Title: Death Becomes Her
HTS Overall Score:
I had completely forgotten about Roberg Zemeckis’ “Death Becomes Her” until I saw the press release from Shout Factory. I vaguely remembered it from my childhood from the old VHS pile my parents had, but until I popped the disc in I had almost completely forgotten it. It was a sense of surrealism as I knew it was Robert Zemeckis at the helm, but was completely unprepared from the dark comedy/fantasy film that help little teensy grasps on my memory. We always like to think about growing old and dying as a curse, and the search for eternal youth has been chronicled in many different mediums over the years. Usually with disastrous results as the humans find out the associated costs with said immortality. “Death Becomes Her” crafts a fun little tale of just such an experience, but with a decidedly odd twist as we have cat fights between two rivals in love, a mysterious potion and a darkly comedic flair that will have you giggling the whole time.
Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) and Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) are madly in love but there is a slight hint of nervousness in Helen’s armor. She’s always felt inferior to her childhood friend and stage actress, Madeline Ashton. Hoping to assuage those fears she takes Ernest to one of Madeline’s plays only to find out the curse is real. No matter WHO she has in her life, Madeline manages to steal her main away from her. The film fast forward 7 years and we see Helen immensely overweight and living with her cats. Sent to a mental institution she comes up with a brilliant idea. Fast forward 7 more years and we get to see what the last 14 years have done toe Ernest and Madeline. Madeline’s acting career is winding down as her face ages and Ernest is no longer the brilliant surgeon, but relegated to being a touch up artist for funerals. The guy you call to make the deceased look peaceful and serene in the casket. Their marriage is a complete and utter shambles with Madeline acting the aging shrew, while Ernest drinks himself to sleep every night and wishes he could just get rid of her.
In the blink of an eye, Helen comes back into the picture looking like an absolute bombshell. Her body is that of a much younger woman and all that immense pity weight she put on has vanished. Filled with jealous rage, Madeline sees Helen trying to insinuate herself in between the married couple and seeing her own approaching mortality ends up going to a specialist that her plastic surgeon recommended. Little does she know that this “specialist” is in fact a mystical woman who has at her disposal a magic potion that can reverse aging and stop it dead in its tracks….forever. Taking the potion, Madeline is transformed into her younger self. Stronger, more beautiful, and without the aging signs that plagued her recently. Coming home she finds out that Helen and Ernest have been planning to murder her, only for them to find out that Madeline is NOT the same woman she once was. However, neither is Helen, and the two catty broads slice and dice their way into the realization that the promise of immortality left out a few small details in the brochure.
Right about this time is when we get to see ILM’s fantastic visual effects come into play once the two girls find out that immortality doesn’t come with perfection in the bodies (which is actually a bit counter to what was sold to them to begin with, and doesn’t make sense since the mystic who GIVES them the potion doesn’t seem to have these issues). Helen gets a hole blown through her thanks to Madeline, and Madeline has to deal with broken bones, limbs and the like combined with the realization that the potion not only stopped time, but actually makes them DEAD in the process. Their heart stops, their pain centers stop, the whole gambit. Here is actually where I had a bit of an issue with the script. It doesn’t make an effort to let the audience KNOW where the disparity comes from. The potion giving benefactor and ALL the other clients of hers seem to be doing fantastic, yet Helen and Madeline seem to suffer from all sorts of maintenance issues that the others aren’t suffering from. Are they special? Are they just getting in more trouble than the rest? The potion was sold as keeping their looks for all eternity, but the two are turning blue and pallid, not to mention dealing with the issue of LITERALLY being almost taped together by the end of the film. It’s just kind of weird and off putting.
The three stars are really what make the film though. Goldie and Meryl do a fantastic job at being two gorgeous aging women who engage in some incredibly fun cattiness. Their devilishness is laughably hysterical and almost to the point of melodrama. While they were having a ball with their roles, Willis steals the show as the actual HERO of the movie. Kind of mousy and a milk toast character at first, his transformation in the third act is a blast to watch. The movie itself has its fair share of issues though, mainly with the third act being rushed and some of the finer points glossed over as the two women’s rivalry is brought to the forefront and then swept under the rug (deliciously so though if you watch the ending).
Rated PG-13 for some nudity and off-color humor
“Death Becomes Her” was taken from a print in Universal’s vault and has varying degrees of quality in the 1.85:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray. From the grapevine and several online sources it seems that the print was taken from several different sources that Universal had on hand before it got in its final stage, and that is where some of the “issues” come from. What makes “Death Becomes Her” so famous is the fact that it is a film LOADED with special effects from a very young Industrial Light and Magic. Special effects that still hold up incredibly well today. The famous shotgun hole in Goldie Hawn’s body, the necks twisting and other such instances of digital trickery actually don’t look bad in any ways shape or form. I’ve seen films 10 years newer than this one look many times worse with an incredibly heightened budget. Fine detailing is good for the most part, but when the digital effects come into play the image is noticeably softened and grain levels get boosted a tad... It's kind of weird but the grain ACTUALLY looks like digital noise at times, but at other times looks cleaner and more natural.. Black levels are decent with solid detailing at times, but sadly the transfer is just not top tier, as much as I'd like a movie from the 90's to be.
Scream Factory has decided that we get the original 2.0 track in DTS-HD MA lossless as well las the remixed 5.1 experience in the same lossless format. Honestly I don’t think either is a bad choice. The 5.1 track is a bit more immersive with decent surround support and a heavier low end, but the 2.0 is no slouch either. Dialog is strong and consistent with either one and there are several moments of action that allow for great use of panning effects in the front sound stage. The LFE is a bit softer but still very effective, adding some power to the fight scene in the mansion as well as the imagined murder sequence that make up a majority of the more robust bits.
• The Making of "Death Becomes Her"
• Vintage Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
“Death Becomes Her” is a fun trip down memory lane, especially if you have a penchant for witty banter and cat fights between two gorgeous women. While Zemeckis has always had a lot of high profile releases, “Death Becomes Her” is one of his long lost films that just doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as “Back to the Future”, “Forest Gump”, or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. It’s one of the more fantasy driven pieces of work from the eclectic director and also one that has a nasty bite underneath the light hearted surface comedy. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn have a blast with the roles and Bruce Willis is the star of the movie, playing a very mousy character that seems to really clash with his normal tough guy roles. Definitely a fun watch.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Studio: Scream Factory
Runtime: 103 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 26th 2016
Buy Death Becomes Her Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Fun Watch
More about Mike