Big Wednesday (1978)

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Released 9-Jul-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Surfing Main Menu Audio
Listing-Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary-John Milius
Featurette
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 114:42
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By John Milius
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Jan-Michael Vincent
William Katt
Gary Busey
Patti D'Arbanville
Lee Purcell
Sam Melville
Darrell Fetty
Gerry Lopez
Hank Worden
Joe Spinell
Barbara Hale
Fran Ryan
Dennis Aaberg
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Basil Poledouris


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Spanish
German
Dutch
Arabic
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Before Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian, John Milius directed and co-wrote a semi-autobiographical movie about the life of a group of surfers growing up in California. This is a film that a lot of people may discount after reading that initial description (with visions of a 1970's Point Break), but I'd recommend that you read on.

    Although covering a wide group of characters, this film is really about Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent), Jack (William Katt) and Leroy (Gary Busey), and their lasting friendship over the 12 years that are covered during the movie's runtime. These three are the hot local surfers that all the kids look up to, with Matt being the exceptional talent of the group. The passage of time during the film is split up into 4 chapters, or acts, all identified by a certain swell; 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1974.

    When the film starts we're immediately introduced to the carefree, irresponsible lifestyles these young men lead, and it also becomes clear very quickly that they're quite different characters. Life is an endless summer of beaches, surfing, girls and parties with no concerns or thoughts of the future. You could be forgiven at this point for thinking that this is just going to be another dumbed-down Hollywood surf movie, but there's a lot more yet to come.

    During a surf trip to Mexico, the three friends and their two girlfriends, Peggy and Sally (Lee Purcell and Patti D'Arbanville, respectively), have a bit of a wake-up call on reality, when a fight in a club turns fatal. This is the start of the loss of their innocence and it's from here on that we see the different ways they all cope (or don't cope) with change and the taking on of responsibility. Their surf guru and board-maker, Bear (Sam Melville), has to move inland, Jack becomes a lifeguard and starts to take on responsibilities, while Matt - now a father - slips into alcoholism and depression. Leroy seems to be the only one of the three who remains relatively unchanged.

    We follow them all down the years as friendships are strained and mended, the Vietnam war comes and takes people away, time gradually changes everything/everyone, and surfing becomes their one and only common bond. This culminates in the climactic final act when the legendary big swell finally hits - on a Wednesday, believe it or not.

    If you've had a gut-full of big blockbuster movies trying to assault your senses in order to portray the surfing experience, then don't discount this film as one of those, because it's far from it. Despite not having the best actors in the world (Katt sometimes seems awkward and wooden, and Vincent's only claim to fame after this was Airwolf), the characters all seem like real people and you find yourself really empathising with what they're going through. Until I saw the extras on this DVD I didn't realise that all these characters are actually based on people that director John Milius grew up with, and I think this reality comes across in the film. I was also impressed with the subtle ways that the characters really appeared to get older through the passing of the years, through the use of make-up, glasses, moustaches, and - in Leroy's case - flab.

    I first watched this movie as a young teenager, and the impact of the friendships lost, and changes in life didn't really strike home as much as they did on this viewing. As a man who has now experienced some of these things first-hand, and gone through contrasting periods of having many friends and almost none, I have to say that the director captures the essence of change in a very moving way. There is certainly a bit of over-dramatisation, as well as a little too many deep and meaningful comments on surfing and waves, but that is often to be expected from our friends across the Pacific.

    I was surprised to find out that Big Wednesday really bombed in its initial release, and was slammed by critics as well. It seems that people have later come to appreciate the film for what it is, and in my opinion it is a timeless classic. It works on a number of levels, providing humour, insight, real character development, and a moving story, all in a package that stands up to multiple viewings. This one is not just for surfers, although undoubtedly there are moments that will appeal more to them (including a cameo role from Gerry Lopez; later to be used by Milius in Conan). I recommend that you check this one out.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a great transfer which would even stand up to some recent releases, but when you consider the source is a 25-year old film it is even more impressive. To watch the great water shots of the final surfing scenes in all their widescreen glory is a joy to behold.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical aspect ratio for this film was 2.39:1.

    This is a nice sharp transfer, with great detail visible throughout. There is one brief scene at 27:45 that appears grainy and slightly blurred, but besides that there are no complaints in this department. Shadow detail, however, is one area where this transfer falls down. In darker, shadowed areas things get a little murky and it is very hard to make out any detail. During some darker indoor scenes, it is sometimes hard to make out exactly where the image stops and the black framing bars begin. The best example of this problem is during the military intake scene beginning at 53:45, where the corners of the image are very dark and murky. The 63:38 mark is another example.

    Colours are excellent, with the bright sunny outdoor scenes displaying all manner of primary colours, as well as inviting blue water and clear blue skies that really jump out at you. Blacks are also good.

    There weren't any obvious MPEG artefacts. Edge enhancement and aliasing were also pleasantly absent. Film artefacts do appear throughout the film, but generally they are innocuous, with only a few exceptions. One of these was a black mark that appears just before the final credits roll (112:25), and stays visible for around 13 seconds. Another obvious example is at 78:09.

    There are 10 subtitle streams on this disc. I sampled the English and English for the Hearing Impaired, and found them to be a bit lazy as far as accuracy is concerned. They convey the correct meaning, but leave quite a few words out.

    This is an RSDL disc, but I couldn't see the layer change. I notice that the Region 1 version of the disc (which misses out on one of the extras) is only a single layered DVD, so I'm wondering if the layer change is actually not during the film itself.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Originally recorded in Dolby Stereo, this transfer provides us with a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix. Although a decent transfer, it's a shame that a 5.1 remix wasn't included, as some scenes could have really benefited from an LFE channel.

    There are 4 tracks on this DVD; English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, French Dolby Digital 1.0, and Italian Dolby Digital 1.0. All are encoded at a bitrate of 192 kbps. I listened to both the English tracks.

    Dialogue was clear for the most part, but there are instances where it is a little hard to make out every word. It seemed that some of the dialogue out in the water is actually what was recorded live, rather than being replaced later (78:09 for example). While this is commendable and gives more realistic background sounds as well, it did occasionally mean I had to really listen to make out the dialogue. Some of the laid-back drawls of the characters probably didn't help much either. It's certainly not a serious problem, but just something worth noting. There were no audio sync problems.

    The music was a combination of Basil Poledouris' score and a number of popular songs from the era. The score was excellent, and during the more moving moments it became quite emotive. I'd be surprised if anyone can watch this film without getting a lump in their throat during at least one of these scenes. The music is also used very well to set the mood for each of the time periods covered; initially it's light-hearted and sets the tone for teenage fun at the beach, but as things change in these people's lives the music changes appropriately. The popular songs were also well chosen and fitted in perfectly. The only complaint I have with the music is the final song that is played over the closing credits; it's very dated and I find it ruins the atmosphere a bit.

    While not overly used, the surrounds really kick in effectively during much of the music. There are times where the music really stands out, and I almost felt like I was listening to a DVD-Audio disc. The military sounding theme starting at the 50:40 mark is especially immersive, with other examples being almost as good; 48:00 and 76:10 to name a few. We also get some engulfing wave sounds coming from the rears, such as 89:52

    Using Pro Logic II processing, there are a few moments where the sub comes to life (music starting at 50:40, and waves at 89:52), but for the most part it's not doing anything. This is one of the areas where a 5.1 remix would have been nice, especially for the surfing scenes in the last act.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    Menus are static, 16x9 enhanced, and with music from the movie looping in the background.

Director's Commentary - John Milius

    Anyone who's listened to other John Milius commentaries will have a good idea of what to expect in this one. I found it very interesting, but was disappointed at some of the gaps throughout. There were times when I wanted him to be commenting on something important that was happening on-screen, but all I got was silence. When he is talking though, it's of genuine interest, and I just wish they could have added another commentator to fill in the quiet spots.

    I always think it's more interesting when people are talking about something real that has happened in their lives instead of something they've invented, and Milius talks about the real people these characters are based on, as well as the film-making process. This is certainly well worth a listen.

Featurette - Capturing the Swell (14:50)

    This is a fascinating little interview session with John Milius, intercut with footage from the film. Milius talks about his motivation for making the film (which was originally going to be a novel), and the real-life people that he based the characters on. One interesting fact brought up in this extra is that George Lucas, Speilberg and Milius all had "one point" shares in each others' films of the time (Star Wars and Close Encounters of course being the other two movies). According to Milius, Lucas is still fuming about what a bad business deal it turned out to be for him.

    This extra is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. Very nicely presented indeed. The only problem I had was that it seemed too short.

Theatrical Trailer (2:49)

    This trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. It's a dated trailer, which I don't mind at all, but it also gives away a bit too much of the story, which I do mind.

Cast and Crew

    This is just a list of the 5 main characters/actors. There isn't even any detailed info on them. Bit of a nothing extra really.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Looks like the local version is the clear winner here. The lack of the featurette on the Region 1 version is definitely a significant loss.

Summary

    This is a film full of heart that can be enjoyed by anyone who has had to grow up and experience change. It also offers Hollywood's best insight into the surfer lifestyle/mentality, and combining this with the beautiful surfing footage makes it of even more interest to those that surf. Highly recommended.

    The video quality is great, especially considering the age of the film.

    The audio quality is more than adequate, with some of the music sounding great, although it would have been nice to have a 5.1 mix.

    The extras include a very interesting 15-minute interview with Director John Milius, and a worthwhile commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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