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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Terms of Endearment (1983) – 4K Ultra HD Review

Terms of Endearment, 1983.

Directed by James L. Brooks.
Starring Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow.


Best Picture winner Terms of Endearment comes to 4K Ultra HD as part of the Paramount Presents line-up. In addition to a new transfer, the studio commissioned a new interview with director James L. Brooks. An older commentary track is included too, along with a Blu-ray disc and a code for a digital copy.

My mother-in-law died recently, which gave Terms of Endearment an extra dimension when I watched it (for the first time, I confess) for this review. My wife’s relationship with her mother wasn’t easy; the friction between Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger) and Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) seems tame by comparison.

The story takes place over several decades, from Aurora fussing over baby Emma in her crib to a grown Emma with children. The pair live in Houston, where the widowed Aurora does a social dance of sort with various suitors, including an astronaut living next door named Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson).

Eager to put her controlling mother at arm’s length, Emma marries Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) and the pair move to Iowa so he can begin his career as an English professor. They have two boys, but their marriage is fraught with tension and both of them stray from their partners.

Meanwhile, Aurora begins to warm up to Garrett, who likes to have an alcohol-soaked good time and gets her to start breaking out of her repressive shell. The story begins moving toward a resolution of not only Aurora and Emma’s romantic relationships but also their relationship with each other.

I’m glad I finally got around to seeing Terms of Endearment (it’s probably not a shock that 13-year-old me had no interest in it). It can be a bit schmaltzy and melodramatic, but the acting is excellent, including the always-brilliant Jack Nicholson, and the story is believable.

And, yes, this film is very white. It’s emblematic of what Hollywood was producing back then, and I find it interesting to compare this Best Picture winner with Everything Everywhere All at Once, which took home the same Oscar 39 years later but displayed a very different cultural view on families. I’m glad that mainstream movies have diversified so much. (And, yes, let’s not forget 2020’s Best Picture winner, Parasite.)

Terms of Endearment makes its 4K Ultra HD debut as part of the Paramount Presents line, in celebration of its 40th anniversary. A Blu-ray is included too, along with a code for a digital copy. This is one of those movies that’s still going to look nice on a Blu-ray, but 4K Ultra HD gives the visuals more of a theatrical quality, especially on larger displays.

In addition to a new transfer that was approved by director James L. Brooks, the studio also commissioned a new 14-minute interview with him in which he mostly focuses on the film’s performances and why he feels it should be viewed as a comedy, not a drama. 

Personally, I’m fine with splitting it down the middle and saying it’s a dramedy, which is a term that’s been around for a while but I don’t hear much anymore, so I’m bringing it back. It’s honestly the best way to describe a movie like this one.

In addition to the theatrical trailer, the only other bonus feature is a commentary track with Brooks, co-producer Penny Finkleman, and production designer Polly Platt that’s been ported over from earlier editions. I don’t have any previous home video releases of this film, so I don’t know if any extras have been dropped along the way.

The commentary track is a worthwhile listen, with Brooks dominating the discussion as he looks back on what was his first time directing a movie. He talks about everything from adapting Larry McMurtry’s novel (I thought the guy just did westerns) to how he crafted the film’s tone in the editing room with Richard Marks. Finkleman and Platt have their own observations to add to the mix, however.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Brad Cook


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