- Jul 6, 2003
Fast Times At Ridgemont High: Special Edition
Running Time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1; Spanish Mono (2.0)
November 2nd, 2004
Perhaps the quintessential commentary on high school life during the 1980s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the product of a very interesting and ambitious experiment by then 22-year-old journalist Cameron Crowe (writer director of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire). Apparently, Crowe’s youthful appearance enabled him to pass himself off as a teenager, and he posed as a high school senior for an entire year, subsequently writing a novel that chronicled the experience.
Shortly thereafter, Universal Studios picked up the rights to Crowe’s best-selling book, and tasked him with adapting it for the screen as well. From there, freshman director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) was penciled in as director, and the project was shifted into high gear, with Ms. Heckerling and her producers rounding up an impressive cast of up-and-coming actors and getting the production rolling. Indeed, the film made it into theaters relatively quickly, despite battles with both the MPAA (over ratings) and the studio, which thought the film would be a dismal failure, especially on the East coast.
Thankfully, fate intervened, and audiences ended up with a really fun movie, and definitely one of the best exposes on high-school life in the early 1980s! True enough, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is by and large a comedy, but I think what really makes it cook are its more serious moments, which helps make the characters “real” people that we can love, hate, identify with, and so forth. In this regard, I think Amy Heckerling’s endeavor to show that painful experiences are part-and-parcel of the high school experience, and sometimes adolescents’ early experiences with sex, paid big dividends.
For example, some of Fast Times’ sexual encounters play out in a rather realistic and uncomfortable manner than in other “high school” films, such as when Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) loses her virginity to a much older man in the dugout of a baseball field. During this sequence, the expression on her face makes it evident that she is not enjoying the experience as much as she thought she would, despite all of the kind “advice” offered by her more experienced friend Linda (Phoebe Cates).
There is also a sequence relating to abortion, which is another of the many serious consequences of teen sex, but enough of the depressing real-life stuff…Fast Times at Ridgemont High is just as much about fun, and about provoking memories of the times we went to high school, regardless of the decade it was in!
Indeed, I would bet that most of us either knew people just like these characters or were these characters in high school. That being the case, I think it is easy to care about or relate to them, and in doing so recall times when we were faced with similar circumstances, like dealing with overbearing teachers, trying to win the heart of a dream girl/guy, or just trying to gain the acceptance of peers.
Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about those who portrayed them a little bit. What a cast of actors Amy Heckerling and her producers assembled! Among the ensemble, we have:
Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop) plays Brad Hamilton as a young man who wants normalcy, as in a steady girlfriend and a stable gig. As you might expect though, in a film like Fast Times, there is no way Brad can stay in the comfort zone he has so carefully created, and Reinhold is great at displaying Brad’s changing emotions as the film takes moves him through the peaks and valleys of his senior year.
The wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Brad’s younger sister, the aforementioned Stacy, who is a little more adventurous than her brother. More specifically, Stacy is curious about sex, and although her brother is probably just as interested in having it, the difference is that she is more proactive in seeking her first sexual experience. Her friend, and mentor in the S-E-X department, is the stunningly beautiful Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates). In two of the film’s most memorable scenes, Linda uses a carrot to teach her friend Stacy a very important lesson about sex, and later emerges from a sparkling swimming pool during Brad’s masturbatory fantasy. The latter of these two scenes is my favorite, of course!
Anyway, although Linda has got looks to spare, there are those who find Stacy attractive as well. Among them is Mark “The Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer), a soft-spoken young man who is smitten with Ms. Hamilton but cannot muster the courage to approach her. The two actually have quite a bit in common, for like Stacy, Mark turns to an older and supposedly more experienced pal, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), for advice on how to woo her. As it turns out, his buddy’s confidence and cockiness is all a put-on, but to a timid young man like Mark, Damone is “the man” - an authority on all things related to the fairer sex. If you ask me, both Stacy and Mark spent too much time listening to their “advisors”, when their personalities made them a good couple to begin with.
In addition to the teens that form the story’s core, there are a couple of adults that play prominent (though brief) roles in the narrative of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Undoubtedly the best known of these is the tyrannical U.S. History teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), a man who cannot understand why no one seems to care about his course and thinks that all of his students are on drugs. Completely dissatisfied with the low caliber of the students in his class, Mr. Hand derives pleasure from making the happy-go-lucky surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli’s (Sean Penn) life a miserable experience.
Incidentally, it took me a while to get to him, but Jeff Spicoli is the film’s funniest character, and the way Sean Penn plays him is nothing less than “totally awesome”. I had a real problem with how Seann William Scott’s character, Steve Stifler, came across at the very beginning of American Wedding, and the same easily could have happened here with an actor less gifted than Sean Penn in the role. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that Spicoli could have been an extremely one-dimensional, grating, and repetitive character, but Penn managed to make him a hilarious and welcome presence in a very good film. Moments like Spicoli bouncing a sneaker off his skull in a drug-induced haze, winning the surf contest, or having a pizza delivered to his history class are absolutely hysterical!
Also be on the look out for some notable cameos, including Forest Whitaker, who makes his feature film debut as Ridgemont High’s star football player, and the former Mr. Lisa Marie Presley, Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola), who pops up in the background throughout the film.
Watching Fast Times again for this review, I looked at it carefully, and after reflecting on it again, it is amazing how well it has aged. Sure, the dialogue, wardrobes, hairstyles, music, and cars date the film, but the material is still every bit as great. With that in mind, I have to applaud Cameron Crowe’s excellent, quote-laden screenplay and Amy Heckerling’s ambitious direction, particularly her desire to create a more realistic picture about the American teenager, circa the early 80’s. As her subsequent films indicate, she may not the greatest director out there, but she really got it right with this one.
Of course, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself, but I find this endearing and funny classic not only brings back a lot of great memories, but is still entertaining even after several repeat viewings! Oh, and the music is “radical” as well (provided you like ‘80s pop/rock that is), as it consists of tunes from a who’s who of performers that were huge during the early 1980s and prior, like The Cars, Led Zeppelin, Don Henly, and The Go-Gos.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, Fast Times at Ridgemont High remains a watershed film, and certainly one that belongs on the short list of the best movies of its genre. If this classic comedy has somehow passed you by, I urge you to give it a look, even if you did not come of age during the 1980s!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Gnarly! Universal’s transfer for Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a very good looking, anamorphically enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) presentation that is unimpaired by major distractions like compression artifacts, edge enhancement halos, or other bothersome digital signatures. In addition, the film’s color palette is reproduced accurately, with bold, bright, noise-free primary colors (for an early ‘80s film that is), and natural-looking skin tones.
The film’s blacks are also black, giving the image excellent shadow delineation and a nice sense of depth. Further, although a couple of sequences looked slightly soft, the level of fine detail exhibited throughout the film was impressive. Finally, the print used was quite clean as well (although not quite reference quality), with only minor traces of dust and scratches popping up from time to time, and just trace amounts of film grain visible.
Overall, considering this film is 22-years old, Fast Times’ image quality is delightful. To be fair, I have not seen the film on DVD in a couple of years (my copy was stolen a while back), but I do not remember having any serious problems with the image on that disc either. Since I no longer have the “Collector’s Edition” to compare the two, I cannot be sure the transfer is not the same, but I am guessing that it is since the press release made no mention of a new transfer. In any event, I certainly do not remember this film looking any better than it does here, and if there is anything that will prevent you from taking a return trip to Ridgemont High for more fast times, it is not the quality of this disc’s visuals!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
While not the revalation I was hoping for, compared with (my memories of) the “Collector’s Edition” DVD release of this film Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a slightly better experience in 5.1 (both Dolby Digital and DTS are offered). To be sure, this is a fairly dialogue-heavy, and thus center channel-oriented film, but there is almost always a great tune playing underneath the story (over 30 songs in all), and they sound much better now that they have been given some “breathing room” via a wider front soundstage and improved frequency response. If you can manage to ignore what is happening onscreen at the time, just listen to “Moving In Stereo” by The Cars for a good example of what I mean. Most of the other songs fare just as well!
Aside from the music, and the odd sound effect, most of this film’s audio information comes in the form of dialogue. Happily, this too sounds very good, and slightly cleaner and more robust than I remember it being on the previous DVD release. Further, all of the different tonalities of the characters’ voices are well rendered, be it “The Rat’s soft-spoken whining or Damone’s swaggering, over-confident boasting, and there is no hissing, sibilance, or distortion to speak of.
In terms of rear channel use, the source material (save for the songs) does not lend itself to an immersive aural experience, and only a handful of scenes contain any location specific audio information. Again, however, the music is really enriched from the added presence that comes from the remix into 5.1. Likewise, the subwoofer provides a nice amount of punch to the proceedings, and more importantly, it does so without calling attention to itself. Again, this mainly benefits the sourced music, but there are a few sound effects in the film that employ the .1 channel to good effect.
All of the above benefits of the remix are slightly more evident on the DTS track, which I believe has smoother, more realistic timbres (for both instruments and voices), moderately better imaging, and a little bit more definition in the lowest octaves of the frequency spectrum. Again, though it is not leaps and bounds above my recollections of the previous DVD’s soundtrack, I think this new-fangled soundtrack is what fans of this film should have been given the first time around! Is it worth an upgrade all by itself? Probably not, but Universal sure has served up two good, “non-gimmicky” 5.1 remixes, with DTS being my drink of choice!!!
Feature Length Commentary
The feature-length commentary for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is contributed by director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe, turned out to be an excellent listen. Both speakers seemed really enthusiastic about taking a retrospective look at their classic comedy. As a result, this track is very easy to listen to, but better still, fans will learn a variety of interesting things about where the film was made, some background information on the cast, and about the battles that Heckerling fought with both the Motion Picture Association of America (apparently, the film was initially rated “X”), and the studio.
Of course, there is also plenty of discussion about Cameron Crowe’s actual experiences “undercover” as a high-school senior, and about how these translated into his book. Another particularly interesting thing is his mention of sequences that were excised from the final cut of the film. If I remember correctly, some of the scenes Mr. Crowe talks about where reinserted into the film for television. I have noticed this with other films as well, most recently Billy Madison starring Adam Sandler. This being a “Special Edition” and all, I think it is appropriate to ask why these scenes have not been included, especially given that they exist? :angry:
All in all, this commentary has it all – it is fascinating, lively, and entertaining! If you like Fast Times at Ridgemont High it is a must listen!!!
NOTE: This commentary is the same one that was found on the previous “Collector’s Edition” DVD release.
Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Also found on the prvious DVD release, “Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, which runs for 39-minutes, treats with all aspects of the creation of this film via interviews with most of the principal cast, director Amy Heckerling, and other key crew members. One of the comments I found very interesting was an accusation that executives tried to shelve the film when it turned out to be different than what they had been expecting. On a related note, Amy Heckerling talks about having to trim the film because it initially received an “X” rating.
Overall, this is a good documentary, although it seems somewhat incomplete (Cameron Crowe, Jennifer Jason Leign, and Phoebe Cates do not participate). Stories about things like how Judge Reinhold was cast instead of Nicolas Cage, and hearing Ray Walston state how proud he is of appearing in this movie almost make up for the absentees though.
P.S. – Look for a humorous story by director Amy Heckerling, about how VHS copies of Fast Times at Ridgemont High were damaged due to excessive use of the pause button during Phoebe Cates’ infamous pool exit scene! The reason it is so funny is because it is undoubtedly true…I know I may have contributed to the problem.
Nosing around the menus, especially the main and bonus menus, will bring up sub-menus that can take you to the scenes in which some of the film’s “Classic Quotes” were spoken.
Hangouts of Ridgemont High
A bit of information is provided on the actual locations that were used to represent the following places in the movie:
--- Ridgemont High
--- Ridgemont Mall
--- The Point
--- All-American Burger
Basically, this feature links viewers to the moment in the film where nineteen songs are played, including: “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne, “Love Rules” by Don Henley, “Speeding” by The Go-Gos, “American Girl” by Don Henly, “Raised on the Radio” by The Rayvns, “Kashmere” by Led Zeppelin, and “Goodbye, Goodbye” by Oingo Boingo. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I am not really too fond of frivolous features like this.
Cast & Filmmakers
I can’t really see why, but still photos (one each and nothing else), and not biographies or filmographies, are provided for:
--- Sean Penn
--- Jennifer Jason Leigh
--- Judge Reinhold
--- Robert Romanus
--- Brian Backer
--- Phoebe Cates
--- Ray Walston
--- Amy Heckerling
These consist of 8 pages of notes on topics such as the theme of the film, the locations used, and (once again) the fact that Fast Times initially received an “X” rating from the MPAA.
The theatrical trailer for Fast Times at Ridgemont High is included.
The disc kicks off with a promo piece for the Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison Collection, followed by trailers for Quantum Leap –Season Two and Seed of Chucky.
(on a five-point scale)
Film: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
Without question, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of the most beloved looks at teenage life and love during the early 1980s. It has aged well, however, because of the quality of the source material, the quality of the performances, and because although the details may be different, these character types still exist today.
Of course, Fast Times is also noteworthy for how many successful careers it launched, from both an acting and filmmaking standpoint. For instance, Cameron Crowe would go on to make wonderful films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, and many principal castmembers/extras have gone on to great fame, including Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, and Anthony Edwards. Of course, others like Phoebe Cates and Robert Romanus did not enjoy further commercial success in feature films, but their efforts on this particular film are no less admirable.
As a DVD, Fast Times is honestly not that much different than its was last time around, when it was a “Collector’s Edition” release. The transfer is still quite good for a relatively low-budget film from the early 1980s, and the value-added materials included are great, but there are no extras new to this release that are worthwhile, as the deleted scenes are still nowhere to be found. Honestly, one could argue that the extras deserve a slightly higher score, but I took a minor deduction because I think it is lazy to simply rehash the same extras that were available on a DVD released years ago.
Really, the only thing that is truly new is the 5.1 remixes, which probably only give people as crazy about this film as I am an incentive to upgrade. This is because they are both fairly front-oriented experiences, as far as the action on-screen is concerned, even though the hit-riddled ‘80s soundtrack is a much more pleasing and “open” experience this time around, especially in its DTS incarnation.
Personally, the beefed up audio track would be enough for me to double-dip, but I can also see how someone who has the “Collector’s Edition” in their library might want to simply hang onto their current copy and save their $$$ for other releases. If you don’t have this in your collection, however, I can easily recommend picking it up!
NOTE: This film is available both separately and in an “Ultimate Party Collection”, which includes the Special Edition of Dazed and Confused.