A full moon, a New York City night, and love and music in the air . . . One of the most enchanting romantic comedies of all time assembles a flawless ensemble cast for a tender and boisterously funny look at a multigenerational Italian American family in Brooklyn, wrestling with the complexities of love and marriage at every stage of life. At the center of it all is a radiant Cher as Loretta, an unlucky-in-love bookkeeper whose feelings about her engagement to the staid Johnny (Danny Aiello) are thrown into question after she meets his hot-blooded brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), and one night at the opera changes everything. Winner of the Academy Awards for best actress (Cher), supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis), and original screenplay (by playwright John Patrick Shanley), this modern-day fairy tale is swept along on passionate Puccini melodies, and directed by master storyteller Norman Jewison with the heightened emotion to match.
The Criterion Collection presents Norman Jewison’s charming romantic-comedy Moonstruck in a new Blu-ray edition, utilizing a new 4K restoration conducted by MGM and Criterion. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc and has been encoded at 1080p/24hz. The master was sourced from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative.
This was another pleasant surprise in a string of them I’ve had lately. As an 80s romantic-comedy (despite being a highly regarded one) I wasn’t expecting much but damn if this doesn’t look great. There are a handful of dupier, very grainy shots for sequences that look to be second unit, but a majority of the film looks so clean and sharp, rendering the fine grain perfectly without any noticeable issues, and delivering finer details with ease, best displayed in fine patterns. The colours do lean warmer, but it has been toned down so that whites still look white and not a heavy yellow like a lot of recent restorations. Blues still look blue, reds look vibrant, neons look excellent, and black levels are strong.
Outside of some of those dupey looking shots, damage isn’t much of a concern, just a couple of specs that pop up throughout the film. Outside of those few and very minor instances the film looks stunning and it has never looked this good.
Criterion includes only the film’s remastered 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented here in DTS-HD MA. It’s not an overly showy soundtrack, most dialogue and effects spread out between the fronts when appropriate. Music is important to the film and it ends up making the most use of the 5.1 configuration, spreading the music out around the viewer in an effective way. Sound quality is crisp and clear, and the volume levels are mixed effectively.
Though Criterion’s disc doesn’t carry over everything from the previous MGM special editions (it’s missing material devoted to Italian food and eateries), Criterion packs on some great new material, with a bit of a heavier focus on the film’s screenplay by John Patrick Shanley. From the old DVD and Blu-ray editions Criterion carries over the original trailer, the 25-minute making-of At the Heart of an Italian Family—your typical studio produced making-of documentary, though above average in content—and then the 5-minute Music of “Moonstruck” featuring Norman Jewison and composer Dick Hyman (along with Danny Aiello and Shanley) going over the film’s score and use of opera. The featurettes are fine bit the best feature to be carried over by far would easily be the audio commentary recorded originally for the 1998 DVD edition.
Structured similarly to older Criterion commentaries, the track features Jewison, Shanley, and Cher all recorded separately and edited appropriately over the film. It’s an excellent track, covering every facet of the production, from Shanley’s influences to how Jewison and Cher eventually came on board, with plenty of stories around problems that arose during production (the studio didn’t want Nicolas Cage, for example, and Cher had to fight to keep him in the film). Cher also talks about her nervousness around some aspects of her performance, and Jewison gets into the choices he made, the changes he made to the script (though not big), and his hesitation in allowing any improvisation in a film that he felt needed to feel theatrical. It's an older track (over 22-years now) but it’s nicely edited and never feels to have any filler.
The rest of the material found on here is all new for a home video edition of the film, starting with what is being labeled as a 2013 introduction by Cher for the film. What it actually is is an 11-minute segment from an AFI program, first featuring Leonard Maltin talking a bit about the film before he introduces Cher who then shares some of the same stories she does in the commentary. Following that is a brand new interview with screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, who talks about his young life in Brooklyn, his rigid, strict Irish upbringing, and how it compared to the upbringing of his Italian friends (nowhere near as strict), which was one of the main inspirations for Moonstruck. He also talks about how he fell into writing, how he learned the craft, and recalls the time period around when he wrote Moonstruck. His interview runs 16-minutes.
Also included is a new 12-minute interview with scholar Stefano Albertini around the use of opera in the film and the importance it plays on the story (which is structured similarly to an opera) and defining the characters in the film. He also offers some background on Giacomo Puccini, whose music is prominent in the film.
Criterion next digs up a significant amount of archival material, starting off with excerpts from an interview with director Norman Jewison for the Canadian television program City Lights. The notes state it was recorded in 1987, though it sounds more like it was recorded before the Academy Awards would have been aired, which would have been in April of 1988. At any rate, the focus of the 33-minute discussion is primarily around the Awards and what it means for a film to receive any sort of nomination, to which Jewison admits there is something special in knowing a film you made has impacted people in such a way, but then he has to question how filmmakers like Orson Welles can be otherwise ignored, and does that say anything about his work. Jewison is also asked about what it’s like being a Canadian working the American film industry and how that plays when he’s being interviewed (it sounds to be treated as more of a novelty). The program’s interview format can be incredibly dry but the discussion around award recognition is a very engaging one.
Criterion next includes three segments from episodes of Today, running over 2-minutes, 4-minutes, and 6-minutes respectively. The first focuses around how the film was (at the time) shooting around the Lincoln Center, featuring an interview with Cher, and the second segment has a similar focus though looks to be more of a profile of the then-up-and-coming star Nicolas Cage, who also sits for an interview. Jewison also appears in this one and talks about what it’s like shooting in New York when the locals obviously don’t want you there (he shares a funny story around the bakery that was set up for the film). The third aired around the time of the film’s release and features actors Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia talking about playing husband and wife and the film’s representation of Italians.
Criterion also digs up an interview with Danny Aiello, recorded in 2002 for the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions program. For 12-minutes Aiello talks about the film and how he was cast, and how he saved himself from embarrassingly almost turning down the role. He also recounts some scenes and the difficulty around the film’s final sequence. And finally, Criterion includes audio excerpts from a Harold Lloyd Master Class from 1989, featuring Shanley talking about screenwriting, taking a break from filming Joe vs. the Volcano. He talks a little about his screenwriting career before taking questions from the audience, which includes one about what a screenwriter does once filming starts. It runs about 33-minutes and plays over a photo of Shanley.
The release then includes a fold-out insert featuring an essay by Emily VanDerWerff, who goes over the film’s charms and Shanley’s script, though isn’t afraid to point out its hard to completely buy the film’s all-too-clean ending. If the release has one weakness it is the lack of a real academic slant outside of around the film’s music and the film’s screenplay, but even given that Criterion has put together a rather satisfying set of features.
Criterion gives the film a wonderful new edition, packing on some great supplements and a stronger-than-expected video presentation. Fans should be more than pleased with this release.