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FATAL ATTRACTION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer
Director:  Adrian Lyne
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  119 Minutes
Release Date:  April 16, 2002

“I’m not gonna be IGNORED, Dan.”

Film **1/2

Fatal Attraction, being the monster hit it was for Paramount, deserves discussion on two levels:  as a film, and as a social event.  I’ll start with the latter, which still strikes me as curious some 15 years after the picture’s release.

It was the movie that seemingly every woman in every man’s life told him he had to see.  I was prodded by no less than my sister, my mother, and the girl I was seeing in college.  My father was told the same, as was my younger brother, as were many of my close friends.  The women all viewed Fatal Attraction as a kind of Intimacy Etiquette 101…namely, a good lesson on why we men should never think we could cheat and get away with it.

I don’t know if my father or my brother ever saw the movie, but I did…and personally, I found it a bit disturbing that some of the women I knew were pushing the movie in that way.  I readily agree, any man who would cheat on his partner (or vice versa) is a jerk, and if he happens to be married and with a child, his jerkdom is compounded.  But here was a movie that was so clearly about a woman who was mentally unbalanced!  How did psychosis suddenly become a sword of justice in our society?

Alex Forrest (Close) is that woman, and Dan Gallagher (Douglas) is the happy husband and father who gives in to his libido and engages in a wild but short affair with her while his wife Beth (Archer) and daughter are away.  He shouldn’t have done it, and frankly, it would have served him right for the truth to come spilling out and if his misguided deed had cost him the family he loved so dearly.

But he doesn’t get off so easily.  Though he never hid the fact that he was married from Alex, she doesn’t seem ready to let go so easily…a point made vividly clear when Dan tries to end it early on, and her response is, shall we say, somewhat drastic.

Alex becomes more and more of an ominous presence in his life.  What starts out as phone calls and unexpected visits turns more and more into a dangerous game of manipulation and fear.  Dan soon finds himself having to try and protect his family from much more than just the truth.

For director Adrian Lyne, Fatal Attraction is a triumph of a thriller up to a certain point, and not really his fault that it falters at the end.  This disc includes the famed original ending as a feature…the ending that proved a failure with the original test audiences.  Sometimes you have to let a director make his picture, and not let even paying patrons dictate the path it takes.  As a result, a new ending was shot and released, and it is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen, turning an intelligently crafted and character driven thriller into a cheap and clichéd slasher picture in just a few minutes’ time.  It’s so bad, it dampens everything great that came before.  Not even Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announcing the contraction of the league two days after the highest rated World Series in a decade was a more damaging dénouement.

And there really is a lot to like about the movie up to that point.  It’s extremely well acted, for one thing.  Michael Douglas is in top form as the story’s Everyman…we see and feel the unfolding events through his eyes, and feel like there but for the grace of God go us.  Anne Archer is superb as Beth, the innocent victim who doesn’t know the size of the shoe about to drop.  And Glenn Close took what was a career bending turn as Alex, bringing a side of her talent to the screen that audiences hadn’t seen before…her Oscar nomination was very deserving.

The script is impeccable, too, IF you count it with the original ending.  Not only is it intelligent and thoughtful with a lot of faith in its characters, but as it was, it was extremely well rounded and cyclical, and brings everything to a smart and more acceptable conclusion, if not exactly the more exciting one.

And Adrian Lyne’s terrific sense of style makes it a taut thriller from start to almost finish.  Everything from the look to the sound instill the viewers with a sense of dread.  A ringing phone becomes a harbinger of horrors.  A darkened passageway makes us cringe in anticipation.  The way the camera moves increases tension, and the editing in at least two scenes are Hitchcockian in approach:  the one where Beth checks the soup pot, and the one where she searches for her missing daughter.

It’s for these reasons, I’m convinced, that Fatal Attraction became the blockbuster that it was.  Audiences saw it again and again.  Time magazine even ran a cover story with Douglas and Close proclaiming the thriller was back.  Maybe even a few men DID get the message about the dangers of cheating, even though a mentally ill woman is hardly a veritable champion for the wronged. 

But for the producers to insist on a more crowd-pleasing ending became a black mark on everyone involved, from the actors to the writer, to Adrian Lyne in particular.  My advice?  Watch the film until just after Dan leaves Alex’s apartment for the last time and  then meets with the police, then go to the features menu and watch the original finish.  If you do that, raise my rating by a full star.

Video **1/2

The 80s remain the most problematic period for quality DVD offerings, and though Paramount serves up an anamorphic transfer here, Fatal Attraction is not an exception.  It’s far from unwatchable, to be sure, but like most other movies from the decade, it shows some of the earliest signs of negative problems, with probably a long way off before any kind of restoration work might be considered.  Image detail ranges from quite good to a tad soft.  Darker images become a bit of a wash, with no detail and lack of clear lines for definition.  Colors appear just a shade faded all the way through, with none really approaching normally bright levels or tones.  A few specks and spots are visible here and there.  As stated, this is by no means a disc whose problems are distracting…merely noteworthy.

Audio ***

The 5.1 audio serves a bit better.  There are strong moments of dynamic range in key sequences, and I was impressed by how well they played out.  The dialogue is very clean and clear sounding, with no distracting noise or interference.  Generally, the rear stage offers a bit of reverb to stronger sounds and to Maurice Jarre’s music, which helps open up the listening experience a little more.  All in all, a very good effort.

Features ****

This is a nicely packaged Special Collector’s Edition disc from Paramount, starting with a running commentary from Adrian Lyne.  It’s a bit sparse every now and then, but he offers up some good detail overall, including working with the actors, his thoughts on the story, and even a bit on the alternate ending.  There are also three featurettes including the half hour “Forever Fatal”, which features brand new interviews with Lyne, Douglas, Close, Archer, the producers and more, plus two shorter ones on the look and design of the film, and on the social phenomenon it became.  Rounding out is the alternate ending with introduction by Lyne, a video of rehearsal footage with Douglas and Close, and the trailer.

Summary:

Fatal Attraction has a fatal flaw in its implausible, contrived ending, but thankfully with this DVD offering from Paramount, you can experience the original finish as it was conceived and decide for yourself who you side with:  director Adrian Lyne or the original test audiences.  In either case, this is a thriller that became not only a mega hit, but a film that entered our national consciousness as well.  For its superb writing, acting, and craftsmanship, it’s still a picture that merits watching and discussion, despite its fumble at the goal line.