Love Actually Looks Quite Pretty on Universal 4K

Falling in love is a universal experience, but you know what else is? Getting the sh*t kicked out of you by love as well. I would be surprised if anyone had not heard of Love Actually the iconic British romantic comedy newly re-released for its 20th Anniversary on Universal 4K disc: it’s a story about love and how it exists in all forms and at every level of humanity, from an 11-year-old boy to the Prime Minister of England. It shows us that no matter who we are, or what station we inhabit, we will all, as the character Billy Mack says, “get the shi* kicked out of us by love” at some point in our lives.

I am a huge fan of rom-coms yet somehow this picture had escaped me. I kept hearing about it, and many friends all would look shocked and say “How have you not seen Love Actually!” Finally one Christmas I sat down and watched it. I instantly enjoyed its wonderful and huge cast, its London setting, and the story of the shared ties that bind us. I am so glad that though I discovered it late, I did discover it and add it to my Holiday watch list.

Released in 2003 to a modest $59m domestic take (but $244m worldwide, including $62m in the United Kingdom), Love Actually has a 64% positive critic score on Rotten Tomatoes with a 72%  audience score. Despite its tepid box office and lukewarm critical reception, the picture would go on to claim an iconic status in the Christmas rewatch circuit, with it showing up on many “All Time” Christmas movie lists and being cemented as a modern-day Christmas classic.

The plot follows eight couples in various romantic entanglements and misadventures, the main attraction for viewers is the massive and star-studded cast made up of Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, High Grant, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and many many others.

The narrative thread flows much like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve in that while the characters are not fully known to each other, they crisscross into and out of each other’s lives, with a climactic scene near the end that brings everyone together. It’s not groundbreaking; however, it  oozes charm mostly due to the actors’ charisma and looking like they are having the time of their lives, especially in the opening as Bill Nighy’s Billy Mack re-records a hit song to “Christmasify” it. Wearing a hippie shirt he goes all in on the character, waving his hands in the air and letting loose with a string of expletives every time he messes up. He sells the part and really seems to be enjoying playing it. That kind of energy is infectious and one can’t help but have a great time watching it.

Cover of 4K disc of Love Actually showing scenes from the film wrapped in a bow.

The Disc

Universal’s release of Love Actually comes in a standard 4K clamshell case, and includes a Blu-ray disc, a 4K disc, and a digital code. I always appreciate it when studios release and 4K edition and include a digital code and a Blu-ray disc, it gives greater options to enjoy the picture and makes it feel you are really getting more bang for your buck.

Overall this 4K restoration is good: the colors are vivid and things such as character flesh tone look great. The transfer is not without its issues though as we see some minor digitalization and grain. That being said I did not find these issues to be big enough to not recommend this! The 2.39:1 HEVC 4K transfer brings the film to life on a large 4K TV screen, and it was a joy to experience Love Actually the way it was meant to be seen.

Love Actually is a dialogue-focused picture, and thus sound is very important to make sure the viewer hears everything going on in regard to the plot unfolding. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack comes through clean and clear, I enjoyed the use of surround in a few scenes that helped to drive home the moment. At the end of the day, audio quality is not meant to be noticed in a picture, if you do, something was done wrong and thankfully one never notices in Love Actually.

Special Features

This is where the 20th Anniversary 4K Re-Release really shines. Many studio-release 4Ks and Blu-rays have few if any special features, and the landscape of extras is somewhat barren compared to the early 2000s when all physical releases were loaded down with extra features. Thankfully this edition of Love Actually brings a lot of special features to the table!

The Making of Love Actually. This newly made future is one that was crafted for the picture’s 20th Anniversary and has Richard Curtis talking about the long-lasting appeal of Love Actually as various actors and producers also pop in to chat about their experiences. It’s a fun and nostalgic watch!

Deleted Scenes. There are over 30 minutes of deleted scenes which include Richard Curtis giving an introduction to each scene. The footage here is not in 4K and is shown in the original resolution. I enjoyed getting the extra insight into the picture and how it was edited as well as how the various scenes were meant to fit into the greater story.

The Storytellers. This was a short look at the various intertwined stories that picture tells. I found it enjoyable as Love Actually is fairly complicated for a romantic comedy.

The Music of Love Actually. This fun little feature sees director Richard Curtis take the viewer on a trip into various scenes of the picture and then explain how and what the music meant and the role it played in making the scene come alive.

Music Videos. This Love Actually release also includes two music videos, one for Kelly Clarkson’s song “The Trouble with Love Is” and Bill Nighy’s character of Billy Mack singing an extended version of “Christmas Is All Around” both are fun and enjoyable to watch with good audio and video presentation.

Audio Commentary. This is the same commentary that appeared in the previous edition, however, I appreciated them porting it over to the new 4K edition of Love Actually. Many 4K films shed the special features of previous versions, so it’s nice this did not follow suit. The commentary is with director Richard Curtis along with Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, and Thomas Sangster. It’s a bit short on some of the more technical aspects that some movie buffs may enjoy hearing about. However, it’s full of witty banter and I feel most fans will be listening to the commentary not for technical details but memories and cast/crew interaction, and on this the audio commentary delivers.

A man and a woman kiss, his hand is on her neck. She is wearing a white shirt and he a large brown coat.

So, is the Love Actually: 20th Anniversary 4K Edition worth it for you to purchase? It currently retails on Amazon for $27.98, which is very reasonable for a 4K, and I would say that this is worth the buy if you are a fan of romcoms or Christmas movies. Love Actually is one of the most iconic of these, and this 4K release of it gives you a higher quality version of the picture, while also making sure you are sent home with many special features as well. I appreciated that Universal took the time to record new features for this release, and in an age when streaming is pulling digital films and TV left and right, I feel it’s best to reward a studio that went the extra mile on this physical release.

Written by Byron Lafayette

Byron Lafayette is a film critic and journalist. He is the current Chairman of the Independent Film Critics of America, as well as the Editor and Lead Film Critic for Viralhare and a Staff Writer for Film Obsessive. He also contributes to What Culture and many other publications. He considers Batman V Superman the best superhero film ever made and hopes one day that the genius of Josh Lucas will be recognized.

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