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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - June, 2011

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"American Graffiti" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-june-2011-american-graffiti

Synopsis

Set over a single late summer night in 1962, “American Graffiti” tells the tale of four young men at a crossroad in their lives.  Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are struggling with their decision to leave home and head off to college.  Terry (Charles Martin Smith) is the odd-man-out of the group, always trying to keep up with the others.  John (Paul Le Mat) is the uber-cool drag-racer, whose canary yellow deuce-coupe has never been beat.  Over the course of a long night spent cruising the strip, hanging out at the drive-in, searching for love, and listening to tunes spun by radio DJ Wolfman Jack, the four boys each make their decision over how to spend the rest of their lives.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1973, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 53 Min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ronny Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Philips, Cindy Williams, and Wolfman Jack
  • Directed by George Lucas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

For years I’ve heard about how great this film was but up until now had never seen it for myself.  Perhaps this film resonates more with those who spent their teenage years in the 1960’s but I was left scratching my head on this one.  First of all, the story moves along extremely slowly.  The one hour, 53 minute run time felt more like three hours to me.  While it was interesting to see how a teenager of the 60’s spent their nights, this story is character-driven and the character development really fell flat.  I felt absolutely no empathy for the characters of Steve and Laurie.  Ron Howard’s dialogue and acting were poor and his scenes added nothing of value to the film.  The fact that he decides to abandon his college dreams to stay with a girl of such little personality further confuses things. Curt’s character gets a bit better development (and better acting by Dreyfuss), but we don’t get a satisfying explanation for why he changes his mind and decides to head off to college after his evening.  Terry’s character is more entertaining and felt far more realistic to me.  I think we all knew guys in high school like him.  The best character development came with John’s character.  Having the cool drag racer get stuck spending the entire evening with a whiny 13-year old is probably the highlight of the film.  There was some great dialogue between John and young Carol which gave the scenes realism and great heart.   The big drag race to conclude the film is absolutely anti-climactic in my book and had me uttering “That’s all?”

Technical

For a film shot in 1973, the picture doesn’t look too bad.  Close ups are fairly sharp, but other shots are a bit soft.  I noticed some edge enhancement, which causes occasional ringing and haloing.  Black levels are elevated a bit, but overall colors are vibrant.  Film grain is moderate, which helps give the movie a more period-correct look.  The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was pretty good considering that it was only 2.0 channels.  Dialogue is very clear and natural sounding and Wolfman Jack’s tunes carry decent weight.  The soundtrack is a literal who’s who of rock and roll history and as such is very enjoyable.  While I would have preferred a cleaner presentation of the music, the filmmakers did a good job of making it sound like the songs were being played through the car stereos.

Extras

There is a full-length “making of” documentary plus screen tests of some of the stars from the film.  The “U-Control” enabled disc also includes a new commentary from director George Lucas and a “music identification” game that you can play.