“No one ever thinks they can forget their first love. But we can.”
– Arthur Axelrod
For whatever reason I’d never seen director Franco Zeffirelli’s (The Taming of the Shrew) and screenwriter Judith Rascoe’s (Who’ll Stop the Rain) 1981 adaptation of author Scott Spencer’s best-selling novel Endless Love. Outside of the Oscar-nominated theme song and my knowledge that this was the film debut of Tom Cruise in a supporting role, I can’t say this has ever been a romantic teenage melodrama I’ve ever felt compelled to watch. Nonetheless I was still happy to fill this gap in my cinematic education when Shout Select’s new Blu-ray release of enduring favorite arrived on my doorstep for review. I shouldn’t have been. This movie is utterly terrible, and for the life of me I have no idea how it has withstood the test of time with such enduring resilience.
Having no idea how closely Rascoe’s script follows Spencer’s source material, the story follows the exploits of 17-year-old David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt) and his romantic entanglement with 15-year-old Jade Butterfield (Brooke Shields). While her father Hugh (Don Murray) silently disapproves, the girl’s mother Ann (Shirley Knight) allows the pair’s passions to blossom, just as long as they do so underneath her roof. David and Jade’s sexual awakening begins to consume them both, and it soon becomes clear his infatuation with the young girl isn’t particularly healthy. But separation might be even more damaging, the psychological tidal wave their forced breakup creates threatening to wash both of their futures into a lost sea of complete and utter oblivion.
It’s clear Zeffirelli is trying to recapture his Romeo and Juliet magic. But this film is so unfocused, so overtly melodramatic, so assaultive in how it depicts young teenage relationships, watching it is a tiresome slog of saccharine abhorrence that becomes more and more repellant as events progress. As good as Hewitt and especially Shields are (and they’re both kind of excellent), the focus of this story just feels all wrong. Even for the early 1980s, the level of thuggish masculinity is noxious to an unnerving degree, all of which makes David’s stalker-ish behavior far too unsettling to be anything that could be even remotely construed as being ‘romantic’ in nature.
I don’t know. Maybe had I watched this when I was a teenager maybe I’d have responded more positively to this mess. Admittedly, the drama is gorgeously shot by cinematographer David Watkin (Out of Africa), and it isn’t like any of the performances could be construed as being subpar. It’s also a small amount of fun seeing Cruise and James Spader looking so fresh-faced and young, while composer Jonathan Tunick’s (A Little Night Music) suitably elegant score augments the on-screen action rather perfectly. None of which makes Endless Love good (let alone watchable), but it does keep it from being a total disaster. As positives go, I think that’s as good as my reaction to this motion picture is going to get.
Endless Love is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and includes optional English subtitles.
Extras here include:
Audio Commentary with film historian Lee Gambin
Interview with actor Martin Hewitt (40:05)
Audio Interview with actress Penelope Milford (18:20)
Audio Interview with actor Jeff Marcus (14:48)
2016 Archival Audio Interview with actress Shirley Knight (14:23)
Image Gallery (6:17)
Original Theatrical Trailer (3:18)
It’s an impressive array of special features, not the least of which is the wonderful archival audio interview with Knight. For fans of the movie, all of this is worth going through. For everyone else, I’m honestly trying to figure out why you’re even reading this review.
Outside of its Academy Award-nominated theme song (beautifully sung by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross), I will never understand the enduring appeal of 1981’s Endless Love. It is an anemic adaptation of Scott Spencer’s novel, and in my opinion is arguably the worst motion picture the great Franco Zeffirelli ever directed. All that said, Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release for their Shout Selects line is nothing short of outstanding. The technical specs are excellent, while the lineup of extras is extraordinary. Fans of the film (and there are plenty of them) will be more than happy with this disc, while everyone else will likely join me in wondering aloud what all the fuss is about.