Notting Hill

Notting Hill (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts
Extras: Commentary track, Movie Tips Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Travel Book, Theatrical Trailer, Music Highlights and more

What attracted me the most to view "Notting Hill" at first, was the fact that it is mostly located in one of London’s most colorful suburbs, the titular Notting Hill. Since I have spend quite some time in London myself, a bit of nostalgia swept over me when I decided to watch the film and from its opening minutes, I thankfully realized that the film indeed brings out an authentic picture of a variety of London’s neighborhoods. Apart from being a highly entertaining romantic comedy, "Notting Hill" also makes for a great portfolio of London’s stylish beauty.

William Thacker (Hugh Grant) is the owner of a small travel bookstore in London’s quaint neighborhood of Notting Hill, right off Portobello Road where regularly early every Saturday morning tourists and natives meet for the unique street market that offers everything from the latest fashion to the oldest antiques. One such morning, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) enters his store and browses through the travel books in the shelves, when William recognizes her. Anna is a famous Hollywood film star and the fact that she ends up in his small store shakes his world. He attempts to make some small talk with the attractive, larger-than-life star but fails miserably in his agitated manner. A short time later, he accidentally runs into her again outside the store, spilling a cup of orange juice over her expensive wardrobe. In order to clean up the mess, he invites Anna over to his flat. Hesitantly she accepts and follows William to his apartment that he shares with a somewhat moronic roommate. As they finally start a bit of a conversation, they find themselves curiously attracted to each other, and quickly a romance flares up between the two people who come from completely different worlds.

William doesn’t care much about Anna’s fame and fortune, and Anna is almost desperate for some true love and a real life outside the limelight. Over the next days, weeks and months, the two try to find the out the answer to the question whether two people can fall in love while the whole world is watching?

What may appear to be a rather kitschy love story, actually turns out to be high-spirited funny romantic comedy. Hugh Grant is the ever charming, clean cut British nice guy, while Julia Roberts is flourishing in her part as the movie star with serious privacy problems and a slight paranoia. The story asks the viewer to overlook a faux pas here and there in order to advance the plot, and clearly moves ahead way too fast at times, but the rooted play of both, Roberts and Grant make the film highly entertaining and fun to watch. Oftentimes I found myself intrigued not so much by the actual story – let’s face it, we all know how it ultimately ends – but by the characterizations and the hilarious set-ups. Just watching Hugh Grant weasel his way out of the "Horse and Hound" interview scenario is really funny, and it is only one of the great set-ups you will find in this film that will give you a good chuckle.

The two are complemented by a great supporting cast, and I think we all have seen the trailers to this film with Hugh Grant’s roommate posing for the paparazzi almost nude at the front door. It gives you an idea for the goofiness this character brings in to the movie. I suspect it is easy to imagine what kind of chaos this drooling dilettante is capable of causing, when the starts to realize that a famous movie star is walking in and out of his apartment.

Universal Home Video presents "Notting Hill" as a Collector’s Edition with a considerable number of supplements. The movie itself is presented in its original theatrical 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The transfer is absolutely clean without any speckles or scratches visible in the print. Noise or grain is practically non-existent in the transfer. The compression is also very good, although slight signs of edge over-emphasis are evident, resulting in minor ringing artifacts, and the slightest hints of <$pixelation,pixelation> are also noticeable in a handful of scenes upon real close examination. The color reproduction of the film is very faithful, restoring the movie’s natural look very well. Fleshtones are faithfully rendered throughout, while the general color balance is very strong. Added with the level of detail found in this <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer, this DVD is bringing out the best of the film’s beautiful photography that nicely captures the unique flair of London’s uptown areas.

The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track and a French <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. Both are very well produced, although the English track adds dimension through the subtle but noticeable use of directional surrounds. The sound stage is wide and very engulfing, although not used for effect. Surround effects are mostly ambient in nature, creating a breathing atmosphere for the film’s locations that consequently enhance the viewing experience. "Notting Hill" is subtitled in English only. The Spanish subtitles advertised on the packaging are actually missing from the release.

As part of the Collector’s Edition, "Notting Hill" contains a <$commentary,commentary track> with director Roger Mitchell, producer Duncan Kenworthy and writer Richard Curtis. The commentary is very insightful, offering plenty of information about how the production came together, and the three commentators take nice turns at commenting on different aspects of the film.

You will also find "Hugh Grant’s Movie Tips" on this disc, a small featurette about the do’s and don’t do’s as a movie star on set. Very humorous in nature, the actor takes you behind the scenes to show you the standard dress-code of film crews, tricks how to bring your parents into the film and so forth. A number of deleted scenes are also found on this disc, taken from work prints, and for many of them it is obvious why they ended up on the cutting room floor. "Notting Hill" also contains a travel book with interesting information about London’s

Notting Hill area, including a map with restaurant and shopping tips and the like. The "Music Highlights" gives you access to some of the songs from the movie, running on top of the actual movie segments but without being disturbed by the dialogues or sound effects, which is a really nice addition. The Collector’s Edition is rounded up with production notes biographies, the film’s theatrical trailer and a special DVD-ROM feature with additional text information about the production of the film.

To me, "Notting Hill" was a pleasant surprise and much better than I had expected, but I guess I should have known better. A romantic comedy with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, created by the same folks who brought us "Four Weddings And A Funeral" can hardly be a straight kitschy movie, now can it? The filmmakers’ well-known, eccentric and sometimes dark sense of humor, Hugh Grant’s impeccable timing in delivering his lines, and Julia Roberts’ qualities as a lead actress, amalgamate to create a truly enjoyable comedy that appears genuinely heartfelt. Add to that the value that the film manages to accurately capture London and its bustling atmosphere Check this film out. I am sure you won’t regret it.