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Steel Magniolias: Special Edition

Steel Magnolias was one of those movies that came out, did its job, and then vanished quietly. Revisiting it several years later, one can understand why — the film gets rather bogged down in its various subplots, all rather witless, broadly comic turns. Yet there are several reasons to release Steel Magnolias on DVD — namely, the cast members. Not only has Julia Roberts returned to her ascendancy after a several-year slump, the cast also includes Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis — female forces of nature all — and also Dylan McDermott (now popular thanks to a TV show), Sam Shepherd, and Janine Turner in a small part. Together they represent one of those "dream casts" so prevalant in the '80s, and the film, based on an autobiographical play by one-shot wonder Robert Harling, is designed to show off the campy skills of the female leads — which it does. Based on the short life of a relative of Harling's, it's about a young Southern bride who proceeds to get pregnant despite the risk to her health. The child is born, but the mother dies. Meanwhile, as the seasons come and go, all the surviving women in the town gather at a hair salon and bond through triumphs and heartbreaks. If he had been alive, George Cukor would have directed Steel Magnolias. Instead, somebody hired Herbert Ross, who dutifully goes through the motions, as he does on the audio commentary track included on this disc. Neither the movie nor his gab is scintillating stuff — there are long pauses between some of his comments, just as there are long pauses in the plot, as the various actresses get their "turns." But for an older movie, the DVD has a surprisingly clean anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer (though there is some ambiguity as to whether the film was originally released in a 2.35:1 ratio), while audio is in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Besides the dull, showbizy, and technical Herbert Ross commentary track, there are five very short deleted scenes, a making of featurette, and Georges Delerue's isolated music score (and while we haven't seen the Laserdisc, we suspect that at least some of this material comes from that source). Trailers, textual supplements. Keep case.
—D.K. Holm

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