Rumble Fish (1983)

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Released 14-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 90:23
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (45:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Francis Ford Coppola

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Matt Dillon
Mickey Rourke
Nicolas Cage
Diane Lane
Vincent Spano
Dennis Hopper
Chris Penn
Laurence Fishburne
Diana Scarwid
William Smith
Tom Waits
Sofia Coppola
Michael Higgins
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Stewart Copeland
Stan Ridgway

Video Audio
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 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Rumble Fish is challenging — it is a strange fish indeed. I am sure this DVD will divide the audience of today, as the film did it did on its original release in 1983. Produced by the great Francis Ford Coppola, this film has a cult following and is frequently referred to as a masterpiece. Being shot almost entirely in black and white, it has an overwhelming '50s feel, yet features the bouffant haircuts and video arcades of the early '80s.

    The plot reveals the desolate life of a young hoodlum named Russell "Rusty" James (Matt Dillon). Rusty James dreams of the halcyon days of street rumbles, before "heroin ruined the gangs". He desperately wants to emulate his older brother, known only as "The Motorcycle Boy", who is a near-mythological former gang leader played by Mickey Rourke. When Rourke (who looks uncannily like Bruce Willis) returns from a road-trip to California, he finds Rusty up to his ears in a knife-fight with a rival gang. This scene illustrates the two sides of this film; the choreography of the fight is derivative of the camp West Side Story stylised rumbles, while the way The Motorcycle Boy ends the fight (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) by sending his riderless hog slamming violently into his brother's would-be killer is dramatic and edgy.

    The Motorcycle Boy has had a "Road to Damascus" transformation during his absence, which has made him realise that there is more to life than gangs and the suffocating tedium of middle-America. He appears detached for most of the movie, gazing meditatively into space with a beneficent smile. He is determined to save Rusty James from his gangland destiny, and help him to escape Oklahoma and see the ocean. This is mirrored by his desire to release the Rumble Fish (Siamese Fighting Fish) from the local pet shop, to the freedom of the river. These aggressive fish — often kept in solitary confinement to prevent them from killing each other — are a metaphor for the captivity of Rusty James and his gang. When The Motorcycle Boy talks of the fish to his nemesis, the local policeman, he is obliquely talking of the isolation of the local kids. "They belong in the river. I don't think that they would fight if they were in the river if they had room to live".

    The supporting cast is a veritable Who's Who of the acting profession. Chris Penn, Nicolas Cage (Coppola's nephew), Tom Waits, Laurence Fishburne, (an excellent performance by) Diane Lane as Rusty James' love-interest Patty and (classic) Dennis Hopper as Rusty James' alcoholic father are amongst the many familiar faces in this cast. Interestingly, the author of the novel on which the film is based (S.E. Hinton), appears in the movie as a prostitute in the seedy side of town. This was Coppola's second collaboration with Hinton, directing the movie of her novel The Outsiders back to back with Rumble Fish. Clearly the two had an affinity for each other's work.

    While I would stop short of the term "masterpiece", Rumble Fish does grow on you. The basic story of the rebelliousness of youth is sound, the cinematography is at times stunning, the musical score is striking and if you can ignore the occasionally contrived feel you will find this an intriguing and provocative film.

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Transfer Quality


    The overall video transfer of this disc is a mixed bag, even for a twenty year old film, with numerous defects. The often stunning cinematography means that it can still be be enjoyed despite the flaws.

    The film is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 which is close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it has been 16x9 enhanced.

    While the transfer is often very sharp indeed, it does suffer from some grain, particularly evident in bright backgrounds. Compare for instance, the sharp images at 14:02 and the grainy sky at 64:54.

    Blacks are wonderfully solid and deep with no low-level noise evident — see, for instance, the detail which is evident in the policeman's black uniform at 17:40. Shadow movement is used as a significant part of the cinematography, so the excellent shadow detail is appreciated. Greyscale is very good with a full range of shades present — it is sometimes possible to forget you are watching in black and white. Colours are used extremely rarely, but consist of some visually striking reds and blues when they do crop up.

   The transfer is free from significant MPEG artefacts. On the other hand, film-to-video artefacts are quite common, with aliasing evident on many occasions, for example: on the stack of plates at 03:33, the brickwork at 13:26, the light-towers at 41:43 or the awning at 72:08. Moire effects can be seen on Rusty James' shirt at 19:19 and the pillow at 18:55. Edge enhancement is rarely noticeable, but can be seen occasionally, for example on the roadsign at 36:22. Telecine wobble crops up through the movie and can be mildly distracting once noticed (for examples see 03:40, 56 :20 and 61:00).

    Film artefacts — in the form of scratches and flecks — are commonplace throughout the film. These were very distracting during the worst instances, which persisted for forty seconds from 04:42, and over a minute from 22:55.

    There are sixteen subtitle tracks present. On watching the English subtitles it is noticeable that they sometimes miss dialogue but generally they suffice.

    This is an RDSL disc with the layer change present at 45:00, which causes a noticeable but only mildly disruptive pause.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The overall audio quality of this disc is very good with no major defects witnessed.

    The main audio is a striking Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in English recorded at 448 kbps. Additionally, there are French, German and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks available recorded at 192 kbps. Finally, there is an Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack recorded at 448 kbps. The difference in audio quality between the higher and lower bit-rate tracks is amazing.

    Listening to the main English soundtrack, the dialogue was almost always clear. Mickey Rourke's dialogue is sometimes tricky to make out, as he is quite softly spoken and sometimes mumbles his lines (a la Marlon Brando). Audio synch was only once noticed to be an issue at 48:08.

    The music is a major feature of this film, with a startling and atmospheric soundtrack created by Stewart Copeland (yes, from pop group The Police). Given Copeland's musical heritage, it is unsurprising that the soundtrack features a heavy bass and drums sound, with more than a hint of ska/reggae rhythm present. While I would not listen to the score in isolation, it fits the tone of the film incredibly well and creates a lively, animal backdrop to the on-screen action.

    The surround channels were highly active throughout, carrying the aggressive musical score and a wide range of background effects. They are particularly well used during the various streetscape scenes to create an enveloping sound-field, but rarely carry any directional effects.

    The subwoofer was mainly used to support the bass-heavy musical score but didn't draw specific attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are very few extras on this disc.


    The initial menu is a black and white still from the movie offering the choice of menu language. Selection leads to a short animated scene, and a new animated menu with sound which allows selection of audio track, subtitles, trailer or one of twenty animated chapter stops.


    Theatrical trailer for the movie, running for 02:20 and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 letterboxed, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack recorded at 192 kbps.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 DVD of this movie misses out on:

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on:

    Based on the superior Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and the anamorphic enhancement, the Region 4 disc would appear to be the clear choice.


    Rumble Fish is a stimulating movie. There is no doubt that it is stylish, with some outstanding cinematography. Hailed by many as a masterpiece, and derided by some as pretentious, for any fan of cinema it is certainly worth seeing at least once. For fans of Francis Ford Coppola it will be an essential purchase, particularly in this 16x9 enhanced version.

    The video quality is variable.

    The audio quality is overall very good.

    There are no significant extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Monday, April 28, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-47P500H 47" Widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationONKYO TX-DS484
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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