Beaches (Blu-ray) Review
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted October 28, 2012
In 10 Words or Less
Bette Midler makes half a great Lifetime movie
When I reviewed the special edition DVD of Beaches back in 2005, I had just started a new job, I was just under a year away from becoming a father, and my life was considerably different from what it is now. In 2012, I sit here with the Blu-Ray version of the film, with that same cover art, wondering if my opinion on this film has changed along with my life.
Well, no. Though I now know what to expect when putting this disc in to watch, a considerable change over seven years ago, it’s still the same chick flick/Bette Midler vehicle I saw it as then. I may be a dad to a little girl, who will undoubtedly one day, with tear-streaked cheeks, watch this film for the umpteeth time, but to me it’s still the same movie, which is why this review is pretty much the same. I will say, the ending has far more of an impact on me now, however I find I’m far more susceptible to emotional manipulation by movies since I became a father.
Beaches starts out by establishinh the foundation of the eternal friendship between C.C. Bloom (Miyam Bialik, “Blossom”) and Hillary Whitney (Marcie Leeds), a street-smart Atlantic City kid and an upper-crust child, respectively. Meeting under the boardwalk, they find they are kindred spirits of sorts, and thus starts a relationship that spans the rest of their lives through letter writing, until they are both adults (now portrayed by Midler and Barbara Hershey.) Finally getting together again, and find their friendship is the only constant in their lives. The prologue, with brilliant work by Bialik and Lainie Kazan as her mother, gives the film a smart-aleck attitude that helps overcome the more heartstring-pulling moments…for the most part.
From there on out, the two women find life to be a series of struggles, with them switching places, as C.C.’s life explodes into mega-success, and Hillary hits roadblock after roadblock. Through it all, they rely on their friendship to carry them through the challenges that love, marriage and family bring. The friendship is tested often, especially by the dreaded presence of men, but it’s hard to believe that anyone in the audience has a doubt about what will happen in the end. Beaches often risks drifting into melodrama, but Midler’s irreverent presence keeps the movie on an even keel until the plot becomes too heavy to maintain buoyancy.
Using C.C. and Hillary’s flashback correspondence as the main method of progressing the story, along with an in-the-now framing device, the movie spans 30 years in two hours, which by any measure is moving at lightspeed. There are some problems with moving the story so quickly, in that the plot can seem unnaturally motivated. But within the structure of the plot, there’s no other way the film could have advanced the story. By compressing the lives of these two women, the parallels between them are made obvious and meaningful.
While the story of these two women is the core of the film, Midler’s musical moments are some of the most entertaining portions of the film. From her character’s start as a jazz singer to her award-winning performances, she gets the opportunity to show off her impressive range as a vocalist. I’ve always considered Midler to be good, based on her roles in Ruthless People and Outrageous Fortune, but Beaches goes to show why she gets the respect she receives. Singing ability like hers and an amazing comic wit have combined to make her a true star.
At approximately the halfway point, the movie loses its sense of humor and becomes the soap opera C.C. speaks bad about at the time of the change. Life itself is too much for the girls, and the whole film becomes exactly what the first half seemed to strive to avoid. Ironically, it’s that turn-around in the second half that has earned the film its fan base and reputation.
The film arrives on a single Blu-Ray disc, packed in a standard Blu-Ray keepcase. The disc features the attractive static menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer on this disc is remarkably better than the mess that existed on the previous Blu-Ray. That said, it still has some issues, as it’s uneven in the handling of grain, with some scenes buzzing and others, mostly darker interior scenes later in the film, looking stunningly clean, to the point where they could have been shot this year. Everything has been given a polish, so the vast majority of the dirt and damage seen on the DVD is gone (with the rare exception of a spot or two. Fine detail has been vastly improved, though there’s some softness here and there, and the color has been made far more natural (and warmer), even if it all looks a touch darker. At its best, it looks fantastic, while at its worst it’s much better than the previous release.
It’s worth nothing that it appears that the image was opened up on all sides on this release, showing more in all directions. The aspect ratio (listed on the box as 1.85:1) seems to be the same between then two, but the framing seems better on the new transfer.
The audio is hardly as impressive, still living mainly in the front channel, while the sides and rear serve up some light atmospheric sound and some music enhancement. When C.C. sings, you get an echo in the surrounds, but for the most part, including a DTS track feels like overkill, because it hardly does a thing. There’s nothing problematic about what’s there, but it’s just sort of there,
Cutting to the chase, everything from the 2005 special edition DVD is included here, but there are no new bonus features.
The big extra is a feature-length audio commentary by director Garry Marshall. Unfortunately, this breaks my rule that all audio commentary tracks from Marshall must be done by Paul F. Tompkins in character, but that’s just the way it is. The man behind some of the biggest sitcoms ever, as well as most of the best “chick flicks,” Marshall’s commentaries are like sitting at your grandfather’s feet and listening to him tell a story. There’s some good detail shared here, along with some meandering asides, and Marshall shares it all in his usual entertaining style.
Now better known for her second-showbiz-life on the mega-popular sitcom The Big Bangt Theory, Miyam Bialik gets the chance to reminisce about the film in “Miyam Remembers Beaches”, sitting down to talk about her experiences in making the film. The 12-minute featurette covers her role in quite some depth, and is an interesting look at what being a child actor is like.
Tribute is paid to Midler’s musical contributions to the film with an extremely short clip from the “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs” retrospective, which put “Wind Beneath My Wings” at No. 44. (Probably-not-very-interesting personal note: I danced to this song with my mother at my wedding reception.) Her Grammy-winning hit gets a longer look with the song’s music video, which was shot in artistic black and white. The song is a classic pop ballad, though the video is a bit bland, even by ballad standards. It’s still a nice addition to the disc.
A few other bits and pieces of Beaches memories are included to round out the package. Hershey’s screen tests with Midler are interesting to see, as you can get an idea about why she was chosen to star as Hillary, but nothing you’ll watch again. A seven-minute faux trailer, made from blooper reel footage for the film’s wrap party, a Marshal standard, is included as well. The main thing you can take from this item is just how filthy Midler’s mouth really is. It’s worth a look as there are some real laughs. There’s also the film’s theatrical trailer, which stands as an example of how far the art of previews has come.
The Bottom Line
Beaches is a true classic at this point, the kind of weepy movie a gal likes to curl up with on a rainy Sunday for the stereotypical “good cry.” It’s hardly worth debating the quality of the filmmaking, as it’s secondary to the emotions involved for fans of this flick. This Blu-Ray is a considerable improvement in terms of the visual quality, and though there are no changes in the contents from the now 7-year-old DVD, it offers a decent package of extras, thanks largely to Marshall’s commentary. If you’re a fan and you’ve never owned Beaches there’s not likely to be a better version down the line at this point.