La Bamba

Collector's Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Musical Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Cast Biographies
Featurette - Remembering Ritchie
Music Video - Los Lobos: La Bamba
Music Video - Howard Huntsberry: Lonely Teardrops
Audio Commentary - Luis Valdez (Director), Stuart Benjamin (Executive Producer), Lou Diamond Philips (Actor), Esai Morales (Actor)
Audio Commentary - Taylor Hackford (Producer), Daniel Valdez (Associate Producer)
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 1987
Running Time 104:10 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (51:38)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Luis Valdez
Universal.gif (3614 bytes)
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Starring Lou Diamond Phillips
Esai Morales
Rosanna DeSoto
Elizabeth Peña
Danielle von Zerneck
Joe Pantoliano
Rick Dees
Case Transparent Soft Brackley
RPI $36.95 Music Los Lobos
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes, copiously
Subtitles English
French Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, La Bamba is performed once again during the credits

Plot Synopsis

    Many of the people I know have a little theory about music that runs something along the lines of greatness being achieved by those who come from the most humble, or desolate, of origins. Ritchie Valens is one example of this theory, rising from nowhere to become a memorable icon in the days when radio music still had the right to call itself real, and the makers of it were more concerned with finding talented artists than shoving talentless ones down our necks. Now, there has been some statements as of late that this film does not resemble the true life story of Valens, but if you bear in mind that this is the slightly Hollywood version of his story, then you're going to find an entertaining film about an era that is probably best left behind after all.

    The story begins in Northern California during 1957, with Ricardo Valenzuela (Lou Diamond Phillips) living the same sort of hard labour life as millions of Hispanic Americans did during those days - in his case one of picking fruit on a plantation. Young Ricardo dreams of leaving the plantation life behind and hitting the big time so that he can buy all those things that the middle-class of America seem to take for granted. Along comes his half-brother, Bob Morales (Esai Morales), who whisks the family away to the good life in a nicer neighbourhood, working better jobs. After some argument from their mother, Connie (Rosanna DeSoto), they move into a modest little home on the other side of the state. As Ricardo attends high school and meets a nice young girl named Donna Ludwig (Danielle von Zerneck), Bob gets himself in more and more trouble living the life of a bikie.

    Eventually, Ricardo gets a gig playing guitar for a band called The Silhouettes, who are led by a rather arrogant saxophonist/vocalist who refuses to let Ricardo sing or do anything that might get the band their break. Eventually, however, they abandon this leader and go with Ricardo to play a show in an American Legion club. At this moment, he is spotted by a record company executive named Bob Keene (Joe Pantoliano), who approaches Ricardo and talks him into adopting the Ritchie Valens stage name, ditching his band, and going solo. From there, it is all history with Ritchie fulfilling all his dreams and living the life of a rock and roll star until that fateful day in February of 1959, when Ritchie, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper were all killed in a plane crash. You wouldn't believe this, but members of my family know people who were actually surprised to see the film end this way.

    For what the film tries to be, it is reasonably successful in spite of taking a few liberties with the life of its subject. However, I have to agree with a lot of other critics that the opening scenes with planes crashing and falling out of the sky in his dreams were completely unnecessary, and weigh the film down. With these dream sequences lending a huge weight to the film, one half expects that the Ritchie Valens being depicted here would have been surprised if he didn't die in a plane crash. Lou Diamond Phillips, however, gives a striking performance in his big screen debut as the seventeen year old with a couple of number one records, which helps lift the film. Esai Morales is great as the elder half-brother, helping to give the film much of its sense of being about a family thrust into the big time. However, what makes the film truly memorable are the renditions of Ritchie Valens' hit recordings by Los Lobos, who keep the songs true to their original style while just updating them enough to take advantage of what was then modern recording techniques. As a dramatization of events that changed American society and a look back at the past, La Bamba is a great place to get started.

Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 Enhanced.

    The transfer is sharp, but it doesn't hold a candle to most transfers of more recent films, or even some transfers of films that happen to be of comparable age. At a rough guess, I'd say that the source material used to create this transfer had deteriorated just a tad, although most of the issues with the resultant transfer are very minor. The shadow detail of this transfer is good, but not great, mostly because of the film stock that was used during filming in all probability. There is no low-level noise to spoil the picture.

    The colours range from having a great emphasis on browns and reds during the early stages of the film, to more vibrant during the concert performances and the scenes of the Valenzuela family living the good life in a nice Californian neighbourhood. There is no colour bleeding as such, but the lights in some of the staged events give a flared effect that would look almost out of place in modern films.

    MPEG artefacts are not a problem in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor aliasing at times that was never particularly distracting, or even really noticeable for the most part. Film artefacts are somewhat more problematic in this transfer, with nicks and scratches spread throughout the film's running length. The sequences that detail the dreams of planes falling from the sky are extremely grainy, partly an artistic choice on the part of the filmmakers, but it doesn't exactly do the compression any favours.

    This disc uses the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 16 and 17, at 51:38. This is as good a place as any for the layer change, and it is only a brief pause, making it minimally intrusive.


    There are seven soundtracks presented on this DVD. The total amount of kilobits per second allocated to sound is a whopping 1600, which makes up a lot of the transfer's total bandwidth, which itself rarely gets above eight megabits per second. It is a good thing that this is a Columbia film, because this recipe would spell MPEG disasters in anyone else's hands.

    In order, the soundtracks are the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, then dubs in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with two English audio commentaries tacked on for good measure. These are all encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to the English soundtrack and the two audio commentaries.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, with little or no difficulty becoming apparent even with the occasional heavy Spanish accent. Some of the dialogue is spoken in Spanish, but none of it was of any consequence to the film. There were no problems with audio sync.

    The music in this film can be roughly divided into two parts: original music by Carlos Santana and Miles Goodman, and the Ritchie Valens numbers, which were performed by Los Lobos. The music is very authentic to the setting of the film, with a true Latin American sound rather than the garbage put out by the likes of Ricky Martin et al. Indeed, the song from which the film takes its title is shown during the nightclubbing scene, with the members of Los Lobos making a small cameo as the band on stage, in its original form, which sounds quite different from the way Ritchie Valens recorded it. The Mexican people, much like the Spanish, have a way of making the acoustic guitar speak in a language all of its own, which is quite beautiful to listen to in its proper form.

    The surround channels were used to provide support to the music and such sound effects as passing cars or planes. They were used throughout the film without me really noticing them much, which either means they provided a subtly immersive experience or they just weren't used enough. Considering how much more alive the songs sound in Dolby Digital 5.1, I'm inclined to say they provided the subtly immersive experience that one should expect from films of this age that have been remixed into six channels. There were occasional moments when the soundfield become stereo in nature, usually during discussions that move the plot forward a bit, but these can be overlooked since most dialogue sequences sound ridiculous when redirected throughout the entire sound field.

    The subwoofer was used in moderation to support the music and some bass-heavy sound effects such as the crashing planes in the dream sequences. It lent a nice floor to the music without calling any specific attention to itself.


    A comprehensive collection of extras adorns this disc.


    The menu is static, featuring a still of Lou Diamond Phillips as the late Ritchie Valens and a Dolby Digital 2.0 sample of Los Lobos performing La Bamba. The menu is 16x9 Enhanced, while navigation is very simple and straightforward.

Theatrical Trailer

    A Full-Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0, eighty-three second trailer that simply tells the viewer what the film is about. It's not as though you can really give away too much about the life story of Ritchie Valens.

Cast Biographies

    Biographies for Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Elizabeth Peña, Joe Pantoliano, and Rosanna DeSoto are provided under this sub-menu. They are reasonably interesting, but not really all that informative.

Featurette - Remembering Ritchie

   Although this Full Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette only clocks in at six minutes and twenty-one seconds, it is well worth watching. It is worth watching to see what the real Donna Ludwig has to say about Ritchie Valens, which is quite an insight into the film and the people it is trying to depict in itself.

Music Video - Los Lobos: La Bamba

    Clocking in at three minutes and eight seconds, this Full Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 music video features Los Lobos playing the song that the film was named after. The use of a few bars from the traditional Hispanic version at the end is a nice touch. The video quality of this piece is a little on the average side, but the sound is just as great as it was in 1987 when they were broadcasting this video on a weekly basis.

Music Video - Howard Huntsberry: Lonely Teardrops

   Clocking in at three minutes and thirty-five seconds, this Full Frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 music video features Howard Huntsberry impersonating Jackie Wilson, just as he did in the film, and singing Lonely Teardrops. I can't say I am as impressed with this music video as I am with the Los Lobos one, but that's probably just me.

Audio Commentary - Luis Valdez (Director), Stuart Benjamin (Executive Producer), Lou Diamond Philips (Actor), Esai Morales (Actor)

    The four participants in this Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded commentary provide a wealth of interesting information about the film and the manner in which it was made. Numerous living relatives of Ritchie Valens make cameos in the film, and these are pointed out with some enthusiasm. Perhaps the most interesting comment is Lou Diamond Phillips' statement that he had to take guitar lessons four times a day in order to act out the musical parts of the film convincingly. This commentary is well worth the time and effort to listen to.

Audio Commentary - Taylor Hackford (Producer), Daniel Valdez (Associate Producer)

    This commentary is somewhat less interesting, but still worth a listen, with Taylor Hackford and Daniel Valdez talking about how they conceived the film and the processes by which they brought it to the screen. The commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding, with a wealth of information about the fact that the film took ten years to get into production, the relationship Daniel Valdez struck up with the Valenzuela family, and other fascinating tidbits.


    There are no specific censorship issues with this title.

R4 vs R1

    From the information I was able to find, it seems that the only thing the Region 4 version of this disc misses out on is subtitles in such languages as Korean and Portuguese. There are also less audio tracks on the Region 1 disc. I'd have to call this one even.


    La Bamba is a nice film about a young man whose one great talent brought him everything until fate cut his life tragically short. I recommend watching it at least once just for Los Lobos' renditions of his music.

    The video transfer is good, but the film itself hasn't aged too well.

    The audio transfer is very good.

    The extras are comprehensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
May 10, 2001 

Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer