DVD Article

Diary of a Repeat Viewer

How many times can you watch ''Pretty Woman''? -- We bought a copy of the Julia Roberts romantic comedy to see if the video really was ''priced to keep''

Even the most gaga Patrick Swayze fan would probably balk at spending $99.95 to own Ghost on videocassette (see review here). But do tapes of blockbuster movies really offer better value when they're ''priced to keep,'' like the $19.95 hit Pretty Woman? After all, for $19.95 you could rent Pretty Woman at least seven times. So that's exactly what we did over the course of seven weeks, to acid-test the collectability of the cassette. Here's our viewing-by-viewing diary:

WEEK 1: Popped in the flick. I laughed, I gawked. Julia Roberts a knockout. Who cares if she's unrealistically mega-perky for a call girl? There's accurate, and then there's engaging. It's a nice fairy-tale story — Roberts makes a Prince Charming out of beady-eyed takeover mogul Richard Gere —wrapped up in a wish-fulfillment blur of great clothes, shiny cars, bracing pop-tune snippets.

WEEK 2: Caught plot's finer points. Not that it's complex, but Roberts' klieg-light smile is so distracting the first go-round. Hadn't realized that it's Roberts' slovenly roommate (Laura San Giacomo) who talks her into trying prostitution. Also noticed how often Roberts repeats things San Giacomo has said, aping her tough-gal persona.

WEEK 3: By third viewing, there wasn't much juice left in story line. Speaking of juice, snuck out to kitchen for a snack during dull scene between Gere and obnoxious lawyer character. Performances seemed more interesting than plot. Realized how carefully Roberts choreographs her character's behavioral tics: She sits on counters and tables when nervous, impatiently flings off her coat by wriggling her shoulders — always injecting a fresh bit of business. Gere got blanker each time; his remote manner, seemingly in character before, came across this time as sheer passivity.

WEEK 4: Growing progressively unhappy with drab room decor compared with film's lush interiors. Made mental shopping list of home-improvement items. Did perk up at some cleverly double-edged dialogue that never stood out before, like when Gere, averse to intimacy, tells Roberts to ''stay in the shallow end'' of his bathtub. Interest shifting to minutiae. Spotted continuity gaffes in restaurant scene: Dessert dishes disappear, then reappear, then disappear again. Gere's immaculately coiffed hair often changes from shot to shot — combed first this way, then that.

WEEK 5: Repeat value fading fast. Now fixated on movie's product placements. San Giacomo slurps 7-Eleven ''Big Gulp'' in bed; for no good reason, Roberts tries to open a Diet Coke bottle during an argument. Made me thirsty — got a drink and some tortilla chips. Guess those product placements really work.

WEEK 6: Repeat value totally shot. Moved from couch to floor, then to desk to pay bills. Movie soundtrack was still playing in background, so turned on radio.

WEEK 7: After opening credits, turned off TV and filled out market-research questionnaire that came with the cassette. In answer blank for ''How many times have you seen this movie?'' wrote ''Enough already.''

Originally posted Mar 22, 1991 Published in issue #58 Mar 22, 1991 Order article reprints