At long last, we’ve received the two greatest films of the 80’s on DVD. Finally. Ok, maybe not the greatest films – they’re ok at best – but this is the first time they’ve been released on DVD. Wait, that’s not true either. Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna’s sixth best movie, hit the streets on DVD in 2000. And Something Wild, one of the answers to “what was Johnathan Demme doing before Silence of the Lambs?” has been available since 2001.
So what’s special about this Totally Awesome 80s Double Feature? Shelf space. You can fit two films in one spot, thanks to MGM’s efficient packaging.
If you’re not already sold, how about I lay down a couple of plot summaries to whet your appetite? Desperately Seeking Susan is about a bored housewife (Rosanna Arquette, The Whole Nine Yards) who gets amnesia and is mistaken for a wild and crazy drifter (Madonna, Evita), who just happens to be caught up in some bad business, having stolen some priceless Egyptian earrings from some guy she slept with. Now he’s dead, and the killer is looking for her. Or her. Wait, who’s who?
As for Something Wild, it’s by far the more sophisticated of the two films. Jeff Daniels stars as Charlie Driggs, a soft executive and clost rebel who gets “kidnapped” by Lulu (Melanie Griffith, Working Girl) a wild and crazy – here we go again – woman, who leads him on a weekend of pleasure and excitement. Things take a bad turn, though, when Lulu’s ex-boyfriend, Ray, shows up, fresh out of prison. Ray takes Lulu by force, and Charlie has to put everything on the line to save her, and prove who he is once and for all.
I hadn’t seen either film before the Totally Awesome 80s crossed my path. While they’re both enjoyable, Desperately Seeking Susan is too contrived to make a real impact, and too 80s to be worth watching 20 years later. Something Wild is different. While there’s no question it’s a product of the 80’s, it also has a much more timeless appeal, and the story still seems fresh in 2007. Daniels and Griffith are well-cast, and an entirely convincing duo.
My preference for Demme’s film over Susan Seidelman’s. After all, Demme went on to make Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. Seidelman? IMDB says Cookie. Excuse me while I get some milk.
Both films are presented on single discs, making this a two-disc set. Desperately Seeking Susan is on a double-sided disc, with 16×9 widescreen on one side and 1.33:1 fullscreen on the other. Let’s talk about the the widescreen transfer, which is surprisingly good for this vintage. The transfer is nice and clean, with very few trouble spots, colours are pretty bright and the picture is sharp enough for the finer details. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than good enough.
Something Wild sports only a 1.78:1 widescreen treatment. It’s not quite as polished as Susan, but it still looks pretty good for its age. Black levels, colours and sharpness are all fine in most of the scenes, but there are unfortunately some issues with a few of the light, outdoor scenes, which appear grainy and washed out. It’s not enough to detract from your enjoyment, but a keen eye won’t miss it.
Desperately Seeking Susan says, “behold, the glory of mono!” The sound treatment is about as good as it could be, I suppose, with clearly audible dialogue and all. But an 80’s pop soundtrack chock full of Madonna numbers is bad enough in good stereo, let alone in the flat form of mono in 2.0. Audio is also available in German and French, with subtitles in English and Spanish.
Demme’s picture fights back on the aural front, with a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the film’s score, courtesy of the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, sounds more full. That’s good news, because the jazz-infused score is several notches above Susan’s. Still, don’t expect anything too special from this track, as we’re still talking stereo, not surround.
It may be the weaker film, but Desperately Seeking Susan knocks Something Wild flat in the extras department. Where the latter offers only a theatrical trailer, the former comes with an alternate ending and an audio commentary by the director, two producers and a studio exec.
The alternate ending to Desperately Seeking Susan, while poor in film quality – it was taken from the director’s private collection – is worth checking out. It’s essentially an extended finish, with about five extra minutes of footage. The theatrical version is definitely tighter, but it’s nice to see what might have been.
As for the commentary, I expected four women to do a lot of chatting and not a lot of informative discussing. I was pleasantly surprised, though, as the track offers quite a lot of interesting material, including plenty of talk about changes they made and alternatives explored.
If you’re into the awesome 80s, this MGM release represents pretty good value. You get two films in one package, and while one is definitely better than the other, both have received solid DVD treatment for video and audio. Can’t say the same for the special features, but hey, this 80s Double Feature only claims to be “awesome,” not spectacular.