Terms of Endearment 4K

by Glenn Erickson Nov 14, 2023

Everybody likes this picture. James L. Brooks’ major hit movie, adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry, charts the rocky relationship of a Texan mother and daughter. Audiences loved the clashing personalities and quirky interaction between stars Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger and especially Jack Nicholson as the discipline-problem ex- astronaut next door. Name an award, this show won it; the combination of warm comedy and serious drama took top honors everywhere. The movie’s positive aura persists — it and its writer-director were just covered in the L.A. Times Calendar.

Terms of Endearment 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital
Paramount Presents #42
1983 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 131 min. / Street Date November 14, 2023 / Available from Amazon / 39.99
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, John Lithgow, Lisa Hart Carroll, Betty King, Huckleberry Fox, Troy Bishop, Megan Morris, Norman Bennett, Kate Charleson.
Cinematography: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Production Designer: Polly Platt
Art Director: Harold Michelson
Costume Design: Kristi Zea
Film Editor: Richard Marks
Original Music: Michael Gore
Screenplay by James L. Brooks based on the novel by Larry McMurtry
Produced by James L. Brooks, Penney Finkelman Cox, Martin Jurow
Directed by
James L. Brooks

One can’t help but admire Terms of Endearment 4K, a movie made by Hollywood’s savviest pros — everything about it is how A- Grade production is supposed to work. Adapting a book by a noted author, a talent writer-director makes a big leap from TV to film. The cast that signs on gets immediate industry attention. Despite some on-set blowups, the three big stars work beautifully together, each channeling their inner selves while staying true to their characterizations. The film is made without undo strife or scandal. When it shows up, EVERYBODY likes it. Audiences are caught up in the lives of the people on screen. Acclaim follows shortly thereafter, awards fall like tenpins, and it’s lauded as one of the best of the decade.

By all outward appearances, writer-director-producer James L. Brooks is that rarity, an elegant Hollywood success. A TV legend from the 1970s, he generated an enormous volume of entertainment, but has signed his name as director only a few times. Two of his directed features repeated the success of Terms of Endearment, 1987’s  Broadcast News and 1997’s  As Good as It Gets, dramas that connect strongly with the audience. Nobody seems to remember Brooks’ lesser output, only the legendary hits. He was an executive producer & writer on TV’s The Tracey Ullman Show, which begat the animated The Simpsons, now in its (cough) 34th year on the air.

The movie is another success milestone for the noted author Larry McMurtry. Starting with 1963’s Hud, film and TV adaptations of his Texas-centric novels never went away, especially his Lonesome Dove cycle. Terms of Endearment is an intimate family drama in a non-rustic setting. The focus is on the mother-daughter bond. It has the qualities of a soap opera, without prejudice. We like everyone we meet in this thing.


“You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage.”

The main narrative spans perhaps 12 years. In an upscale suburb of Houston, widowed Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) fends off a potential suitor or two while trying her utmost to get her flighty, equally stubborn daughter Emma (Debra Winger) to follow her advice. Desperate to get away from the domineering Aurora, Emma marries the penniless, carefree English college instructor Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels). When Aurora finally realizes that the wedding is for real, she refuses to attend. Emma’s reckless determination impresses even her best friend Patsy Clark (Lisa Hart Carroll).

Although each considers the other an interfering royal pain, Aurora and Emma remain in close contact through constant phone calls. Time passes quickly. Emma has children and moves with Flap to a teaching job in Iowa. By the time Emma’s oldest is eleven or so, her marriage is showing stress. Money is always tight. Flap isn’t close to his kids, and Emma suspects that he has affairs with his students. She has an affair of her own with Sam Burns (John Lithgow), a kind man that she meets at the supermarket. Back in Houston, Aurora commences a +50 fling with her nextdoor neighbor, retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Aurora is surprised with herself, as she’s been criticizing Garrett’s drunken womanizing for years. Aurora and Emma’s ‘abrasive bond’ becomes even closer with these developments. When a health issue arises that can’t be ignored, the mother / daughter relationship evolves once again.

Top-billed Debra Winger was the big draw for Terms, after the smash success of just two movies, Urban Cowboy and An Officer and a Gentleman. With her low voice and impulsive personality, Winger convinced audiences that she was real — her characters betrayed little or no signs of standard ‘acting.’ A generation of women accepted her as a non-standard screen mate for both John Travolta and Richard Gere. There’s something credible about Emma’s marriage to Jeff Daniel’s Flap, even if the matrimonial arrangement always has an improvised, tentative quality: ‘this is working for now.’ The very good Daniels plays Flap as always slightly disengaged, with his main focus not on his household.


“Why should I be upset about being A GRANDMOTHER?!

Almost thirty years into her bright career, Shirley MacLaine had maintained a star image even if only a few of her movies approached the success and acclaim of her two with Billy Wilder, like the highly profitable Irma La Douce. In the years before Terms she scored a few decent hits and the solid winner The Turning Point (1977) with Anne Bancroft. MacLaine is one of the few Hollywood actresses who shifted into middle-aged roles without necessarily becoming desexualized. She had proven her fearlessness in that department in 1979’s Being There, vamping a strip seduction scene. Her Aurora Greenway demonstrates some nimble romantic moves, including bedroom scenes, at age 49.

Moviegoers have relished romantic personality clashes ever since the days of Gable & Lombard. They surely anticipated sparks flying with this first team-up of the feisty MacLaine and the ‘bad boy’ Jack. Nicholson is technically doing special support duty on Terms. He’s just three years younger than MacLaine but achieved stardom much later than she. This may be the first show in which Jack lets his age show, with a serious paunch appropriate to the character. Grooming his image as an unpredictable mischief-maker, Nicholson kept his romantic flag flying much longer, coming back for Brooks in the unexpected winner As Good as It Gets.

The main storyline is the Mother-daughter ups and downs, but audiences had even more fun watching the clash between MacLaine’s ever-wary Aurora and Nicholson’s wild card neighbor. Their ‘first date’ is delayed by years, only for both parties to find each other to be delightful company. There are no easy formulas like ‘opposites attract’ — what seems to matter is chemistry, fate, and an individual’s desire to find someone compatible.


“Mama, that’s the first time I stopped hugging first — I like that.”

The unpretentious non-message of all the relationship squabbles and naughty fun may be hidden in the story’s given title — unlikely couples get together all the time, but every pairing has to work its way through some basic ground rules. A loving relationship can have a lot of wiggle room. Neither Flap nor Emma would call themselves pillars of fidelity, and Emma would probably laugh at the suggestion. But they do love each other. Even when Emma gets hard proof that her husband is only partly committed to her, an aggravated breakup is not in the cards.

The last act is handled quite well, without the full-on tearjerking of the later bittersweet soap Steel Magnolias. Just as in real life, the characters get older but not necessarily wiser. Life brings hard Experience, but few hard and true life lessons — the ‘endearment’ that binds us together is its own reward.

Again, we admire James L. Brooks’ ability to navigate the pitfalls of star egos and creative panic. Each of these stars had the clout and force of will to interfere with the movie’s direction, had they felt threatened. Brooks must had to work through at least some tensions while filming. We’ve read about arguments on the set but the finished film betrays nothing. Until told otherwise, we attribute to Mr. Brooks’ considerable talent, what must have been a positive and secure creative environment.


“If you wanted to get me on my back, all you had to do was ask me.”

Despite scoring a high position in the billing, Danny DeVito puts in a minimum of screen time as one of Aurora’s admirers. Did Brooks shoot more material that was discarded?  It also needs to be said that some of the scenes with small children are exceedingly good. The difficulties with Emma’s young son Tommy (Troy Bishop) are exceptionally believable. The kid chooses the exact wrong time to give his mother grief, which is exactly like real life. Yet we understand, and don’t want to strangle the kid.

One doesn’t need to know backstage stories to appreciate Terms of Endearment — hints that MacLaine and Winger didn’t get along are irrelevant considering the richness of what’s on screen. Director Brooks’ shooting style is also invisible, completely character driven. He’s neither a Coverage Hack nor a showoff stylist. His scenes unspool so smoothly, we don’t feel a speed bump when the continuity suddenly jumps ahead several years. The production design is seamless — Emma and Flap’s rented Iowa house looks like a ‘take it or leave it’ termite trap with peeling paint. When we see our favorite designer Polly Platt with a big upfront credit, we have to think she contributed a lot to Brooks’ first big screen outing, as a general creative assistant, too.



Paramount Presents’ 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital of Terms of Endearment is going to reproduce the theatrical experience in Home Theater settings. In addition to discs in both formats, a digital code is provided, for direct download.

The 4K encoding captures the glowing cinematography of Andrzej Bartkowiak (Prince of the City,  The Verdict,  Daniel). It reveals some subtle stylistic choices — opening flashbacks to Aurora with Emma as a baby have a filter effect that on DVD just looked like a blur.


Both the 4K and the Blu-ray version carry an older (2001) commentary, with James L. Brooks, his co-producer and Polly Platt engaging in a fascinating discussion. We run to the Blu-ray to check out other extras, and besides the long-but-good trailer find only a new video talk by the director. In 13 minutes Brooks dispenses a good once-over for his picture, characterizing the author, the main actors and his own effort to learn what Texas was like, having never been there before. We hear the casting stories about Jennifer Jones and Burt Reynolds, and the last-minute actor switch that brought John Lithgow in for four fast days of work. Brooks gives us admiring vignettes of the personalities of Nicholson and MacLaine, expressing awe at the storied stars’ willingness to jump in and do the work with such enthusiasm. Debra Winger appears in a few faded video clips, also contributing thoughtful remarks.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Terms of Endearment 4K
4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent + French mono
Filmmaker Focus with James L. Brooks.
Commentary with Brooks, co-producer Penney Finkleman Cox, and Polly Platt
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English + French (feature only)
Packaging: One 4K Ultra HD disc + one Blu-ray disc plus Digital code in Keep case in card sleeve.
November 12, 2023

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Jenny Agutter fan

I can’t believe that it took me until 2020 to finally see that movie.


[…] the Best Picture category all lost to James L. Brooks, who gathered up three Oscars in one go for Terms of Endearment. But the Columbia release is a definite career highlight for all of its makers — it can hold […]

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