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Warner Home Video presents
Body Heat: SE (1981)

Matty: You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.
Ned: What else do you like? Lazy, ugly, horny? I got 'em all.
Matty: You don't look lazy.

- Kathleen Turner, William Hurt

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: November 09, 2006

Stars: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna
Other Stars: Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer
Director: Lawrence Kasdan

MPAA Rating: R for (highly charged sexuality, mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:53m:03s
Release Date: October 24, 2006
UPC: 012569813786
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B A-

DVD Review

Lawrence Kasdan has written and directed some fine films, but he's never been able to top Body Heat, his sizzling homage to the film noirs of the 1940s and a love letter to writers Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. This steamy, richly textured thriller may borrow its premise and hard-boiled tone from such classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, but thanks to Kasdan's contemporary spin (and lack of any morally binding production code), it never feels like a stale retread. By the 1980s, on-screen killers weren't required to be punished, nudity was no longer taboo, and actors could spout foul language as casually as prepositions, and Kasdan maximizes such freedoms to make the kind of noir film Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger could only dream about.

When small-time lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) meets restless trophy wife Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) at an outdoor band concert during a blistering Florida heat wave, sparks fly. Passion soon consumes the couple, and their incendiary affair leads to a cleverly crafted murder pact designed to liquidate not only Matty's "small, mean, and weak" husband (Richard Crenna), but also his sizeable financial assets. At first, all goes swimmingly for the nefarious pair, but before the ink dries on the victim's death certificate, greed and mistrust threaten to upset the delicate balance of Ned and Matty's relationship. A devastating denouement caps the (literally) explosive climax, neatly tying up loose ends while lending the film the modern twist that so beautifully separates it from its Golden Age counterparts.

The boy-meets-girl, boy-screws-girl, boy-agrees-to-bump-off-girl's-husband storyline is as much a patented noir staple as swirling cigarette smoke and murky shadows, but aside from the sultry heroine's modus operandi, Body Heat leaves little to the imagination. Kasdan follows the genre's blueprint like a serious student, and exploits each of noir's salacious elements to delicious excess. Sex, of course, drives this tawdry tale, and from come-ons to copulation, Body Heat pushes the envelope, yet does so in a playful, almost campy manner that somehow softens the graphic imagery. (Had it existed at the time, the film surely would have flirted with an NC-17 rating.)

Censorship forced the noirs of yore to sidestep sexual issues and foster the weak argument that love—not lust—drove its heroes to murder, but Body Heat isn't bound by such constraints, and revels in depicting the power of the primal urge, and how willingly men can be led astray by a whiff of female flesh. There's a lot of nudity in Body Heat, a lot of heavy breathing and coital gymnastics, and though all that skin would pave the way for such future trashy epics as 9-1/2 Weeks and Wild Orchids, the lascivious acts never feel exploitative, thanks to the seamy atmosphere Kasdan so meticulously constructs.

Kasdan, like John Huston, exudes rare confidence for a first-time director, and his mastery of noir's tricky visual language quickly earns our respect. Still, the film's real meat lies in its tight, quotable script, which rivals the genre's best. Dialogue has always been Kasdan's strongest suit, and he flawlessly captures the tone and timbre of noir through plenty of snappy exchanges that add welcome humor to the dire proceedings and pep up the slow-boil plot. Though the film is set in the '80s, Kasdan consistently honors noir's '40s roots with a host of subtle touches, such as the nimble county prosecutor (Ted Danson) who sashays about like Fred Astaire, and a tongue-in-cheek nod to smoking that becomes a very effective running gag.

Kasdan is also terrific with actors, and under his guidance, the cast perfectly interprets the material. Kathleen Turner isn't related to Lana, but she crafts a femme fatale so poisonous, she makes the star of The Postman Always Rings Twice seem like a pussycat by comparison. Turner (whose work here is eclipsed only by her portrayal of another dangerous Walker—Irene in Prizzi's Honor) puts her cards on the table and plays Matty straight up, flaunting her sex appeal and worldly airs. Even the hapless Ned recognizes she's bad news, yet she seduces him—and us—just the same. With her iron will and agile mind, it's impossible not to admire Matty, and Turner, in her film debut, nails the role.

Ditto Hurt. Ned, like most noir heroes, is a willing accomplice whose carnal appetite clouds his judgment. Although he puts up a tough front, he's putty in Matty's black widow grasp, and Hurt, with his slender physique and receding hairline, colors him with just enough world-weary cynicism to make him relatable to the average guy. Hurt's talent has always been too big and quirky for the leading man mold, but in this film he's a fine specimen, and makes one wonder what off-beat shadings he might have brought to other characters in the same vein had he chosen to pursue them.

Body Heat never outshines its classic role models (how could it?), but along with L.A. Confidential, it remains one of the best modern noir films. And though its temperature may have cooled a few degrees in the 25 years since its initial release, it's still one hot flick.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The packaging heralds a "new digital director-approved transfer," and all I can say is, if it's good enough for Kasdan, it's good enough for me. Unfortunately, a few nicks and scratches still dot the print, but for the most part, the image stays smooth and bright throughout. Contrast and shadow detail (both essential elements of a noir film) are quite good, and intermittent splashes of color (such as Turner's red skirt) possess plenty of visual pop. At times, a muted red tint shades the picture during dark scenes, but it fits the sexy subject matter and never feels jarring. All in all, this anamorphic effort garners good grades, and is a definite step up from the previous DVD release.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This time around, Warner provides 5.1 audio, but the track rarely maximizes the format's capabilities. Most of the sound is anchored up front, but is enhanced by solid separation and a nice purity of tone. (Still, more ambient effects would have augmented the oppressive atmosphere and lent the film a more immersive feel.) All the slick dialogue is easy to understand, and John Barry's silky, sax-laden music score complements the sex-laden plot with fine presence and depth.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage interviews with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt
Extras Review: This deluxe edition DVD strangely lacks a commentary track, but the other supplements are highly worthwhile and will certainly please both fans of the film and those experiencing it for the first time. First up are five deleted scenes (running a total of nine-and-a-half minutes) that provide the manipulative Matty with more opportunities to exert her influence over Ned. Although they're fun to watch (especially the one in which Matty dresses up as a stewardess for Ned's enjoyment), they add little to the story's fabric and were well left on the cutting room floor.

The Body Heat Documentaries section comes next, and contains three absorbing featurettes that follow the production from inception to premiere. The first, The Plan, chronicles the film's evolution, screenplay, casting, and rehearsal process, with comments from Kasdan, Hurt, Turner, and Danson adding context and perspective. Hurt talks about his reluctance to work with a first-time director, while Turner outlines her rigorous audition process, and Danson relates a humorous anecdote about a startling "trust exercise" that the Juilliard-trained Hurt convinced him to try. Kasdan dominates the piece, and expounds on his love of film noir, his respect for actors, and how the studio pressured him to shave off Hurt's moustache before filming began.

More good stuff follows in The Production. Kasdan relates how he hoped to shoot the picture on the Jersey shore, but a Screen Actors Guild strike botched those plans and forced the company to relocate to Florida. The wintertime temperatures, however, were hardly balmy—especially at night—so all the copious body sweat had to be manufactured. Hurt amusingly recalls, "The terror and horror of Body Heat was the spritz bottle!" (The actors also had to munch on ice before their exterior scenes, so no steam would come out of their mouths as they spoke.) Kasdan and company also discuss filming the notorious sex scenes (an uncomfortable experience for all) and analyze the powerful ending.

The Post-production examines editing, music, and the film's impact on audiences. Danson confides that his own mother walked out of Body Heat because she was so offended by the raw sexuality, and Hurt remembers being "blown away" the first time he saw the movie. Composer John Barry, editor Carol Littleton, and cinematographer Richard H. Kline also chime in with their impressions and memories.

Also quite interesting is 12 minutes of vintage interview footage with Turner and Hurt from 1981. Turner looks fabulous and speaks freely and intelligently about her experiences on the film and working with Hurt and Kasdan, while Hurt discusses earning the respect of his colleagues on the set, why he jumped from the stage into movies, and his belief in Kasdan's talent.

The original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

It's about time Body Heat received the special edition treatment, and Warner does this neo-classic film noir proud with a beautiful remastered transfer and substantive supplements. Hurt and Turner still burn up the screen, and Kasdan proves that if noir is done right, it never goes out of style. Highly recommended.

 


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