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Blu-ray Review: Moonstruck (1987)

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The year was 1987. It was a time when movie-going audiences were still taking Cher seriously as an actress (or they were trying to, at least) and had not yet begun to dread the appearance or very mention of a certain up-and-coming young actor named Nicolas Cage. It was also a period in cinematic history wherein the romantic comedy (or “rom-com” as we have come to dub them in recent years) still had a little zest going for it — long before the recipe for such genre titles had become terribly stale and familiar.

Sure, Norman Jewison’s award-winning romantic dramedy Moonstruck may not have benefited from any scenes of John Cusack holding up a boombox in order for it to become a quintessential ‘80s classic with the modern hipsters. To tell you the truth, I wonder if the hipsters of today have even looked at this film. Nevertheless, the movie managed to find an audience of its own (not just the folks at the Academy, mind you) — and is highly appreciated to this day for its fantastic performances, near-legendary story, and the fact that Nic Cage’s forehead hadn’t yet taken over its host organism.

Our story here tells of a Brooklyn bookkeeper in her late-thirties named Loretta Castorini (Cher). Loretta’s hubby was killed in a tragic bus accident several years ago, and she has been living a life of near-isolation ever since with her folks (Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia, who are nothing short of superb here). Although she’s still a young lass as far as the clock is concerned (hey, thirty-some-odd years isn’t that old), Loretta is convinced that she should get married again before she winds up getting any older, to wit she agrees to marry the kind (and middle-aged) Johnny Cammareri (the great Danny Aiello).

She’s also certain that her previous marriage ended badly because of a curse.

OK, so she has some problems. But who doesn’t, eh?

So, anyway, Loretta is determined to make this holy union curse-free by having it be “holy” to start with (he first marriage was performed at City Hall, away from the approving eyes of that omnipotent God) — even though she has no truly genuine feelings for her groom-to-be. With their engagement set in stone, Johnny has to take an unexpected detour over to the old country (Sicily) to attend to his dying mum. He also asks an unusual errand from his betrothed: to invite his estranged younger brother, Ronny, to their wedding.

Once Loretta meets Ronny (Cage), she discovers a bitter and angry young man who works in a bakery and is extremely self-conscious about his disfigured hand (the result of another accident, although not bus-related) but surprisingly untroubled about his gigantic eyebrows (well, he’s Italian and it was the ‘80s, so…). But his broken spirit has awarded him with some thing else — something our wonderful heroine has not had the pleasure of experiencing (or even seeing) in many a struck moon: unbridled passion, torrid romance, and those previous-believed-to-be-mythical feelings old Italian crooners always used to sing about.

This, of course complicates the whole “engagement” thing between Loretta and Johnny.

Aside from its captivating main storyline, Moonstruck also succeeds in doing what so many modern “rom-coms” have failed to do: fill the movie up with interesting and completely-watchable characters! Both Cher and Cage turn in two of optimum roles here (yes, kids, it’s true: Nicolas Cage actually could act at one point in time!), while the supporting actors (Dukakis, Gardenia, Aiello, and Frasier’s own John Mahoney as a womanizing college professor) turn in several delightful experiences of their own. Never once do you attribute these so-called “lesser” characters and their respective performers to actually being “lesser.” Instead, you come to embrace the entire cast with an ever-increasing fondness.

In short: Moonstruck is a triumph. It’s a masterpiece of moviemaking that has stood the test of time (hey, twenty-some-odd isn’t that old, either) and become a much-hailed and respected classic.

So how can one make this movie any better? Well, what about a High-Def presentation? MGM releases another of their catalogue titles in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer and in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (the disc is also Region Free, in case you were wondering). While it has a bit of graininess and signs of some artificial “touching-up” here and there (keep in mind that this was made the film industry still used actual film to capture their stories upon — long before today’s High-Def advancements were put into place), Moonstruck comes across looking better than it ever has before. The color palette is very strong, the black levels are very strong, and the detail and contrast are a lot sharper than they were on any old DVD release.

Accompanying the feature film is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. While the mix does a great job overall (it’s a romantic dramedy, so don’t expect a whole lot of rear speaker action), some of the newly-assembled sound effects and rebuilt music score occasionally tend to overpower the dialogue. Sadly, any purists hoping to watch this film with its original stereo sound will have to make do with the 5.1 DTS-HD audio, unless they are multilingual and wish to watch the film with either one of its other Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtracks, which are available in French and Spanish. Optional English (SDH), French and Spanish subtitles are included with this release.

As is often the case, MGM has gone back to the old DVDs for its selection of special features. Moonstruck’s bonus materials begin with an audio commentary with Cher, director Norman Jewison and writer John Patrick Shanley. The track is a cut-and-paste job: the three were recorded separately and edited together, like many of MGM’s older 007 DVDs. Three featurettes are also included: a behind-the-scenes look at the film (“Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family”), a look at several of Little Italy’s many restaurants (“Pastas to Pastries: The Art of Fine Italian Food”), and composer Dick Hyman tells us a bit about the movie’s Puccini-inspired score (“Music of Moonstruck”). All featurettes are presented in Standard-Definition, while the disc’s final extra, a Theatrical Trailer, is shown in High-Def.

While it may not boast any new supplemental features for established fans of the film to enjoy, MGM has done a pretty durn good job in bringing Moonstruck to Blu-ray (although I would have preferred they use the original theatrical poster art for the cover instead of the Photoshopped front from the Deluxe Edition DVD, wherein they snuck an unconvicing Nic Cage in there). Better still, this catalogue title carries a pretty reasonable price tag that makes upgrading from SD-DVD easier.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.