Death Becomes Her

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Details At A Glance

Category Black Comedy Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1 not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1992 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 99:08 minutes Other Extras Production Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
Featurette-Behind The Scenes (8:36)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (54:47)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Robert Zemeckis

Columbia Tristar
Starring Goldie Hawn
Bruce Willis
Meryl Streep
Isabella Rossellini
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Alan Silvestri

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192Kb/s)
Polish (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    When this current batch of Columbia Tristar and Universal DVDs were being allocated for review amongst the site's reviewers, I was staggered to find that no one else was interested in reviewing Death Becomes Her. Accordingly, I was extremely happy to take on this duty for one of my favourite films of all time.

    Death Becomes Her is a delightfully warped and bizarre black comedy. It is wickedly funny and razor sharp in its barbs at the Hollywood machine, all wrapped up in a stylistically warped view of California and its youth-loving culture. One the things I particularly like about this movie is the fact that all of the lead actors play totally against type, and they all do it brilliantly.

    Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) is a prominent and successful plastic surgeon. He is engaged to Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). Helen Sharp and Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) have had a rivalry which has gone on since their childhoods - Madeline generally wanting, and obtaining, anything that Helen had, particularly boyfriends, and in this case wanting and obtaining Ernest Menville. Madeline is a fading Hollywood wanna-be starlet, so her marriage to plastic surgeon Ernest seems ideal on the surface.

    Time passes, and we see that things have not turned out so well for Ernest and Madeline. Ernest has turned to drink and no longer operates as a plastic surgeon - he has been reduced to performing the duties of a mortician. Madeline is growing older ungracefully. Helen re-enters their lives after a long period in crisis, and she looks fabulous. A plot is hatched to do away with Madeline and for Helen and Ernest to reunite.

    Concurrently with this, Madeline turns to the mysterious and sensual Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini) who proffers an extremely expensive potion that stops the ageing process dead in its tracks and as a by-product of this makes the drinker immortal. She drinks the potion.

    This is where the movie really gets into high gear, as Ernest attempts to kill Madeline, with no success - she cannot die. Things get really complicated when Madeline tries to kill Helen - it turns out that Helen took the potion as well, which is why she still looks fabulous.

    Bruce Willis is really brilliant in this film - he plays a character completely and utterly different to any that he has played previously. Ernest Menville is a weak-willed wimp with no spine. He is continually bossed around by the two women in his life and seems unable to take matters into his own hands. Put this together with two super-bitch performances by Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep, all superbly exaggerated for comedic effect, and you have a brilliant black comedy that still cracks me up. The morgue scene in particular is hysterically funny.

Transfer Quality


    Well, I've raved about the movie. Does the transfer do justice to the movie? In a word, no. This is an appallingly bad transfer that should never have seen the light of day. Indeed, it probably never did, since it is far too dark to be watchable.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced. It would not surprise me to learn that this is merely a recycled laserdisc transfer, as it looks dreadful.

    The transfer was blurred and indistinct, with little in the way of detail discernible. However, by far the biggest problem with this transfer is that the black level has been set too low. This transfer was all but unwatchable at normal reference video settings, with no shadow detail whatsoever, and with many image details simply crushed into the blackness. There are a number of critical scenes where the ageing process is reversed on-screen, and these scenes simply do not work with this transfer as it is too dark to make out any details of what is happening. This transfer hurt my eyes to watch and I ended up with a headache from eye strain after watching it. Having said that, the detail does seem to be there in the image on the DVD, as when I turned the brightness of my display device up considerably higher than its usual reference level, which had the effect of raising the black level of the image, the picture became far more watchable. There still was not a lot of detail in the image, but it was a lot better. You will not be able to watch this video transfer at normal reference viewing levels, even in total darkness. You will need to adjust your settings to get an acceptable image out of this DVD. In this day and age, this is simply unacceptable. Thankfully, there is no low level noise to further mar all the murky blackness.

    As a result of the too-dark transfer, the colours were extremely dull, muted, and very grey-looking. This is an enormous shame, as there is a lot of vivid colouration as part of the exaggerated nature of the sets and props in this movie and this simply did not come through in this transfer.

    There were no MPEG artefacts seen. Film-to-video artefacts were seen occasionally, with telecine wobble marring the early part of the movie and vertical skips in the image discernible in the Emergency Room scenes. Aliasing was not a problem for this transfer - there was insufficient detail in this transfer for this to be a significant problem. Film artefacts were relatively common for a film of such recent vintage, but none were particularly troubling.

    This is an RSDL disc, with the moderately disruptive layer change occurring at 54:47.


    The appalling video transfer is fittingly accompanied by a very ordinary audio transfer.

    There are seven audio tracks on this DVD, with the default being English Dolby Digital 2.0, surround encoded, which is the track that I listened to.

    Dialogue was frequently indistinct and hard to understand, with many words lost in ambient noise or under music or special effects. This is unfortunate, as some of the dialogue is razor sharp and very funny, and straining to hear it all significantly impairs the overall enjoyment of this soundtrack.

    Audio sync was not a problem with this transfer at all.

    The score by Alan Silvestri is superbly whimsical and bizarre, and brilliantly in keeping with the on-screen action. I must say, that the score sounds very Danny Elfmanesque, and I was surprised when I actually found out that it was not him that actually did this score.

    The surround channel had limited use and only occasionally carried the odd sound effect. I found myself disappointed that this soundtrack had not been remastered to 5.1, since there were plenty of opportunities for localized rear sound effects presented during the movie, and simply having the single, diffuse rear channel provided by this 2.0 surround-encoded mix was quite disappointing aurally.

    The subwoofer, whilst not specifically encoded, was used to supplement the overall soundtrack. I am someone who quite likes a lot of bass in movie soundtracks and music, however, this soundtrack was simply far too bass-heavy. This led to enormous booms from the subwoofer at times which were completely inappropriate and disconcerting, such as during Helen's heavy walk, where the loud thumps from the subwoofer were extremely distracting instead of well integrated. There was one time when the excessive subwoofer output from this transfer was a good thing, which was during Madeline's fall down the stairs which was gut-wrenching in its aural impact, but otherwise, it was very distracting.


    There is a basic selection of extras on this DVD.


Production Notes

Cast & Crew Biographies

Featurette - Behind The Scenes

    This is a promotional featurette, but it is much better than the ones that are usually present on DVD. This one is actually worth watching.

Theatrical Trailer

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this movie is presented in Full Frame format, and from the few reviews of it that I could locate this seems to be a troubled transfer also. I recommend that you avoid this DVD until a better transfer is available, but if you must have it, then get the Region 4 version as at least it is widescreen.


    I love Death Becomes Her. It is a wickedly funny black comedy.

    The video quality is appalling and unsatisfactory with the black level set far too low.

    The audio quality is very ordinary.

    The extras are basic.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Demtschyna (my bio)
23rd March 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Palsonic DVD-2000, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 4:3 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Hsu Research TN-1220HO subwoofer