Thelma & Louise
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Two women, a turquoise Thunderbird, the ride of a lifetime. With this pop-culture landmark, screenwriter Callie Khouri and action auteur Ridley Scott rewrote the rules of the road movie, telling the story of two best friends who find themselves transformed into accidental fugitives during a weekend getaway gone wrong—leading them on a high-speed Southwest odyssey as they elude police and discover freedom on their own terms. Propelled by irresistible performances from Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (plus Brad Pitt in a sexy, star-making turn)—and nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one for Khouri—the exhilaratingly cathartic Thelma & Louise stands as cinema’s ultimate ode to ride-or-die female friendship.
The Criterion Collection presents Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise on 4K UHD in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 with Dolby Vision on a triple-layer disc. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the 35mm original camera negative. The release (which comes in a 3-disc digipak) also includes two additional standard Blu-rays: one presenting a 1080p film presentation alongside a handful of new features, the other presenting archival features alongside one new one.
In all, I was thrilled with how this turned out. It’s a very sharp, clean presentation, delivering excellent detail levels and a healthy-looking grain. It’s rendered well, though looking at a few of the SDR screen captures I took, there are signs that some filtering or management has been done here and there, but I can’t say that it ever translated negatively to the screen in any way. It looks very sharp and crisp throughout.
There have been comments online about the film’s colors receiving a "teal" push, drawing the ire of some, but I’m genuinely puzzled how anyone could come to that conclusion with this presentation because I see no sign of that being the case. The colors do lean “cool” during several sequences, with blue being a dominant color in the film (outfits, Louise’s Thunderbird, various objects, and so on). The image can go bluer during darker interiors and some exteriors, almost monochromatic here and there. Still, it looks like the effect is being created through lighting much of the time, with other light sources breaking through. The picture then gets hotter and bolder during the desert sequences in the last portion of the film, with filters clearly being used in some shots (usually against the skyline). Outside of some of those interior shots, white looks white, skin tones look natural (warmer in the last portion), and the colors in many of the film’s shots of the open landscape look gorgeous, with big white clouds, a stunning blue sky, red sand, and, periodically, lush green vegetation. And while I can’t say if the colors are “correct” or 100% how they appeared when it initially screened, it all looks outstanding. There’s nothing “teal” about this, nothing about it that resembles other MGM 4K restorations.
(If anyone wants to see “teal,” check out the version streaming on Amazon Prime. That’s teal, where even the light bouncing off the windshield looks green. It’s garbage, and what is presented here comes nowhere near that.)
Dolby Vision and HDR also give the image a sharp kick, pulling out the details in the darker bar scenes (capturing that smoke wonderfully) and then doing wonders with the nighttime shots through Monument Valley. Highlights look perfect, like the light reflecting off of that beat-up Thunderbird, for example. The broader range also allows for some stunning moments, like the final shots of the two in the car, with the hot, bright landscape in the background and the shadows on their faces in the foreground. Blacks are also rich and deep without ever crushing out detail. It looks terrific.
Throw in a spotless restoration, and this looks just fabulous. The film has only existed on dated, beat-up masters before this, and despite it not being that old, it’s incredible how much better the film can look with an updated restoration. It looks stunning.
The disc comes with a 5.1 surround soundtrack presented in DTS-HD MA. Considering the year of its release, the film was likely released with a 2.0 surround soundtrack, meaning this is a remix (notes online suggest that as well). I think I noticed some splits in the rear channels regarding the score and some of the more action-focused scenes, but I can’t say anything stood out in a negative way or felt off. The lower frequency was also used to a nice effect, especially when it comes to the film’s soundtrack and one sequence where a tanker explodes.
Range sounds great, with some strong highs without distortion, and voices feature superb range and fidelity. It was a very effective presentation.
Criterion puts together a solid special edition for the film, appearing to have carried over all of the previous archival features while adding a few new ones. First is Ridley Scott’s 1996 audio commentary for the film. Like most of his tracks, it ends up being very technical. Scott shows little interest in getting into themes and character outside of a moment where he explains how he viewed their relationship when structuring the film. He also doesn’t get into its release (outside of talking about its Oscar nominations), instead focusing on the background of the project, how he eventually came to be involved, the casting process, and then finding locations, all the while talking about specific scenes and his “visual language.” He tried to do a lot of editing in camera (at least where it worked) by moving the camera appropriately during longer dialogue sequences, and he explains how and why he changed how the characters and the film look as it gets closer to its ending. I also rather enjoyed his comments on capturing the American landscape, which, as a Brit, he finds just stunning. He tried to work from that outsider's perspective to capture the beauty of what he feels most Americans find uninteresting or ugly, and I’d say he was successful.
The second commentary track—featuring actors Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and screenwriter Callie Khouri—proves to be a little disappointing at first but thankfully picks up. Khouri, who does comment on writing the script, getting it sold, and her concerns about how it was adapted, ends up taking more of a backseat to Sarandon and Davis, who spend the early portions of the track talking about coming on to the film, developing their characters (Khouri having written out backstories for each one), and what it was like constantly shooting in the desert in that car day after day (they say they were absolutely filthy at the end of every day).
As fine as that all is, the track initially feels like we’re just listening in on a group of people watching the film, commenting here and there as they go down memory lane, and I wasn’t all that engaged with it, to be honest. Eventually, the three discuss the film’s release and the controversies it stirred, all of which they still don’t understand, particularly Khouri, who was shocked at several criticisms lobbed at the film, especially that it was “man-hating.” This is where the conversation picks up and becomes engaging, and from there, the three seem to find a rhythm, and the rest of the track moves at a better pace.
The commentaries appear alongside the film on the 4K disc and the first standard Blu-ray disc.
The remaining features then start on the first standard Blu-ray disc with a section devoted to director Ridley Scott entitled Ridley Scott: Beginnings. A new 22-minute interview between Scott and critic Scott Foundas opens things up. Scott spends most of it talking about his background and his long journey to becoming a filmmaker, including stops as a graphic designer and an advertisement director. There are comments about Thelma & Louise, but the discussion is more about becoming a filmmaker and applying the sensibilities he picked up from previous work and careers to making a film.
To accompany this, Criterion also includes one of his Guinness advertisements, entitled Ploughman (about as working-class British an ad campaign as I could imagine), alongside his first film from 1965, the 27-minute experimental short entitled Boy and Bicycle. The film isn’t as concerned about narrative as it is with technique and “learning the ropes,” so to speak. Still, the basic premise revolves around a schoolboy (played by Ridley’s brother, Tony) skipping school and taking his bike to various locations, from local shops to an empty carnival and the beach. Along the way, we hear his voice-over narration commenting on what he sees and struggling with his existence and purpose. More or less, anyways. Ultimately, I can’t say it matters much. Scott is using the film to figure out how to tell this character-driven story visually through camera positioning (like an early POV shot where the main character approaches a mirror) and editing (the back and forth of a dog chasing him on his bike for example), so everything else takes a backseat. It’s interesting to watch on a technical level but not so much as a narrative feature, as the character’s narration isn’t all that interesting or insightful. Still a great inclusion on Criterion’s part, though. (The film can also be found on BFI’s all-region Blu-ray edition of Tony Scott’s Loving Memory.)
Criterion has also managed to get a new interview with writer Callie Khouri, who first talks about writing the script and then getting it to people who could get to others in Hollywood, though with the original intention for her to direct (it sounds like she imagined it as some small budget indie picture). She gets a bit more into writing the story here than she does in the commentary, going over how she had key moments planned but then just had to work through how to get to them. She also talks more about her concerns around the film’s ending being changed (it’s clear she was incredibly stressed about that, though Scott elsewhere on the disc mentions he purposefully avoided the studio around the ending) and then the adverse reactions to the film that she is still shocked and confused by (she was also horrified when audiences reacted positively to the rapist’s death). She also gets a little into her career afterward, including the script for Something to Talk About (a title she still hates), making this a far more satisfying contribution from her than the commentary.
The remaining features are found on the next dual-layer Blu-ray and are primarily archival. That includes the 2001 one-hour making-of Thelma & Louise: The Last Journey, which is divided into three parts with the option to watch the parts altogether. Featuring interviews with Scott, Khouri, Sarandon, Davis, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, John Beghe, Brad Pitt, and other members of the cast and crew, it’s similar to other MGM-produced making-of featurettes of the era, thoroughly covering the film’s production from inception to eventual release. It covers many of the same details about the production brought up elsewhere in the previous features. However, it is still great to get the perspectives of others involved, including Pitt, who goes over his star-making appearance (and it’s a bit insane to think he got it because some other poor soul dropped out). There is also mention of deleted scenes, including an extended love scene between Pitt and Davis, and there are a few more comments around the film’s release.
The disc also features the original 5-minute theatrical featurette from 1991, which features cast and crew talking about the film, but it’s clearly promotional and not terribly insightful. Following it are extended and deleted scenes. The extended scenes are just that, a collection of scenes that do exist in the film but edited differently with more material, including the scenes between Madsen and Sarandon and then Pitt and Davis in their respective hotel rooms (though this doesn’t include the extended love scene brought up in the making-of). This section also consists of the extended ending, which essentially plays out the same but shows more of the aftermath, all of which is edited to B.B. King’s Better Not Look Down (appropriately enough). The ending is mentioned a few times throughout the features (including Scott’s commentary for the alternate scene, which is presented after the scene plays out here), and why it was decided to cut it down to how it plays out in the finished film; ultimately the still shot the film closes on is far more positive than what follows.
The deleted scenes (10 of them running for 14 minutes) are fun, though they were rightfully cut. Madsen’s police interrogation is here (he’s approached in the finished film, but that’s the last we see of him), as is a look into Keitel’s character’s home life. Funny enough, Keitel’s wife is played by the one and only Catherine Keener!
There is also a section devoted to the storyboards for the film’s finale, which are shown here in a slideshow format, ported over from the previous editions. But Criterion also adds a new 6-minute interview with Scott talking to Scott Foundas about how he storyboards his films and figures out the geometry and placement within a scene, all while the two watch the ending on a laptop. Interestingly, they got the final shot in a single take, even though they had multiple cars ready, which Foundas finds impressive since the scene is, as he states, one of the most iconic ones ever filmed.
The disc then closes with some standards: a collection of trailers and TV spots (one of which I’m sure is a home video trailer), and then a music video for Glenn Frey’s “Part of Me, Part of You” which plays out more like an ad for the film. The release also includes a 32-page booklet featuring essays by Jessica Kiang, Rachel Syme, and Rebecca Trasiter, all looking at the film from multiple perspectives, including the performances of the film’s leads and its legacy.
The release packs in a good set of extras, though the lack of any academic material or new interviews with the film’s two leads proves unfortunate. Still, the features cover the film’s production and legacy to a solid extent, with a nice look into the early career of director Ridley Scott.
With its sharp new 4K presentation and a new collection of features going over director Ridley Scott’s early career, this release comes with a straightforward recommendation.