American Graffiti Special Edition - Recommended

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, May 24, 2011.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    American Graffiti

    Special Edition



    Studio: Universal (Film produced by Lucasfilm/Coppola Co.)

    Year: 1973

    Length:  1 hr 53 mins

    Genre: Comedy with Drama/Teen Angst/Coming of Age/1960s Nostalgia


    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1


    BD Resolution: 1080p

    BD Video Codec: VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps)

    Color/B&W: Color


    Audio:

    English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 2.1mbps )

    French DTS 2.0 Surround Mono


    Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish French



    Film Rating: PG (Nothing major here)


    Release Date: May 31, 2011


    Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, Wolfman Jack

    Written by:  George Lucas and Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck

    Directed by: George Lucas


    Film Rating:    4 ½/5


    American Graffiti is probably the most emotionally complex film George Lucas has ever made, and it is indisputably the most personal film he has ever made.  Set over the course of a single night in 1962, the movie tracks the final moments of carefree teenage life for a group of people on the verge of adulthood.  The movie is billed as a nostalgic comedy, laced with classic 50s and early 60s music, with an air of complete innocence about anything deeper.  And yet the film claws a lot farther into my guts every time I see it.  There’s a real feeling of melancholy that fills the movie, something I am now happy to see that George Lucas has validated in his new commentary on this disc.


    Watching the movie today, I am struck by how unbelievably young this cast is – and by how practically every member of the cast went on to much bigger things.   It’s an embarrassment of riches.  You have Richard Dreyfuss, years before Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or The Goodbye Girl.  There’s Ron Howard, straddling the time between his years as a child performer and his starring role on “Happy Days” (not to mention his directing and producing career).  There’s Cindy Williams and Mackenzie Phillips, both of whom went on to some success in the sitcom world.  There’s Charles Martin Smith, years before Never Cry Wolf and Starman.  There’s Paul Le Mat, years before Melvin and Howard and The Burning Bed.  There’s Suzanne Somers, years before “Three’s Company” and a long line of sitcoms and a writing career.  There’s Candy Clark, years before The Man Who Fell to Earth, among other films.  And of course, in the small role of Bob Falfa, there’s a then-unknown actor-turned-carpenter named Harrison Ford.  It’s enough to make your jaw drop.  And they’re all REALLY GOOD in this movie.  Their youth is a big part of the fuel of the movie – not just the many comic moments but also the unexpected depth charges that can sneak up on you when you’re not looking.


    SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM.  AND IF YOU HAVEN’T, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, PLEASE WATCH IT!  The film is structured as a series of vignettes set to the songs of the time as the various characters cruise the local strip, go to a sock hop, wander the night, and otherwise enjoy the last night of their lives before things will change forever for them.  This allows for a lot of funny material –especially the sight of Charles Martin Smith’s Terry cruising in a beautiful car that clearly isn’t his, and the odd but fun pairing of Paul Le Mat’s John Milner with a 12-year-old Mackenzie Phillips for many scenes.   George Lucas has said in recent years that he just made the movie as an experiment about building a movie around the music, but the details of this film bely that.  It’s clear that the movie is mostly autobiographical, with several of the main characters modeled after Lucas at different points in his teenage years.  There’s a lot of Lucas in Terry, the nerdy guy trying to fit in.  Lucas has a lot of fun giving Terry enough confidence to step just far enough outside his comfort zone to almost take a major fall – without actually hurting him.  An early moment where Terry loses control over a scooter, and a later moment where he just barely avoids dropping a tossed bottle are great examples of this.  But there’s also a lot of Lucas in racer John Milner (who also embodies elements of Lucas’ friend John Milius), whose confidence as a racer stands in contrast to the fact that he’s hanging around a town he probably should have left a year earlier.   And there’s a lot of Lucas in Richard Dreyfuss’ lead character of Curt Henderson, who embodies the basic issue of the movie.  Curt is on the verge of leaving town to go off to college, and this is his last night before he goes.  The movie repeatedly shows us examples of Curt trying to find a way or a reason to stay home and not have to go off into the world.  And yet, he knows he must go – as scary as that is for him.  Lucas finds the best metaphor for this late in the film where Curt goes to the local radio station and meets the local deejay, who says he just plays the tapes sent in by the legendary Wolfman Jack.  As Curt leaves, he hears that voice calling out his dedication live, and turns around to see he was actually talking to the real Wolfman.  And he also realizes that this man is really just another guy who got stuck in the town and never left.  Lucas gives us a long look at Curt’s reaction, half in shadow – and it’s probably the most interesting character moment in his entire filmography.  At the same time, Lucas has us follow the happy/unhappy couple of Ron Howard’s Steve Bolander and Cindy Williams’ Laurie Henderson (Curt’s little sister).  This section is more comic (and also is more the product of Lucas’ co-writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck), but there’s some deeper material here.  Steve tells Laurie and Curt he wants to get out of this town, not thinking of how this will affect Laurie or himself.  One depth charge comes early when Steve and Laurie dance at the sock hop to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and she is overcome with emotion.  (Williams’ performance here is probably her best from anything I’ve ever seen.)  While the film winds up with a kind of happy, sentimental ending – Curt flies off to college without Steve, but looks down to see that white T-Bird he’s been chasing all night following him on the road to his future – there’s one more punchline.  Lucas throws in a tag that still resonates today, just as much as it did in 1973.    As the plane flies away, we are shown a series of photos of the characters with titles to say what happened to them after this point.   We see that one died in a traffic accident, that another was essentially killed in Vietnam.  We see that Steve never in fact escaped – that in spite of all his talk about getting out of this “turkey town”, he couldn’t leave Laurie or the town.  And the final irony is that Curt wound up as a writer in Canada, which in 1973 would have been a clear indication of having fled the country to avoid being drafted and sent off to Vietnam.  In the end, Curt, who struggled with the idea of leaving home, learned instead that you can’t go home again.


    American Graffiti has previously been released on standard definition DVD, which was an anamorphic transfer with the same extras as on the 1998 Signature laserdisc.  (By the way, the version of the movie to be found on those releases as well as this one is not the film people saw in theaters in 1973.  After the success of Star Wars, Lucas was able to compel Universal to release his preferred longer cut, with 4 additional minutes of footage.  And in the 90s, Lucas had ILM add a picturesque sunset into the opening title shot.)  The Blu-ray release carries over most of the extras from the SD DVD, along with a new high definition transfer of the picture and sound, and two U-Control features.  One feature is a guide to the many songs, allowing the viewer to identify and even purchase them on iTunes.  The second, and more interesting feature, is a new video commentary with George Lucas, who talks through most of the movie about the production, his own history, and his feelings about the movie today.   This is a really interesting and satisfying package, particularly with the new commentary, and I am happy to recommend it for purchase.  But I do need to raise one caveat:  the new picture transfer does have some visible edge enhancement.   It’s noticeable, although not to the extent that I would find a deal-breaker.   I still recommend the purchase, particularly if you’ve never seen this film.  It’s a much more personal and emotional film than you would expect from Lucas – and on an artistic level, I think it could be his best film. 



    VIDEO QUALITY   3/5

    American Graffiti is presented in a 1080p VC-1 2.35:1 transfer that brings out a wide range of color and detail throughout the movie.  There’s a fair amount of grain visible, which belies any talk of DNR here.  There is a small but noticeable amount of edge enhancement which looks like it was applied to try to sharpen the image from what was a low budget shoot under difficult lighting conditions.  We should keep in mind that the movie was shot using the Techniscope process, which is the way Sergio Leone shot his spaghetti westerns.  It’s a process which allows for a widescreen look on a lower budget, but with the effect of a grainier picture and a lower level of resolution.  Lucas admits in his commentary that lighting conditions were challenging, and that there were focus issues, which he tried to correct with the help of Haskell Wexler, who took a credit only as a consultant here.  So, will you see some evidence of digital work on this picture transfer?  Yes.  Does it detract from an ideal version of this transfer?  Yes.  Is it enough to take the viewer out of the movie or ruin the experience?  No.  The larger your HDTV, the more you’ll see of it.   But based on Lucas’ commentary, this is a transfer he personally saw and approved.   I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.



    AUDIO QUALITY   4/5

    American Graffiti is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix in English, along with a standard DTS 2.0 mix in French.   This is a great presentation of Lucas and Walter Murch’s audio mix, which uses the song soundtrack as atmosphere, and uses the occasional sound effects like a score.  Staying with the 2.0 mix is an interesting choice – but it’s clearly the intent of Lucas and Murch to go with the strength of the original mix rather than artificially trying to open up into the surround channels.   Murch is certainly a man who knows his way around a 5.1 mix – so if he doesn’t want that here, I wouldn’t presume to debate it.


    SPECIAL FEATURES      4/5

    The Blu-Ray presentation of American Graffiti comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, as well as pocket BLU  functionality.  The disc also carries over most of the extras from the prior DVD (and laserdisc) releases, including a great Laurent Bouzerau documentary about the making of the film.  New to the Blu-ray are two U-Control features, one of which is the music guide, and the other is George Lucas’ new video commentary.


    U-Control: PIP Video Commentary with George Lucas –  NEW FEATURE – George Lucas sits down to watch the movie with the viewer and offer his memories and insights throughout the film.  As with most Lucas commentaries, this is not an outwardly engaging affair – he tends to go in short bursts and get fairly technical – but if you stay with it, there are many gems here.  He acknowledges that the real theme running through the movie is change and the fear of change.  He discusses each iteration of these ideas in the film, from Curt being unable to open his locker to his encounter with a teacher who  has clearly stayed too long in town, to the meeting with Wolfman Jack, which Lucas sees as more of a downbeat affair than you would have thought.  Lucas also tells lots of horror stories about the shoot, but also throws in some things that pleased him – particularly that he was able to get a plane that actually came from Magic Carpet Airlines for his closing scene.  Lucas also talks about how the film relates to his own life, usually in terms of how much trouble he got in when he was cruising as a teenager.   The PIP commentary goes on and off (and there can be some stickiness with it, as I found on one try when I couldn’t disengage it), only popping up when Lucas starts talking again.  I have to admit, however, that it’s a little strange to see a video commentary where you’re really just watching Lucas sitting in the screening theater.   On many occasions he cranes his neck over to his right, indicating to me that he’s actually talking to an interviewer seated off camera in that direction.  To be honest, this probably could have been a simple audio commentary, as it is with the SD version of this edition.


    U-Control:  The Music of American Graffiti – NEW FEATURE – This feature identifies whatever song is playing at that point during the movie.  With the correct internet connection, you can use this feature to help facilitate buying the songs from iTunes.


    The Making of American Graffiti – (1:18:10, 480p, Full Frame)   - FROM THE 1998 LASERDISC –  Laurent Bouzereau’s thorough documentary about the making of the film is included here, and it’s a keeper.  In 6 parts with a brief epilogue, the documentary covers the whole ground from the start of the project through the problems Lucas had getting Universal to release the movie into theaters.  In watching the interviews with the cast and Lucas, conducted in the latter 1990s, one is struck by how much older Lucas appears today in the video commentary, and how much older the rest of the cast looks these days when seen elsewhere.  (To be honest, it’s still hard for me to think of 1998 as over ten years ago, let alone thirteen…)


    Screen Tests – (22:54 Total, 1080p, Full Frame)  - FROM THE 1998 LASERDISC – Four screen tests are presented here in full frame, but in 1080p for the Blu-ray edition.  The first features Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, and Richard Dreyfuss.  The second features Ron Howard and Cindy Williams.  The third features Mackenzie Phillips and Paul Le Mat, and the final one features Charles Martin Smith.  The packaging indicates that this is “never-before-seen” material.   That’s not correct.  The material has been available at least since the 1998 laserdisc and DVD.


    Trailer – (2:52, 480p, Non-Anamorphic)  The movie’s original trailer is presented here in standard definition.  There’s one really interesting part of it – the characters are identified by cartoon caricatures which list their name and their graduating class year – something that lines right up with Lucas’ assessment of some of the characters being unable to escape the town after being old enough to move on.


    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.  At the same time, the Blu-ray also allows for pocket BLU iPhone connectivity.


    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.


    The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film and the special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French.  A generous chapter menu is provided, along with markers for where the U-Control features are active.



    IN THE END...

    American Graffiti is a much richer and more complex film than you might think at first glance.  It’s a pleasure to be able to visit it again on Blu-ray, complete with a new commentary by its creator.  There’s a minor issue with the picture transfer, but it’s not enough to deter me from recommending this title for purchase.  There’s just too much talent on display here, coupled with a nice presentation and a good set of extras, for me to give it any more weight than I have.  This is the kind of film I wish George Lucas would make again – and for those who have only seen Lucas’ work with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, it’s a must-see.


    Kevin Koster

    May 24, 2011. 

     
  2. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    I was surprised that this is a 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo soundtrack, but I think it better showcases what Walter Murch was able to do with a matrixed stereo soundtrack back in 1973 than try to emulate it with a 5.1 remix. I have not seen or heard this Blu-ray release, but I remember what an immersive sound experience the old laserdisc was.
     
  3. Worth

    Worth Screenwriter

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    I'm pretty sure the original release was mono, even though Lucas wanted it to be stereo. When the film was re-released in 1978, Lucas had the clout to insist on it being stereo.
     
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    If anyone could have redone the mix to 5.1, it's Walter Murch. And certainly, if anyone could have insisted on it, it's George Lucas. But it's clear that this was not the intention. Given that, and given that it sounds great as is, I can't argue with them.
     
  5. Worth

    Worth Screenwriter

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    No surprise there. It seems Lucas has no intention of releasing any of his films on blu-ray in their original incarnation.
     
  6. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    Lucas has commented about this. When he was at an event at the Directors Guild of America in February, he talked about the revised cuts he did of American Grafitti and THX-1138, as well as his revised editions of the Star Wars movies. When it came to THX and AG, Lucas was not happy about cuts that were made by the studio. He didn't have final cut, and the studios were able to take things out that he wanted left in. In the case of AG, there were 3 scenes, particularly the bits with Terry and the car salesman in the giant chair and a bit with Harrison Ford singing to Cindy Williams. Lucas liked the scenes and wanted them in. Universal's execs wanted the scenes removed. Universal won for the initial release. Once Lucas got enough clout, he went back to Universal and demanded that the scenes be reinstated.


    As he said at the DGA, "once I did that, their cut disappeared, and my cut is the one that survived. So if you go to see the video today, you'll get my cut of the movie, not theirs."
     
  7. ReggieW

    ReggieW Screenwriter

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    A definite buy--- but man does that amazon pre-order price stink!
     
  8. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    Sounds like another release to pick up on the cheap racks in a few months.
     
  9. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    I believe you are correct. The original release was mono, with a Dolby A noise reduction encoding. However I think the stereo mix may have actually been done in 73, but simply never put on the release prints because Universal didn't want to spend the money on it. Besides there were almost no theaters able to play a Dolby Stereo sound track, so Universal though, why bother. Doug
     
  10. Mark-P

    Mark-P Producer

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    Any stereo release in 1973 would have had to have been magnetic (which was costly). Split-track optical with Dolby NR didn't come about for another couple of years. However Dolby mono dates back to 1972.

     
  11. SilverWook

    SilverWook Cinematographer

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    Did he mention he got his director's cut of THX released in 1978?
     
  12. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    He didn't really get specific about that part of THX. In that discussion, as in the commentary, he ruefully notes that THX effectively bankrupted American Zoetrope, thus forcing Coppola to go make The Godfather, and causing Lucas to do American Grafitti.


    His only mention of the later versions of THX was to say that like AG, there were studio cuts that he was able to have reversed later. And that the version available today, which survives, is his cut rather than the studio's.


    Two side notes out of the DGA discussion with Christopher Nolan:


    -When he was asked by the studio how he was going to do the VFX for THX, he told the studio he was going to use the brand new "Rotary Cam Photography". The studio bought that line, believe it or not...


    -When Lucas tried to do the restoration of Star Wars in the 1990s, he found out that the OCN hadn't been properly preserved and the cyan strip no longer synced up with the others - which generated a hunt for the best possible existing print to work from...
     
  13. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    My preorder price from Amazon was 19.99 as I jump on these preorders once I see a reasonably price because I've noticed too many increase in price as they get closer to release.
     
  14. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    That was my price, too. I didn't even realize the price had gone up until seeing this thread.
     
  15. robbbb1138

    robbbb1138 Second Unit

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    If any of you guys get those e-mails from Borders offering large discounts on a single item, the one they sent out for Memorial Day lowers the price on this to about $16.
     
  16. ReggieW

    ReggieW Screenwriter

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    FYE is currently offering this title for $10.98. I don't know if it's an error or what, but I just ordered a copy and everything went through just fine. The total out the door was $15.05 - including tax and economy shipping.


    Now, this price is more like it!
     
  17. Brian Husar

    Brian Husar Stunt Coordinator

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    Just received my copy and watched it last night and generally I am pleased. The edge enhancement was a problem but this is not Patton...and there was no DNR as the grain is in fact visible. Could have been better but imagine what it would have been if Lucas or Lucasfilm was not involved, this is the best looking the film has been for me, despite the edge enhancement.
     
  18. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    I went to two "Bust" Buy stores today, and a TARGET and a FYE -- none of the 4 carried this disc. It really stinks today, having to get everything online.
     
  19. David Deeb

    David Deeb Supporting Actor

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    FYE is at least stocking it, but the others may not be. I picked a copy at our FYE on the way home. But I agree, it's sad. Especially when you probably spent $10 in gas driving around to all those places.
     
  20. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    At my local Best Buy (which is on my walk home from work) they weren't carrying the disc. I asked a sales associate to check if any other nearby L.A. stores had them, and he said "sure but I know SKUs that start like this usually indicate Bestbuy.com stock only." Sure enough, none of the six nearby BBs had any stock in-store.
     

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