Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Death Becomes Her from Scream Factory.
Nowadays, it’s almost chic to dump on the later career of Robert Zemeckis. None of his films have attained classic status, let alone a majorly positive reception. The last two-plus decades are a cinematic graveyard of a creator on the downslide of his career. It’s a shame, too, because there was a time when any film coming out of his repertoire had a golden touch.
From 1984 through 2000, no director was functioning on a consistently higher level than Robert Zemeckis. Starting with the action/romance/comedy Romancing the Stone through the one-two punch of the 2000s What Lies Beneath and Cast Away, even if a film struck out with critics, it would rake in a hefty profit.
Looking down through his filmography, pre-motion capture, you find classics like the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and 1994’s Best Picture, Forrest Gump. And sure, there are films that aren’t home runs like Contact and What Lies Beneath, but there’s a blemish right in the center: 1992’s Death Becomes Her.
Death Becomes Her has all the ingredients for a classic black comedy: gallows humor, an A-list cast, and a top-tier production. Featuring the acting talent of Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn, one could envision where this film hits it out of the ballpark and lives on as a renowned classic. It didn’t work out that way.
Instead, Death Becomes Her fixates too much on the technological skills on display and lets everything and everyone else suffer in place. The main culprit is within the script. Death Becomes Her is a tonal mess with awkward pacing and plenty of jokes that fall flat. The actors give it their all; Bruce Willis steals the movie with a subdued and low-key performance as the awkward love interest, but Robert Zemeckis is too preoccupied with ensuring the film wows us with special effects that he neglects everything else.
Even if the film made around one hundred and fifty million dollars worldwide, no one would call the movie a success. It looked like this cinematic misfire might fade away, with Zemeckis winning best director two years later. And for a while, it looked that way until Scream Factory stepped in and announced a Collector’s Edition release for Death Becomes Her.
I’ll admit, I got this disc far down the road after Scream Factory put it on shelves. There doesn’t appear to be a slipcover that Scream Factory added on this release. The disc I have comes with a reversible art wrap that contains two of the film’s theatrical posters.
Getting into the bonus material, this is where I’m going to express some disappointment. The most notable feature on the disc is a 25-minute documentary about the making of Death Becomes Her. While I commend Scream Factory for assembling Robert Zemeckis, co-writer David Koepp, cinematographer Dean Cundey and others, this making-of isn’t very substantial. All participants talk about the script’s origins and highlight the technical achievements. As the feature gets going, it abruptly ends after discussing the actors.
While some may feel this is plenty, those who’ve read about the film understand the rocky production Death Becomes Her had on its way to cinemas. Difficulties on set and entire subplots removed—one featuring Tracey Ullman—are well-known regarding Death Becomes Her, yet there is no mention of anything along these lines. I’m not expecting a tell-all expose, but the way this feature plays makes it sound like nothing notable happened after filming when quite the opposite is true.
The next feature is a vintage behind-the-scenes vignette filmed during the movie’s production. While there isn’t any substantive material to be found with this, it’s nice to see some on-set photography and words from the three cast members.
Scream Factory also includes a photo gallery that features shots from the final film, behind-the-scenes-stills, marketing materials, and glimpses of the script. The disc finishes out with the original theatrical trailer.
I know this isn’t a fault of Scream Factory, but in the early days of DVD, Robert Zemeckis was a director you could count on to record an audio commentary. As the years have passed, he seems to shy away from the idea of recording his thoughts on disc. And Death Becomes Her is another physical media release in his filmography that shuns a commentary track.
And there you have it! I know there has become a following for Death Becomes Her as a misunderstood masterpiece, and while I am not in agreement, I can see why others may feel that way. Death Becomes Her has never looked better than on this Blu-ray, so that’s something. Scream Factory has compiled some extras for this release, but I feel this Collector’s Edition is a missed opportunity. There’s a lot of production history and removed content from the film not addressed or acknowledged on the disc, and this release feels like a missed opportunity. As is, I’m not sure there will be a better release of Death Becomes Her, but it should have been better—like the film itself.