The Big Steal (1990)

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Released 24-Oct-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Nadia Tass And David Parker (Filmmakers)
Featurette-Filmmakers Featurette
Featurette-Cast Audtion Tapes
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Malcolm,Barry McKenzie Holds His Own,Puberty Blues,The Club
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 96:06
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Nadia Tass
Cascade Films
Madman Entertainment
Starring Ben Mendelsohn
Claudia Karvan
Marshall Napier
Steve Bisley
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Philip Judd

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/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 None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    At long last a classic Australian film of the early 1990s makes its way to DVD. After 1997's The Castle, The Big Steal is my all-time favourite Aussie film and one I have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of on DVD.

    In his first leading role, which he fills perfectly I might add, Ben Mendelsohn is Danny Clark, a bumbling eighteen-year-old semi-nerd sort of a guy. He knows what it takes to be cool and have some style, it's just that he seems to struggle to get there. Danny has enthusiasm and passion and only wants two things more than anything in the world. A Jaguar XJ6 and a date with the gorgeous Joanna Johnson (an early role for then 17-year-old Claudia Karvan). Get these and his life will be complete.

    Unfortunately for Danny, when he finally gets the courage up to ask Joanna out, he somehow manages to promise her a ride in his new Jaguar. She isn't particularly impressed by cars, but still agrees to his invitation. The problem is, Danny doesn't own a Jag. His form of transport is his recently received birthday present - and it most certainly isn't a Jaguar. His eccentric parents have decided to pass on their pride and joy to Danny for his use. Their 1963 Nissan Cedric has been in the family for years and is immaculate, but extremely uncool. Danny is aghast at the thought of driving around in a car as dorky as a Cedric, and with the promise of a date with Joanna and the need for a Jaguar in a hurry, decides to trade in the old Nissan. He heads out to search the car yards to find his dream machine.

    In a role of pure sleaze Steve Bisley is Gordon Farkas, the villainous used car salesman. He is the sort of dealer who results in car salesmen being consistently ranked last on a survey of trust and ethics in careers. Spotting Danny admiring a used 1973 XJ6 in the lot, Farkas pounces and uses all his charm, cunning, and every used-car salesman trick in the book to convince Danny that this is the car for him. With the deal done and the Cedric gone, Danny heads home with his new pride and joy. But this is where things start to unravel. His father is not impressed about losing the Cedric, and while out on his long-awaited date with Joanna, the Jag's engine blows up. Danny is shattered, particularly when he upsets Joanna and she leaves him stranded alone in the empty streets with a broken-down car. Closer inspection reveals the engines had been swapped after Danny had signed the contract, with a dud motor put in his car. Realising he's been done-over by the crooked Farkas, Danny and his mates hatch a plan to get revenge over the shonky car salesman and hopefully win back the hand of the lovely Joanna.

    The Big Steal is a personal favourite and is among the top five films I have waited to be released onto our beloved DVD format for several years now. I remember seeing this when it first came out in 1990 and instantly connecting with the story. I had got my first car (a Datsun 120Y no less - OK, stop laughing now please) a couple of years earlier after being given it as a gift on my 17th. I vividly remember friends mocking it as a old-fogey's car, even though they still wanted me to drive them around - funny that.

    This is a charming, heart-warming tale, delivered in such an easy, funny way that everyone can instantly connect with the story. Everyone can find something to relate to, whether it is getting ripped off by a dodgy car salesman, or pining for that elusive beauty (car or girl - take your pick!). A highly recommended purchase.

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Transfer Quality


    This is, without a doubt, the best this film has ever looked. My long-worn VHS copy is decidedly blurry and fuzzy, so to see this presented in its proper ratio is quite a revelation. While it does look its age at times, and is not as sharp as I would have probably liked, it is far superior to any version I have seen before.

    It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, close to its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. It is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The level of detail is adequate. It's not great, but the film doesn't suffer adversely for it. Shadow detail could have been a big issue as many of the scenes occur at night. This appears to have been handled well, but as a result of being conscious of shadow, the black levels have suffered considerably and consistently appear more grey then black. Grain is very minimal, which is always nice, and there is no low level noise.

    Colour is acceptable, but there are some shots where flesh tones come out a bit orange. This is mostly noticeable in the interior night time shots.

    I saw no compression artefacts, and apart from a tiny little bit of aliasing on the grille of Danny's Jaguar on the odd occasion, film-to-video artefacts were also absent. Film artefacts are a little unusual. While not great in number, some of them are absolute corkers in terms of size. Firstly there's a rather large scratch at the bottom of the frame at 3:07. There's a reel change mark evident at 18:44, and some strange blue spots (about five in total) appear down the very left of the print at 50:00. Lastly an odd case of what looks like lens flare appears at 64:02.

    Unfortunately there are no subtitles on this disc, which, given the excellent standard of the other presentation and packaging, is a little disappointing.

    This disc is dual layered but I was unable to spot any layer change, so it is quite possible the film is on one layer and the lengthy extras are on the second layer.

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


    There are two audio tracks on the disc. There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack for the film, plus a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track. Both are presented in English . I listened to both in full.

    Despite this only being a stereo 2.0 mix, it is a surprisingly decent soundtrack. Dynamic range is excellent with plenty of solid bass evident. Stereo separation is present in many scenes, and the dialogue is consistently clear. There are no audio sync issues.

    One of my favourite late 1980s songs is featured in the soundtrack. Dancing In The Storm from Boom Crash Opera is a great sing-a-long track and gets quite a long airing mid-way through the film. It is joined by others such as The World Seems Difficult by the Mental As Anything and Long Hard Road performed by Tim Finn.

    There is no surround channel or subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary

    A commentary featuring the director, the producers, the writer and the cinematographer. But hang on, there are only two people talking!  That's because Nadia Tass and David Parker do everything. While they often state the obvious in this screen-specific commentary there are enough little anecdotes and musings about the cast, the locations, and the production design to make it very interesting and well worth a listen for any fan of the film.

Featurette - Filmmakers Featurette

    Not a particularly inspiring or original title but this 21:33 minute featurette filmed just this year is a gem. It features director/producer Nadia Tass and writer/cinematographer David Parker discussing all aspects of the film with a real nostalgic feel to it. They discuss much of the production, the problems they encountered, why they consider this to be such a charming film, and how its charm has lasted for 13 years.

Interviews - Cast

    This is probably the best set of cast interviews that I have ever seen. There are five interviews in total, with the main cast members (Ben Mendohlson, Claudia Karvan, and Steve Bisley) featured in separate interviews. Two are from 1990 (a young Karvan and Mendohlson appear together in one interview), and three were filmed in 2003. If I'm not mistaken the 1990 interviews are taken from the SBS Movie Show. Don't be fooled into thinking these are just the run-of-the-mill fluff pieces either - because they are not: they run for more than 15 minutes per interview and the cast members talk for the entire length. Lots of ground is covered, with everything from the usual - the joys of working in the film and with the director, to what the cast thinks of the Australian film industry and what their futures hold.

    Certainly the best interviews I have seen and well worth a look. There is more than an hour of material here.

Featurette - Cast Audition Tapes

    Running for 7:28 minutes, this is a fairly rough set of audition tapes featuring Angelo D'Angelo (Van), Claudia Karvan (Joanna) and Damon Herriman (Mark) running through a couple of scenes each. You can certainly see just how eager they are to get the roles.

Theatrical Trailer

    A nice trailer that probably makes the film appear to be more of a teen-comedy than it really is. Running time is 1:38 minutes and thankfully it is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.


    Four trailers for other Umbrella titles. Trailers are for The Club, Puberty Blues, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, and Malcolm.

R4 vs R1

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

    This title has not been released in Region 1.


    The Big Steal is a classic early 90s Australian film that will delight the whole family. It is easily among my favourite film's of all-time and if you've never had to chance to take a look at it, now is the time. It has never looked quite as good as this and comes packaged with a superb set of extras.

    The video is not startling, but is mostly clean and sharp, aside from a handful of large film artefacts and some poor black levels.

    The audio is actually quite good for a simple two channel stereo mix. It is without major fault.

    The extras package is among the best I have seen for a small studio release. It is comprehensive given the age of the film and has been conceived in a remarkably well-authored presentation.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Monday, November 03, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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