Notting Hill: Ultimate Edition
Universal Studios Home Video
Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville,
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Review by Betsy Bozdech
"I used to go and visit friends who lived on the other side of the river every Thursday, and we had exactly the same meal with exactly the same people. What I'd fancy as I drove across the bridge was what it would be like if you turned up with the most famous girl in the world, and how they'd all react."
Screenwriter Richard Curtis on his inspiration"The fame thing isn't really real, you know. Don't forget I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."
for Notting Hill
Anna Scott to William Thacker, Notting Hill
Shyeah, right. If there's one thing Julia Roberts or her Notting Hill alter ego, Anna Scott isn't, it's "just a girl." Onscreen and off, she's arguably the most famous actress in the world these days, her mane of hair, megawatt smile, and string of box office hits earning her membership in that most exclusive of clubs: the $20 million-per-picture Hollywood créme-de-la-créme. Which is why, when it came to casting this sugary sweet romantic comedy, the folks at Working Title Films had a wish list with one name on it: hers.
And who better to play opposite America's favorite pretty woman than England's floppy-haired prodigal son? The part of William Thacker, Anna's unassuming, book-store-owning love interest, was literally tailor-made for Hugh Grant by screenwriter Richard Curtis, who was responsible for turning Liz Hurley's ex into a heartthrob in the first place with Four Weddings and a Funeral. Divine Brown or no Divine Brown, there's no one quite as well-equipped to play "boyishly earnest."
So. Girl is cast, boy is cast. Their story begins. Boy meets girl one day when she wanders into his travel book shop in the bustling, adorably eclectic London neighborhood of Notting Hill. Awed to be in the presence of Hollywood's golden girl, boy proceeds to do what he does best: stammer away at her in his sweetly nervous way, trying to play it cool but failing pretty miserably. Then boy dumps orange juice all over her and takes her across the road to his flat so she can clean up, where he does more of his cute babbling shtick until she kisses him (possibly to shut him up?). After posing as a hapless magazine reporter, boy soon finds himself in the unbelievable position of getting to take girl to his sister's birthday dinner, where his friends are properly awestruck.
A few montages, cuddling scenes, and relationship obstacles later, boy and girl get an appropriately perfect ending. And why shouldn't they? They live in movie land, after all, where it's entirely possible that the world's most famous movie star could meet and fall in love with a regular schmoe (albeit one who's adorably floppy). Notting Hill is a modern fairy tale, a twist on the old stories of a handsome prince riding through the village and plucking the poor-but-beautiful goose girl out of the crowd and turning her into a princess. (Of course, the goose girl never had to deal with odd Welsh flatmates or celebrity-crazed paparazzi such is life.)
And as a fairy tale, Notting Hill works. Sure, it's cheesy and not particularly original many of the characters, especially Grant's William, are virtual retreads of Four Weddings' charming gang of Brits but it's sweet and entertaining, and it fulfills the "happily ever after" requirement as well as any Disney cartoon.
And, to give the film credit, it does make attempts to do a little more in its allotted two hours. Director Roger Michell mixes a couple of truly ambitious shots in with the more standard stuff William's walk down Portobello Road amidst the changing seasons is particularly impressive. And Roberts and Grant, both playing people who are virtually identical to the way the public perceives them in real life, get the chance to comment on (and lightly mock) their reputations. When William's friend Max describes him as a man who "used to be kind of handsome, now kind of squidgy around the edges," Grant smiles ruefully the comment could just as easily be made about him, and he knows it. And when Anna admits to plastic surgery and delivers her "it's hard to be a movie star" speeches at the dinner party and at William's flat, it's obviously a very self-aware brand of acting. When she goes ballistic on William after the press discovers her at his flat, it's refreshing to see the Perfect Woman having a hissy fit; this is a gal who's willing to admit she has a bit of a darker side. (Run, William, run!)
In the end, Notting Hill isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Who wouldn't like living in that world? A great place to live; a set of witty, charming friends; a roommate who's weird but not life-threateningly so. It's a dream, but that's what romantic comedies are for.
The Ultimate Edition
Notting Hill has been released on DVD before, in the form of Universal's single-disc Collector's Edition. This "Ultimate Edition" takes what was already there, repackages it in a snazzy-looking tri-fold plastic case, and adds to it, filling two discs with special features and two versions of the movie. Here's how it breaks down:
- Widescreen: A beautiful anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with crystal-clear 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks (plus French Dolby Surround and English and Spanish subtitles).
- Full-length commentary by Michell, Curtis, and producer Duncan Kenworthy: The same commentary, in which the three chaps discuss the usual making-of issues, can be found on the collector's edition.
- "Spotlight on Location" featurette: New to DVD, the standard behind-the-scenes documentary features interviews with Curtis, Michell, Kenworthy, Roberts, and Grant (15 min.)
- "Seasonal Walk on Portobello Road" featurette: Clocking in at under four minutes, this extra (also new) is a brief look at how the filmmakers set up the memorable seasons-changing-while-William-walks scene.
- Six deleted scenes: Also cribbed from the collector's edition, none of these are better than anything that did make the cut, although the scene in which William tries to tell his parents about Anna was in the film long enough to make the trailer. Many of the dropped bits feature William's grubby flatmate Spike; obviously Michell decided that a little Spike went a long way...
- "Music Highlights" section: Again, this feature, which lets you jump to one of nine song-backed scenes for a sort of music-video approach to scene selection, is taken from the collector's edition. It also appears on both discs in this set.
- Interactive "travel book" guide to the Notting Hill area: Featuring maps, a guide to selected shops and restaurants, and vistors' notes, this is a useful and unique extra, which explains why Universal copied it over from the collector's edition (and plopped it on both "ultimate" discs).
Also here are production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, recommendations for other Universal DVDs, and DVD-ROM features. All of these features are on both discs.
- Full-frame: The 1.33:1 version of the film, with the same audio options, plus the commentary track.
- Hugh Grant's Movie Tips: Also from the previous Collector's Edition, a four-minute collection of observations and witticisms from the Floppy One as he takes a camera crew on a behind-the-scenes tour of the set. Bonus: See Grant's parents visit the set!
- New-to-DVD Music Videos for Elvis Costello's "She" and Shania Twain's "You've Got a Way"
- A five-minute montage of still photographs from the movie; also a new feature for the Ultimate Edition.
- U.S. and international trailers.
The Bottom Line
If you're a sucker for a) Julia Roberts, b) Hugh Grant, c) London, or d) predictable-but-sweet romantic comedies, you probably already love Notting Hill. If that's the case, this Ultimate Edition will be a worthy investment and addition to your DVD collection. If not, or if you already bought the Collector's Edition and aren't a superfan, you can probably pass.
- Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and full-screen (1.33:1)
- Two single-sided, dual-layer discs (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital English 5.1, DTS English 5.1, Dolby Surround French
- English and Spanish subtitles
- Spotlight on Location featurette
- "Seasonal Walk on Portobello Road" featurette
- Commentary with Director Roger Michell, Writer Richard Curtis, and Producer Duncan Kenworthy
- Deleted scenes
- Music highlights
- Hugh Grant's Movie Tips
- Music videos for "She" by Elvis Costello and "You've Got a Way" by Shania Twain
- Interactive travel book
- Still photograph montage
- U.S. and international trailers
- Production notes, cast and filmmaker bios
- Recommended DVDs
- DVD-ROM features (screen savers, wallpapers, script-to-screen, etc.)
- Dual DVD digipak with semi-transparent folding cover
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