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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The War of the Roses: SE (1989)

"My father used to say that a man can never outdo a woman when it comes to love and revenge."
- Gavin (Danny DeVito)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: December 17, 2001

Stars: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner
Other Stars: Danny DeVito, Marianna Sagebrecht
Director: Danny DeVito

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, sexual situations, language)
Run Time: 01h:56m:08s
Release Date: December 18, 2001
UPC: 024543023395
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Something like half of all marriages in America end in divorce. Many people blame this on marrying for the wrong reasons. Others say that people just aren't willing to put in the effort to work things out. But sometimes, maybe couples SHOULD be separated. Couples who'd rather, oh, say, kill each other than make a compromise.

Divorce lawyer Gavin D'Amato (Danny DeVito) has a story to tell about just such a couple. He narrates the rise and fall of the Roses: Oliver (Douglas) and Barbara (Turner). They were a seemingly normal couple that met, fell in love, and worked their way up in the world. Oliver became a powerful and very rich lawyer, and Barbara made it her business to raise the kids and decorate the family's elaborate mansion with knick-knacks, each lovingly chosen. But Oliver is distant and controlling, and Barbara is restless and unhappy. Once the kids leave the house, Barbara decides that she wants a divorce (and the house). Oliver, for his own reasons, doesn't want to comply.

Thus begins the war. It starts in the office of Barbara's lawyer, where she makes clear she'll stop at nothing to get what she wants. A determined Oliver refuses to leave the house at all, and the two, suddenly unable to tolerate the sight of one another, commence with the most bitter divorce battle ever. Public humiliations, threats to beloved pets, destruction of property... all standard. But the Roses don't stop there. The battle, and the film, grows violent, perhaps a bit too violent. This is an unflinching black comedy in the truest sense of the word. To the bitter end, it follows the telegraphed course: there is no longer a chance for the Roses too be happy, no longer a chance for the divorce to end cleanly. Narrator Gavin offers it as a warning to prospective clients: work it out before things go to far.

There's a lot of great material here. Divorce-as-literal-war is certainly ripe for the metaphorical skewering. The first hour or so is especially fun: dark, but oddly entrancing. But as the battle grows more violent, the tone grows steadily darker. By the climax, it's nearly impossible to laugh; the concept is pushed to the limit and ceases to be comedy. It's just black. This is all a matter of taste, I suppose, but I find the final third of this story nearly impossible to watch.

Thankfully, it's so well shot and acted, I can't help but look away. Douglas and Turner are perfect in their roles, Douglas playing off of both his charm (on display in the earlier Romancing the Stone) and his sleazy menace (later honed in Basic Instinct). Turner plays up her sultry charms and unbridled sexiness (and that voice could melt a glacier). DeVito has fun with the cheeky, foreboding bookend and narration scenes.

DeVito is even more valuable as director. He crafts this bleak story into a twisted fairy tale, and some of his choices are nothing less than ingenious. He never takes the easy way out, opting rather for skewed perspectives and unusual angles. At dinner, we don't follow the conversation in a standard two-short, but from the perspective of a fly on the table. We don't just see Barbara throw a dish at Oliver; we travel with it across the room. These elements, coupled with wonderful cinematography from Stephen Burum that bathes the story in surreal nighttime blue filters, creates one of the most distinctive and unusual visuals I've seen in a comedy in quite some time.

All the mayhem, in the end, is difficult to process. What is the message here? Why bother going to all the trouble of telling such a bleak, and ultimately torturous tale? Well, perhaps, just perhaps, The War of the Roses is the most twisted pro-marriage argument ever made.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Overall, this is a nice looking transfer, but it suffers from a few visible flaws. Black level is excellent, as is shadow detail, which is important with so much of the movie taking place in the dark. Colors look very strong; the cool look perfectly matches DeVito's twisted fairy tale vision. Fine detail is acceptable for the most part, despite some special effects shots that look a tad soft. Unfortunately, however, the image suffers from minor edge enhancement that is visible in a few scenes. Busy shots (like the bookshelves in Gavin's law library) show some artifacting and aliasing. The print used for the transfer was in decent condition, with a moderate amount of grain and only a few specks and scratches.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio mix for this dialogue driven film is about as standard as they come. Though dialogue is always clear, understandable, and well mixed with no audible hiss, there is little else remarkable about the audio. The score uses the front soundstage to good effect, and never overpowers. Sound effects are presented with little directionality or flashiness, but they are well supported when they do pop up.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
6 TV Spots/Teasers
0 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Danny DeVito
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:22s

Extra Extras:
  1. Sketches
  2. Still Galleries: Props, Production, Posters
  3. THX Optimizer
Extras Review: When The War of the Roses was released on laserdisc, director Danny DeVito made no secret of his love for the format. He insisted on including an extras package that would give some insight into the making of the film, saying, "Don't you wish that you could plop in a disc of Fritz Lang's Woman in the Window or Scarlet Street and listen to Fritz talk about 'em?" Well, this disc certainly provides plenty of insight into the making of the picture, and though the extras clearly follow the linear, old-style laserdisc path (the complete package has made it to DVD, complete with nifty animated menus), many of them are still quite good.

DeVito's commentary track is one of the best I've heard lately, if only because he never shuts up throughout. Not only does he keep talking, he has obviously prepared comments and decided how to focus his discussion, right down to the delivery of jokes. This results in an info-packed and ocassionally amusing track that discusses everything from the unusual visual look DeVito brought to the project, to the subtle effects work, to stories of the actors and on-set anecdotes. DeVito sometimes lapses into hyperbole, but he's never dull to listen to.

A collection of deleted scenes is included, running nearly 20 minutes (unfortunately, none of the extras are time coded). DeVito offers a humorous introduction about the importance of keeping a film's running time down, and make sure you stay through the reel for his comments afterwards as well, or you'll miss a cameo by his wife Rhea Perlman. As for the scenes themselves, they are largely pretty good. There's a few extra tortures for the couple to endure, and many scene extensions that offer some closure to a few of the jokes. There's also quite a few extra asides from DeVito, proving he wasn't too full of himself to significantly reduce his role in the picture.

A trailer gallery offers 2 odd teasers, the release trailer, and a special Christmas carol spot. Also included are 6 TV spots. The rest of the extras fall into the category of text/stills. There's storyboards for 4 scenes, "The Dinner Party," "Cat and Dog Chase," "The Steam Room," and "The Chandelier." Storyboards are presented intercut with still frames from the film. Sketches provides two different sub-areas. One contains hand drawn images from the film, while the other contains crude computer images that are sort of like digital storyboards. The still gallery offers three sections: Production, Props, and Posters. Rounding out the text extras is a draft of the shooting script.

The laserdisc, when released, cost $70. Fox has delivered the same great extras package and even a few new goodies like the THX Optimizer for the great price of $19.99. Don't you love DVD?

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The War of the Roses is certainly not for all tastes. It's a rarity: an unflinching Hollywood black comedy that, if anything, sometimes goes too far. DeVito's twisted visuals are an asset throughout. Fox has produced an excellent port of the special edition laserdisc supplements, with an unbelievable price of $19.99. Recommended.


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