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DVD Review: Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction on Paramount Home Video

A meaty package for a 15-year-old film that did for the extra-marital affair what Jaws did for swimming.

3.5

Fatal Attraction

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) goes playing in the Meat Packing District with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) when his goody-two-shoes wife (Anne Archer) leaves for the weekend. Not one to be ignored, Alex goes psycho-bitch when the wife returns and Dan ends their affair. Sure, Alex may be little more than a bunny-boiling stalker and James Dearden’s screenplay is rather unconcerned with the details of her psychosis but Fatal Attraction is still notable for Close’s resilient, complex performance. There’s no subtlety to Dearden’s words (“If looks could kill,” “I love animals,” and “I’m a great cook”) though Close creates a history’s worth of bottled-up repression with her every gesture (the twitch of her lips, the deadness of her stare). Director Adrian Lyne is an underrated visualist. Here he does fabulous things with layers and Howard Atherton’s anemic, unnerving soft-lighting, not to mention Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Still, without the film’s original ending (where Alex’s suicide was set to the opera), the musical reference is lost amid the film’s existing, audience-pleasing showdown between jilted fling and courageous wife. Fatal Attraction is less an all-encompassing comment on female desire than it is a startling reminder of Close’s ability to give a physical face to the subtext of one woman’s inner torment. While Alex’s behavior seems possible, Lyne’s fabulous camera crawls and Close’s frozen stares have never been able to fully compensate for Dearden’s shoddy attention to character history.

Image/Sound

Though Paramount’s transfer of Fatal Attraction is not without its fair share of scratches and blemishes, I love that the film still looks like a film. The softness of the film’s visual palette remains unnervingly juxtaposed with the film’s high drama. Sadly, sound design has come a long way since 1987 and Fatal Attraction suffers for that. Less successful than Maurice Jarre’s operatic score is the film’s noticeably flat, unexciting dialogue track and sound mix, which is better served on the disc’s Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track.

Extras

Fatal Attraction’s alternate ending is finally out of the bag and it’s proof positive that a film instantly compromises its artistic integrity when it panders to the whims of test audiences. The original, more anti-climactic ending makes it entirely too easy for Dan Gallagher to acquit himself by giving him a tape with Alex Forrest’s suicidal confession on it. Still, in this more haunting finale, the spectator is forced to sympathize with Alex by watching her lonely death. Adrian Lyne’s audio commentary is a tad redundant after listening to many of the disc’s features yet it readily showcases the director’s utmost respect for the acting process. Factoids abound (the Gallagher apartment was the same one used for 9 1/2 Weeks and some 18 takes were needed to get that cream cheese on Douglas’s nose just right) but Lyne’s commentary is most notable for his carefully paced dissection of the film’s mise-en-scène (his interest in shooting through layers) and his humble acknowledgements of errors (the too-quick rack focus from Douglas to Close in the film’s country home). The features on Paramount’s Fatal Attraction DVD might as well begin and end with an outstanding feature called “Forever Fatal: Remembering Fatal Attraction. There isn’t anything visually spectacular about this commemorative documentary but the producers have expertly crammed a film’s entire history (from its inception to the social ramifications of its message) into a concise, 30-minute time frame. Admittedly, more important than where the film was born (from a James Darden short film on a not-yet-fatal attraction) is the spotlight on Close’s approach to her role. Not only did Close do enough research to render her otherwise one-dimensional Alex a genuinely sympathetic portrait of female rage, Close herself voices her utmost contempt for having had to re-shoot the original ending for the existing, more audience-friendly one. A “Social Attraction” featurette explores the film’s affront to feminism at the time of its release. The consensus among the film’s actors and producers: Alex was never meant to represent every single career woman. “Visual Attraction” is a behind-the-scenes featurette that celebrates the film’s fabulous make-up job (yes, Close’s gaze is enough to raise the dead) and subtle costume work. Also available is the film’s original theatrical trailer.

Overall

A meaty package for a 15-year-old film that did for the extra-marital affair what Jaws did for swimming.

Cast: Michael Douglas, Gleen Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley, Fred Gwyne, Meg Mundy, Tom Brennan, Lois Smith Director: Adrian Lyne Screenwriter: James Dearden, Nicholas Meyer Distributor: Paramount Home Video Running Time: 117 min Rating: R Year: 1987 Release Date: April 16, 2002 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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