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Beaches Special Edition DVD Review

Beaches

Theatrical Release: December 21, 1988 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Garry Marshall

Cast: Bette Midler (Cecilia 'CC' Bloom), Barbara Hershey (Hillary Whitney Essex), John Heard (John Pierce), Lainie Kazan (Leona Bloom), Spalding Gray (Dr. Richard Milstein), James Read (Michael Essex), Grace Johnston (Victoria Cecilia Essex), Mayim Bialik (Cecilia, age 11), Marcie Leeds (Hillary, age 11)

Songs: "Under The Boardwalk", "The Glory of Love", "I've Still Got My Health", "Oh Industry", "Otto Titsling", "Baby Mine", "I Think It's Going To Rain Today", "Wind Beneath My Wings", "I Know You By Heart"


Review by Aaron Wallace

Released nearly seventeen years ago, Beaches is probably as well-known as any other Touchstone Pictures film. It is the story of two lonely girls who meet on the beach at age 11. Cecilia Bloom, who goes by CC, is a larger-than-life redhead with abundant talent and even more ambition. She smokes, calls her mother (played by Lainie Kazan of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) by her first name, and throws tantrums at her song-and-dance auditions. Hillary Whitney, on the other hand, is a well-mannered and wholesome daughter of immensely wealthy parents, whose expectations leave her feeling suffocated in life. Though their time together is brief, they keep in touch over many years through written letters.

When Hillary, now an adult (Barbara Hershey) leaving behind the life she could no longer tolerate, shows up at the nightclub where CC (Bette Midler) works one night, the two meet for the first time in decades and the story of this remarkable friendship really begins. That's really what the film is, a look at the life-long evolution of true friendship, both strained and strengthened in the course of time. CC's singing career fluctuates from dismal failures to famed successes while Hillary lives in her shadow, a source of strength and support. Through boyfriends, husbands, divorces, and the occasional love triangle, the bond perseveres. The story meets with true poignancy when their friendship faces the ultimate hurdle: the looming shadow of tragedy.

Beaches is far from a perfect film. Its biggest flaw is its incredible and at times unrealistic pace. As it plows through the story at lightning speed (yet still manages to feel just slightly too long), it's not unlikely that the viewer might be temporarily distracted. Fortunately, that's quickly overcome. Granted, the story takes place over a long span of time, but many other films have dealt with larger blocks of time and have done so more successfully. Some of the dialogue flirts with being what many might call corny, but it avoids being overly sappy. A product of its time, the 1980s are firmly impressed on many scenes, dating the film a bit, but not at the expense of its ability to retain qualities of timelessness. In fact, once you can get past its imperfections (and it's not hard to do), it largely succeeds at being an extremely touching film. In fact, the UK's Channel 4 recently placed it at number 12 on their list of the 100 Greatest Tear-Jerkers of All Time, which comes as no surprise, as it seems to be widely regarded as such.

A young CC and Hillary frolic on the beach. Hillary meets CC for the first time as adults.

While it's not a musical, its storyline revolves around a striving entertainment star and as such features several memorable musical numbers, ranging from the exotic to the scandalous to the moving, including Midler's cover of Dumbo's "Baby Mine." Of course one can hardly discuss Beaches without bringing up "Wind Beneath My Wings," its signature song that dominated radio waves, garnered 1988's Grammies for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and took on a life of its own. From its memorable dedication to Johnny Carson on his second-to-last night on the air to its use in countless weddings and funerals around the world, this incredibly powerful song is one of the movie's finest strongpoints and perhaps its most enduring legacy.

Bette Midler is unquestionably the film's star and, in typical fashion for the actress, carries it with ease, even if the comicly aggressive character isn't much of a stretch from her usual roles. Barbara Hershey does a fine job as well, as does the supporting cast. Garry Marshall's direction is unsurprisingly graceful, as he's in his medium of expertise with "tear-jerkers," allowing for an involving viewing experience without ever really becoming overwhelming.

Instances of strong adult language, some mild sexual situations, and one mildly risquι musical performance, "Otto Titsling" (edited out in TV airings), earn the film its PG-13 rating, though to be fair, it's much tamer than today's typical PG-13 fare.

Beaches received one earlier low-priced DVD release prior to this new special edition. While I can't speak to the quality of its first DVD incarnation, the new release is overall satisfactory with a pleasing offering of bonus materials, despite some problems elsewhere.

Buy Beaches: Special Edition on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 26, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Beaches is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Unfortunately, the video suffers from noticeable edge enhancement in certain scenes. There are also a few moments in the early part of the film in which the audio and video seem to be just slightly out of synch. Of course both of these problems are bigger offenses to some than others, but on the whole, neither are so severe that they become significant distractions. Aside from that, the picture is clean and visually pleasing. Colors are vibrant for a 1980s film and the transfer doesn't leave any other complaints.

In the audio department, everything is crisp and well-mixed, though an otherwise sufficient 5.1 track doesn't call the rear channels into play as much as one might like. Still, everything sounds fine and there are no big complaints.

Bette Midler discusses "Wind Beneath My Wings" on AFI's special "100 Years...100 Songs." Mayim Bialik remembers the film that caused her career to "blossom." The new "Beaches" Special Edition DVD sports pretty, three-dimensional menus.

BONUS FEATURES

The Beaches Special Edition DVD brings with it a pleasing (though not entirely satisfying) amount of bonus material for a film of its age and clout. First among them is the feature-length audio commentary by director Garry Marshall. An actor himself, Marshall knows how to make the track entertaining and quite funny. His comments are always relevant to what's on the screen and he's full of interesting bits of trivia. Among the topics discussed are the film's musical elements, the amount of time it took to make the film, and comparisons to some of Marshall's other work for the studio (which he seems quite proud of): Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. Interestingly, he also discusses the remote possibility of a sequel to Beaches, which would follow author Iris Dart's follow-up to Beaches, the book. Though Marshall may be a little too praising of the film early on, he quickly settles in and shares what is obviously a knowledgeable command of the film, something that not all directors seem to have. The only lulls in the track seem to be intentional, when the director wants you to hear an important bit of dialogue that he's about to discuss. In all, it's one of the better feature commentaries that I've heard on a DVD and certainly worth a listen for anyone interested in the film or any of its components.

"Mayim Bialik Remembers Beaches" (12:05) is the closest thing to a making-of documentary on the DVD, and it isn't very close. In its own right, though, it's a very neat inclusion. Bialik, of course, is the then-young actress who plays CC Bloom in her childhood scenes and who would go on to star in the hit TV series, "Blossom." Here, she reflects on the role that launched her career and offers meaningful insight. Aside from a few awkward camera angles, it's a well-made and fun to watch supplement.

Also included is a clip from AFI's 2004 100 Years...100 Songs special, in which "Wind Beneath My Wings" came in at number 44. In the clip (1:16), Bette Midler discusses the impact of the song on both the film and her career and why she thinks it was so successful. Buena Vista is to be applauded for including this on the DVD.

The logical follow-up to the AFI clip is Midler's music video for "Wind Beneath My Wings" (4:19). In a refreshing twist, this video suggests the film rather than using random clips from it, which would certainly seem out of place with such a poignant song. Appropriately shot in black and white, the video rotates from Bette singing to two young girls (similar to those in the movie) on the beach.

A blooper reel (6:59) was put together for the cast and crew when production finished in the mid-80s and it's now available on DVD. Interestingly, the Walt Disney Pictures logo is attached to the beginning, perhaps suggesting that Beaches was originally considered as a Disney film (though this seems unlikely as it would have been wildly mature for the Disney of 1988, or even the Disney of today, for that matter, unless they hadn't yet decided on including certain scenes). The bloopers themselves are mildly humorous, but the sarcastic jabs at the cast and crew that reveal the fun they had with the film are the real value.

Barbara Hershey's screen test (6:16) provides a glance at the initial chemistry between Hershey and Midler that Marshall liked so much. It includes three scenes of the film that take place in very different settings than their final versions but retain most of the same dialogue.

Last but not least, in a time when trailers are no longer a given for DVDs, the inclusion of the theatrical trailer (2:27) is a pleasant surprise. One can always hold out hope that this will become standard practice for Buena Vista.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD is packaged in a black keepcase, complete with the protective but annoying snaps on the side. Inside, a double-sided insert lists the ten chapter selections on one side and advertisements for similar Buena Vista DVDs on the other. The disc itself repeats the cover art.

The menus are nicely done, using animation and sound effects to recreate a beach scene. In each menu, the options are lined up three-dimensionally.

CC takes the stage! When CC's marriage is in trouble, she seeks advice from her mother on the beach. What a motif!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it's very popular, Beaches isn't without flaws. Yet despite an alarmingly fast pace and moments that are distinctly 1980s, it largely succeeds at being a very moving and transcendent film. It is the tale of friendship, and while that's been done before (even through letter writing), the film offers its own fresh lens for perspective. It is an indictment of the human ego and the jealousies it can spawn, as well as a celebration of friendship's ability to overcome those hurdles. It speaks of the truisms of life and does so in a subtle way, which is the key to its success.

The DVD, too, is a success, though it disappointingly lacks a making-of featurette and any involvement from Bette Midler or Barbara Hershey. What is there, though, is a treat for fans and a pleasure to watch.

A blind buy isn't out of the question for those who haven't seen it before, but while it is a good film, it may not be universally pleasing and so a rental might be advisable. Anyone else who has seen the movie and liked it, however, will surely want to pick up this well-done new edition.

More on the DVD

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Also Directed by Garry Marshall:
The Princess Diaries (Special Edition)
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Bette Midler's Other 1988 Film: Oliver & Company
Dumbo: 60th Anniversary Edition

Reviewed May 2, 2005.

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