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Thelma and Louise: Special Edition

MGM Home Video

Starring Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel,
Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky,
and Brad Pitt

Written by Callie Khouri
Directed by Ridley Scott

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

"The sociological ramifications and having to defend the movie and all that happened later, that wasn't on our mind at all. We were just singing and dancing and carrying on — some kind of insane renegade troupe following Ridley around to sunrises and sunsets."

— Susan Sarandon, on the making of
Thelma and Louise

It was a lark, a terrific script with great roles for two women. It was, as Thelma and Louise star Susan Sarandon puts it, "A cowboy movie with trucks instead of horses and gals instead of guys." Yet Ridley Scott's 1991 film became so much more than that — lauded in international media, celebrated as "empowering" for its portrayal of women, reviled as "man-bashing" in its violence, and deconstructed in countless papers for college Women's Studies courses. What the heck was all the fuss about, anyway?

One shooting (of a rapist), one robbery of a mom-and-pop grocery, a cop locked in the trunk of his car, and one blown-up oil tanker. This is the extent of the violence in Thelma and Louise, yet the uproar over this ostensibly violent, male-hating film was, at the time of the movie's release, almost deafening. The story of two women whose vacation goes very bad, very quickly, it struck distinctive chords in men and women, feminists and conservatives, and their reactions said far more about the state of Western attitudes towards women than about Scott's little two-hour film. Women found the film uplifting and inspiring; many men, however, found the idea of gun-toting women with attitude so unnerving as to deride the movie as a manifesto against their entire gender.

Looking at the film over a decade after its release, both those views seem more than little extreme. It's still a good movie, and it holds up well. The lead actresses, Sarandon (as Louise) and Geena Davis (Thelma), have an undeniable chemistry that makes the unfolding tragedy feel deeply personal — like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, the pair's road trip takes them ever-closer to their inevitable end, and the story becomes all the more gripping because there doesn't appear to be any alternative to their ultimate destiny.

Above all, it's a fable about epic friendship. Thelma bails on her jerk husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), to go away for a few days with Louise to a mountain cabin. Stopping for a few drinks at a roadhouse, Thelma ends up in the parking lot, drunk, with a lout who refuses to take no for an answer. Louise pulls a gun on him, stopping him from raping Thelma, but when the guy mouths off she shoots him in the chest. In a panic, the pair take off on a sort of John Ford-meets-Sam Peckinpah drive across a lot of very picturesque landscape, shedding makeup and inhibitions as they're pursued by a compassionate cop (Harvey Keitel) and an FBI agent (Stephen Tobolowsky).

The film works so well because of the complex interaction between the two women — but that's also what makes the story occasionally frustrating. Louise is a strong woman, wound just a little too tight, trying her best to manage a situation that's spun out of control because her best friend is, frankly, a total dumbass. One doesn't want to blame Thelma for almost getting herself raped, but what the hell was she thinking? Then later, she romps with a sexy hitchhiker that she was supposed to have sent away. Yes, he's Brad Pitt, and yes, with his big blue eyes and washboard abs he's very, very hot. But he's also a robber and a total stranger — a roll in the hay is one thing, but leaving him alone in the motel room with all their money? Not since the old man lost all of Jimmy Stewart's cash in It's a Wonderful Life has anyone deserved to have their ass kicked so hard and so swiftly.

But that's the bottom line of the story — Thelma is a dumbass where men are concerned, and Louise is a dumbass where Thelma is concerned. Because life is like that, isn't it? Women screw up their lives over men and then help each other pick up the pieces. Taken to extremes, the story tells us, it can also lead to armed robbery and exploding tanker trucks. Which is why, one must suppose, so many men were alarmed by the film when it hit theaters. If women start figuring out how pissed off they are, well, the next thing you know they'll be shooting guys for pulling their panties down without permission and blowing up their cars just because they made that adorable little jerking-off gesture as a sign of affection. It's not unlike the hoopla over Fatal Attraction, really. Strong women are scary! And violent! Because they obviously hate men! (Yes, it sounds very silly — but try telling that to Tom Leykis and Michael Savage.)

Putting aside the socio-political implications, Thelma and Louise actually holds up remarkably well after all this time. It's often very funny — as when the FBI agent advises Darryl to "just be gentle. You know, like you're really happy to hear from her? Like you really miss her. Women love that shit" — and simply gorgeous to look at. Scott, a British ex-adman, uses his camera to soak up as much American landscape as he can get on film (Utah and Colorado stood in for Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona) and, frankly, the man has never met a panorama that he didn't love. What becomes almost funny is the tendency towards truck overkill; in the first hour of the film, there doesn't appear to be a single outdoor shot that doesn't have at least one giant semi roll through it, and many scenes are literally crowded with big rigs. If two characters are talking near a window, a truck will drive past the window during the scene — Ridley Scott's America, it would appear, is populated by at least one 18-wheeler for every three passenger cars.

Like all of Scott's films, Thelma and Louise at times feels overlong and bloated. Running 135 minutes, there's plenty of trimming that could have been done — but compared to, say, Gladiator or Hannibal, it's positively lean. It also, unfortunately, remains unique as a movie about grown women having an adventure that isn't about the men in their lives. Despite all the fuss over it when it was released, little has changed — a decade later, females in Hollywood movies are still predominantly girlfriends, wives, or victims. So much for your sociological phenomenon.

*          *          *

MGM Home Video's "special edition" DVD of Thelma and Louise is a nice package, offering a brand-new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that's rich and very, very clean. There's the occasional bit of dust or minor scratch, but for a ten-year-old movie this is an impressive presentation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is sharp and equally clean; technophiles who love those big, booming Ridley Scott soundtracks may be disappointed, though — Black Hawk Downthis ain't.

Extras include two audio commentaries, one from director Ridley Scott and another with actresses Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and screenwriter Callie Khouri (the Scott track was recorded for the previous DVD release; the one with Sarandon, Davis, and Khouri is new). Scott's track is similar to what he's provided for his other films; there's a lot about technical details, props, locations, quality of light, etc. The women's track is a hoot, entertaining and informative. The three obviously have a great love for the film and recall an astonishing amount of trivia, anecdotes, and factoids about the making of the movie a decade ago.

There's also an extended ending (with optional commentary from Scott) which was shortened because Scott seems to believe that the ending as it stands is more uplifting (!) than this alternate version. There's also extended versions of scenes, 16 in all.

On the flip side of the disc, there's the promotional featurette made for the film's original release; this is only five minutes long and pretty useless. On the other hand, the 45-minute "Thelma and Louise: The Last Journey" featurette, produced for this DVD release, is mighty impressive. Split into three segments, ("Conception & Casting", "Production & Performance," and "Reaction & Resonance"), principals like Khouri, Scott, Sarandon, Davis, composer Hans Zimmer, and producer Mimi Polk Gitlin talk about every aspect of the film's production. It goes much deeper than most "behind-the-scenes" featurettes, exploring everything from the film's genesis — Khouri originally wanted to make the film herself as a low-budget indie, with Frances McDormand and Holly Hunter in the lead roles — to the very collaborative process of making the picture. Scott discusses old westerns, Davis marvels that they ended up on the cover of Time magazine, and both Sarandon and Davis put the post-release hysteria into perspective. Sarandon: "We kind of backed into a territory held by white heterosexual males, and we had no idea it would cause such a stir." Davis: "I think if you have a problem with the men in the movie then you're probably identifying with the wrong character."

Also on board are multi-angle storyboard comparisons, an extensive photo gallery divided into 12 sections, the theatrical trailer and trailer for the original VHS release, a silly music video by Glenn Frey, and a trailer for Hannibal, all in a keep-case that comes in a rather superfluous cardboard sleeve.

— Dawn Taylor

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