2002, that was fullscreen, too. Boo! But what could you do? For the long time, the only option for real fans was to hang onto the laserdisc. I was pretty bummed about that and kept searching around and finally found a 2007 DVD release in the UK, which issued Gillian in its OAR!
(UK widescreen on top, US fullscreen bottom)
To be fair, the US disc is clearly open matte, not pan and scan; so the transfer doesn't look that terrible. But the film was clearly meant to be matted down and looks so much better (and more cinematic) on this anamorphic 1.85:1 disc. The extra vertical information might tempt you in these screenshots, but honestly, the whole movie plays better wide. The framing is just more artistically attractive, the work of a talented cinematographer rather then just the functional telling of a story. The UK disc also has a sliver more information on the left, but it's pretty thin. And otherwise the transfer (image quality wise, colors, detail...) look almost identical between the two releases, with only slight differences in the brightness and contrast. They basically just took the same transfer and framed it correctly... which is all I, as a fan, ever wanted in the first place.
Otherwise, both discs are pretty no-frills, with zero special features. The UK disc even has a completely generic menu; it doesn't even tell you the title of the film. It does, however, come loaded with language options, including five audio tracks and 12 subtitle options. The US disc at least has the trailer, though, as well as bonus trailers for The Age of Innocence and My Life. But really, while thar disc isn't as bad as its rep (I've read reviews repeatedly refer to it as pan & scan, which it's not), and To Gillian isn't exactly a high interest title in 2015, it does have a deserved following, and fans ought to know there's a proper and inexpensive version out there.

No comments:

Post a Comment