A huge hit back in the day, both in movie theaters and as a soundtrack album, A Star is Born offers the bizarre pairing of Kris Kristofferson as boozing, cokehead rock star John Norman Howard and Barbra Streisand as his discovery, nightclub singer Esther Hoffman. The romantic story was first told on screen in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and again in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason. Written (with a host of collaborators) and directed by Frank Pierson, the 1976 version is now on Blu-ray and exists as a dated curiosity.
Kristofferson comfortably embodies the role of Howard, the reckless rocker whose stock is rapidly falling in value. He’s erratic and prone to wild stunts like riding a motorcycle around on stage. Howard “discovers” Hoffman in a club one night while being harassed by an obnoxious fan (a young Robert Englund). She’s singing in a girl group called The Oreos (she’s white and her two backup singers are black). With her pant suits and poodle perm, it’s hard to understand why Howard is so immediately sprung for Hoffman. Streisand, in fact, has more difficulty fitting the requirements of her role. She’s cloying where she should be seductive, formal when she needs to be sexy.
As Howard’s career stalls, he promotes Hoffman vigorously. In fact, midway through one of his rock concerts (emphasis on rock) he introduces Hoffman, who proceeds to easily win over the rowdy crowd with a disco-ish, mainstream pop tune. It’s highly improbably, but serves the story since it propels Hoffman into the public eye. The music in general hasn’t aged well. Fans of Streisand may well enjoy her numbers (the love theme “Evergreen” won her an Oscar for Best Original Song), but Kristofferson’s rock songs are a depressingly generic bunch.
As it lurches forward, A Star is Born becomes another story about the dangers of excess. It builds to a relatively predictable conclusion that only underlines the film's vacuousness. As Esther’s star rises and John’s falls, their relationship becomes increasingly strained. It may have knocked out quite a few moviegoers 37 years ago, but now it’s unlikely to be of interest to anyone outside the fan bases of its two stars.
Robert Surtees’ Oscar-nominated cinematography looks great on this high definition transfer. Clarity is generally strong, though there are quite a few intentionally soft-focus shots. There’s a natural layer of film grain that never lets us forget we’re watching a 1976 movie. A Star is Born offers a very pleasingly cinematic presentation all around. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix understandably favors the music in the many performance sequences. The dialogue gets a little muddy at times, but this is an acceptable mix with realistic immersion during the concert footage.
The Blu-ray is housed in hardcover digibook packaging. It contains about 40 pages of photographs and background information about the movie. The supplemental features are ported over from a previous DVD edition, including a Streisand commentary track. There’s also wardrobe test footage and a selection of deleted scenes. Streisand also provides optional commentary for the latter.