Any Muse Is Good Muse

Flip over another scorecard, we're now up to ⓷ Albert Brooks films on blu!  That's Lost In America in 2017, Modern Romance in 2018 and now The Muse in 2019.  At this rate, we'll have his entire collection by the end of 2023.  So Universal's new Muse is good news, even if this Muse could... definitely be better.
The biggest criticism I think you can really lay at the feet of Brooks' sixth feature is that it relies a little too heavily on celebrity cameos and pop culture references.  Brooks stars as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter, and he doesn't miss an opportunity to pack the frame with his famous friends.  But it's impossible not to derive at least some pleasure from Martin Scorsese ranting about his ranting about his upcoming Raging Bull remake.  And once you scratch past the surface, you've still got Brooks' and Monica Johnson's consistently warm and clever writing, charming performances and a genuinely inventive premise.
There also seems to be a surprisingly introspective aspect to the premise, as Brooks' character is dealing with the issue that everyone's telling him his writing is losing its edge... which seems to be the most common complaint laid at his own later work.  Sort of like everyone telling Woody Allen he should stick to writing funny movies in Stardust Memories, except Brooks seems to take it to heart and use it as a catalyst for honest introspection.  In the story, he reaches a point of desperation that he reaches out to his friend, Jeff Bridges, for some kind of assistance, and is surprised when Bridges cuts him into a deep Hollywood secret.  The nine muses of ancient Greek mythology, the daughters of Zeus, are real and at least one of them is living in California, providing the artistic inspiration that's enabled famous filmmakers like Rob Reiner and James Cameron (who yes, both cameo) to create their Oscar winning works.  Bridges agrees to set up a meeting with this muse, played with a surprising verve for comedy by Sharon Stone, who's certain to bring back his edge, so long as he manages to keep her completely happy at all times.  There's plenty more cameos I could list, but one of the reasons this movie endures is how much of this film really just plays as a touching family comedy in the home with his wife Andie MacDowell and two daughters.  It also has a robust and magical score by none other than Elton John, composing for a film for the very first (and only?) time.  He's certainly provided hit songs for Disney musicals and stuff, but I think this is his only complete, traditional soundtrack gig.
The Muse debuted nice and early on DVD in 1999 as a flipper disc with wide and fullscreen versions from a short-lived subsidiary of Universal called USA Home Entertainment.  Universal reissued it slightly repackaged in 2010, but that one DVD's basically been it all the way to this year.  Finally, Universal has now released it on blu, though it doesn't look like they've bothered to strike a new master during all that time...
1) 2000 USA HE fullscreen DVD; 2) 2000 USA HE widescreen DVD;
3) 2019 USA Universal Blu-ray.
Let's start with the good news.  The fullscreen side of the DVD is a needlessly open matte 1.33:1, while the widescreen is slightly pillar-boxed to 1.81:1.  So this blu slightly tweaks the AR to a proper 1.85:1 for the first time on home video.  And this is a genuine, HD 1080p disc, so it is visibly sharper and cleaner than the soft DVD.  The colors and contrast are fine, and just a smidgen more robust than what we had before.  The problem, as I said, is just that this appears to be the same, quite dated master.  Film grain is there, if a bit smudgy.  But they would just about get away with it as a perfectly acceptable blu, if it weren't for the garish edge enhancement.  This was clearly made to keep the old standard def compression from swallowing up detail, and its use is debatable even then.  But on the BD, it really looks bad, giving the film not just an artificial, compromised look.  But it can be downright distracting as it will randomly make a minor element like the desk lamp between MacDowell and Stone shine and attract your attention away from the people.  It's just clumsy, ugly and distracting.  Universal's clearly attempted to do everything right with this disc - it's dual-layered, the audio is lossless, etc - but it's weighed down by this clunky old master.  It's still unarguably superior to the DVD and the best edition on the market.  But for 2019, it's disappointing.

The DVD gave us a choice between a stereo and 5.1 mix, which the BD whittles down to just the 5.1, but it is in DTS-HD.  The DVD also included English, French and Spanish subtitles, which the BD boils down to just the optional English subs.
the teaser
The DVD was far from a special edition, but it wasn't quite barebones.  It had a cute, little six minute featurette with light-hearted interview clips and B-roll, including a bit with Elton.  Then there was the trailer and a teaser trailer, and that's about it apart from on-screen text stuff like cast and crew bios and a silly history of muses.  No online listings mentioned word one about extras, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the BD actually kept the featurette.  It dropped the trailers, though, which is disappointing because, rather than just your average clips from the film, the teaser was actually a funny little routine where Brooks comes out and addresses the audience and does a unique comedy bit.  Oh well.
So yeah, it's not great.  It's a shame they didn't bother to remaster this film, especially since this film clearly needed it more than plenty of titles that have gotten multiple remasters.  And it's a shame they dropped the teaser and didn't bring in Brooks for a commentary, etc.  But, you know, for a catalog title like this, it's not like anybody really expected Universal to roll out the red carpet.  It's a disappointment but still worth adding to your collection based on the strengths of the film if not the disc itself.  And it is a solid bump up from the DVD at least.  It's just... not great.  Getting The Muse at all on blu is good news, though this disc does put the test to that theory.  We just better get our next Brooks film sometime in 2020.

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