Something Wild (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Review Date: May 1, 2011
Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild is a dangerous comedy. Its humor skitters along the edges of nervous mirth, comedy holding on by the tips of its fingers before segueing into melodrama, and, surprise, surprise, it works! The movie features superb casting, fluid direction, and an effortless story that, while not always covering all of its bases, manages to juggle its competing elements of merriment and madness with great aplomb.
Staid stockbroker Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels) happens on a wild child/lass named Lulu (Melanie Griffith) while skipping out on a lunch check, the only kind of quiet rebellion he seems capable of at this juncture of his life. Under Lulu’s influence, however, he’s becoming more assertive bit by bit taking money from his company’s Christmas club fund to finance his wild weekend with Lulu, tagging along with her to her mother’s house by masquerading as her new husband, and inevitably being dragged to her tenth high school reunion continuing the charade as her husband and realizing that he’s enjoying this new breath of fresh air in his tightly wound and structured life. At the reunion, however, they run into Lulu’s real husband Ray (Ray Liotta), a recently released ex-con bordering on the psychotic who is not about to let Mr. College Graduate take over his lady. What began as a lark turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse as Charlie decides he’s not going to go down in defeat without a fight.
E. Max Frye’s screenplay makes all three of the star parts into fascinating characters even if Charlie seems a bit irregularly written. For all his smarts, can’t he read that Ray is a dangerous man without having to learn it the hard way? Didn’t he see those ominous newspaper clippings in Lulu’s yearbook detailing a dangerous thief being arrested for multiple robberies? On the other hand, Frye’s surprise revelations about Charlie’s personal life are handled beautifully, holding back information until it finally must be revealed giving the audience a further adjustment in their estimation of this man who seems awfully weak-willed at the beginning and not really worthy of our support despite his unmistakable charm and good manners. Demme gets out juices flowing almost from the start with that check-skipping business and then Lulu behind the wheel of a car driving as if there’s no tomorrow, a picture perfect way of establishing her untamed nature that he then builds on with each subsequent move she makes during the film’s first hour. Once the character of Ray is introduced an hour into the film, the tone shifts noticeably, and the fun changes to a kind of anxious anticipation with our wanting to see what happens next. With writing this solid and direction this spot-on (especially as tension builds for the final showdown), the audience is willing to go anywhere and love the journey.
Jeff Daniels undergoes such a monumental transformation over the course of the film’s nearly two hours that his acting is a marvel of invention and discovery. Seeing Melanie Griffith here before she ruined herself with overdone plastic surgery and collagen injections is a real revelation. She simply is Lulu, a free spirit who loves controlled thrills and is comfortable in any number of guises (she’s also as open to doing nudity here as she was in Body Double which helped win her this role.) But the film’s real breakout star is Ray Liotta. This was his first movie, and the actor’s electric transitions between fun-loving innocuousness and unbalanced mania, acting tricks we’re used to now from him, are startling in their suddenness and intensity. He holds the focus every time he appears in a shot, and his instability gives the movie’s second half a jolting shot-in-the-arm that makes it the unique experience it is. Robert Ridgely as one of Charlie’s office mates who sees another side of his boss in action is certainly effective. Look quickly and you’ll see directors John Sayles as a motorcycle cop and John Waters as a car salesman.
The film has been framed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with the approval of cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and director Jonathan Demme. It’s presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Spotlessly clean and with outstanding sharpness, the transfer is a real winner. Color is expertly saturated though flesh tones take on a rosy glow in many shots. Blacks aren’t at their inkiest, but shadow detail can be impressive on occasion. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix clearly presents the terrific dialogue without any age-related artifacts like hiss or crackle to mar the experience. Stereo separation is fine without being outstanding, but the use of many “in the moment” pop music cues has decent to good spread through the soundstage.
All video features are presented in 1080p.
Director Jonathan Demme discusses the experience of making the movie in an excellent 33 ¼-minute interview. He talks about his disillusion with filmmaking after the debacle of Swing Shift only to be reawakened to its possibilities with this film’s script. He discusses the look he wanted for the movie, his search for the right talent for the leading roles (and some cameo appearances, too), and mentions aspects of his directorial technique.
Screenwriter E. Max Frye talks about his inspirations for the script, his top two choices for the director of his screenplay, his thoughts on the film’s cast, and the struggle with the ending after the studio seemed wary of the violence inherent in it. This interesting featurette runs 9 ¼ minutes.
The movie’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, and film expert David Thompson’s overview of Jonathan Demme’s career and an analysis of this film specifically.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
A combination road comedy/thriller, Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild crackles with the same kind of jittery excitement it had upon its initial release. Excellent video and audio and some illuminating interviews with the director and screenwriter add additional interest to this recommended Criterion release.