It hasn’t quite been four months since A Star is Born was released on Blu-ray and 4K and already we have a new release, only this time the film is about 11 minutes longer. For some this might seem like a double dip, while others this is exactly what fans of the film have wanted. For me, I’ve always been a fan of extended cuts of films where we get to see how certain deleted scenes actually fit in the film. Sometimes the extended cuts of films can improve the experience. The Lord of the Rings series is one set that comes to mind. As for A Star is Born, does it breathe new life into the Oscar-nominated film, or does it drag it down?
When I first heard that Bradley Cooper would be making his directing debut with A Star is Born, honestly I kind of groaned. It’s not because I didn’t believe he’d have the chops; after all, he’s worked with many successful directors over the span of his career. I groaned because I believed the world didn’t need yet another remake of the film. This will be the fourth incarnation of the film, and while many can debate on which version is their favorite, the film was pretty much a relic I felt should have stayed in the past. I mention this and want to also put out there even after some of the trailers I had caught for the film; my excitement level was pretty low going into this. Well, this turned out to be the sleeper hit of the year for me. Sure, many could have told me this would be a hit, and because of the cast I wouldn’t dispute it, but when I walked out of the auditorium I felt like I had experienced something special (even if it had been made three times before).
As the film opens up with Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) taking the stage and performing for a large crowd. After his show he’s looking to get a drink and stops off at the closest bar. As it turns out, it is one that caters to drag queens. Jackson doesn’t care about the location; all he’s interested in is getting some drinks, but that all changes when he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform on stage. As the night stretches on and the two continue to get to know one another, one thing is undeniable; the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is phenomenal. The flow of the first act of this film is perfect, and by the time Maine has Ally convinced to go on tour with him, I was convinced this movie would be a box office smash.
The way Cooper handles this performance is a bit unexpected. Maine is a really likeable guy, but his alcoholism and his pill addiction are definitely flaws that take him and his relationship along with his career to some dark places. But Ally remains his saving grace and manages to pull him back up every time he stumbles. To a degree this role somewhat reminds me of Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, but what Cooper manages to pull off here is definitely a career high, and most likely a performance that will get him a few nominations. As for his unique voice he uses in the film, well, it’s an amusing nod to his older brother Bobby (Sam Elliot), who is somewhere between Jackson’s manager and the one who fixes all of Jackson’s messes. Elliot is great as usual, and seeing him and Cooper play off one another is one of the high points of the film.
Then there is Lady Gaga. She’s had some bit parts in TV and film, but she’s never really had that chance to really put it all out there. Like the character she plays, Gaga as we know is a singer and songwriter, so you’d think this would be a simple performance for her. Make no mistake; this is a performance that shows us that she is the real deal, and her acting is almost as good as her voice (in case you didn’t know, she has an amazing voice). As we see Ally develop over the course of the film, we see her evolve from the shy, talented girl to a pop star, but it’s the in-between moments as her relationship weaves through the highs and lows that she shines.
One of the additions to the film that I feel helps with the story is that we get a little more understanding of what Jackson is going through in regards to his tinnitus. This is one of those big things the character is going through that we just didn’t get enough of in the first version, and when we go back to hearing things how Jackson does, well, it makes it easier to empathize with this character. Another addition I enjoyed seeing were the little extra bits we get when Jackson is with his friend, Noodles (Dave Chappelle).
My only major complaint about this version of the film is that it’s too long. This is one of those examples of where getting more of the film somehow cheapens the experience. Certain moments do feel a bit too long. I wouldn’t say the film over stays its welcome, but it does make the slight difference from making this a great film. It’s like eating one too many slices of pizza. Sure, it’s good, but you regret it a bit later.
The screenplay, which was penned by Cooper along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters is remarkable. This is a tricky film, as it has a lot to juggle in a runtime of 2 hours and 26 minutes, but the balance between the romance, the alcoholism, and the music is well crafted. The digs at the music industry along with how the characters deal with being a celebrity in the modern age is what keeps this nicely grounded. I’m especially a fan of the bits where we see Jackson growing uneasy as Ally seems to veer away from the music she and he originally were doing together as her management pushes her into a more pop-star image.
One of the more subtle charms of the film is the cinematography. Matthew Libatique is responsible for shooting the film (amusing anecdote: he is also shooting Venom, which has its release the same day as A Star is Born). What I liked most is how intimate the film is, where during the performances instead of playing it safe with wide shots, the camera gets right in close to the performers where we can see the pain and pleasure they are experiencing while performing. Then factor in the performances from the variety of actors that fill out the cast like an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, and a handful of others, you can understand how this should be a critical and box office success. Everything seems to be in the films favor.
The soundtrack has proven to be a chart-topper as well. There are a handful of songs here that are really good and are of the caliber fans have come to expect from Gaga. But the biggest win for the film is how it manages to tell a compelling story without big special effects, and despite having an epic feel to it, it is sweet, intimate and heartfelt. I think the best compliment I can give this film is that it plays like a great album that once it finishes you can’t wait to check it out again. The film has a special kind of replay value that you don’t see often in cinema anymore. This was one of my favorite films of 2018, and I’m glad it’s getting the love that it has. This Encore edition is just a little bit more of the film the fans already love. Sometimes it’s good to indulge yourself in what you love.
A Star is Born is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec with an average of 25 mbps. While this image may not dazzle like the 4K image does, the lighting in this film is still incredible even if it is a bit muted at times. Whether it’s in low light settings or the camera is sweeping in front of the bright concert lights, there is an intimacy to this film that makes you feel as though you are on stage; most of this is thanks to the numerous close-ups during performances.
The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track allows for the most immersive concert-like experience you can get in 5.1. Whether it’s some of the guitar riffs or the crowd cheering just off in the distance, this is one of those experiences that allows you to feel as though you are there. Just as quickly when the film is more intimate in the one-on-one settings, the sound is equally dynamic.
Musical Moments: (35:57) This is the only special feature on the disc which is a little surprising. It basically allows you to skip to the music numbers in the film in case you’re not in the mood to see the actual story around the film.
I’m a little amazed how many times I’ve now seen this film over such a short amount of time. This “encore” edition, though it was nice to see, I personally like the first version we got to see in theaters more, though this edition I know is for the fans who simply want more music and more Lady Gaga, and that’s something I don’t mind with this release. Sure, most fans will look at this as a double dip by the studio, especially since it’s so close to when the previous version came out, but obviously there was an audience for it, and it’s nice to see them giving the fans a little something more.