Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 2-Jul-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Road Movie Audio Commentary-by Director Monte Hellman and Associate Producer Gary Hurtz
Featurette-You Can Never Go Fast Enough: Two Lane Blacktop Revisited
Biographies-Crew-Monte Hellman: American Auteur
Featurette-Jack Sargeant discusses the Road Movie
Theatrical Trailer-Original Theatrical Trailer
Teaser Trailer-Jack Kerouac
Teaser Trailer-Girl On A Motorcycle
Teaser Trailer-Eat My Dust
Teaser Trailer-Grand Theft Auto
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 102:21
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Monte Hellman
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring James Taylor
Warren Oates
Laurie Bird
Dennis Wilson
David Drake
Richard Ruth
Rudy Wurlitzer
Jaclyn Hellman
Bill Keller
Harry Dean Stanton
Don Samuels
Charles Moore
Tom Green
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Billy James


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (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 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Two-Lane Blacktop belongs to an era of film where road movies dealt with culture and change rather than simple plot and story. It is often compared to Easy Rider and Vanishing Point, however unlike those movies it doesn't rely on music to support the onscreen action (The song Me and Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson is the one notable exception). Director Monte Hellman had two scripts to choose from when Producer Michael Laughlin offered him a project in 1969, this one and The Christian Licorice Store. He chose Two-Lane Blacktop because The Christian Licorice Store did not appeal to him, however writer Will Corry's original story needed re-working so Hellman hired Rudy Wurlitzer to rewrite the script. They made major changes to the story, for example, the major character of GTO (played by Warren Oates) was not in the original screenplay. Somewhat ironically, Hellman appears in the film The Christian Licorice Store anyway because Floyd Mutrux, the original scriptwriter for Two-Lane Blacktop lost his screen credit due to not been in the Screenwriter's Guild at the time. This is an important point because I would say that this was the one main reason why Hellman did Two-Lane Blacktop, he wanted to continue to exercise artistic control over his films in an era where only high-profile directors were able to. (For example, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick - although the latter chose to film in England after 1960 to retain complete control over his film projects) The age of the independent Hollywood Auteur was still years away (Francis Ford Coppola struggled greatly to maintain artistic control on the first two Godfather films, George Lucas' success with the Star Wars films allowed directors the artistic freedom in Hollywood that European directors enjoyed in the 1960's) and Hellman's career stalled by the end of the 1970s due to his artistic, non-mainstream decisions. This is a shame as this film and the 1968 western made with Jack Nicholson, The Shootist are both highly regarded critically today.

     The film stars musicians James Taylor as the driver, Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys) as the mechanic, Laurie Bird as the girl and Warren Oates as GTO. The driver and the mechanic drive around in a 1955 Chevy, looking for competition among other car enthusiasts that they come across in their travels to drag race. They meet the girl as they travel east, and then they meet GTO, who drives a modern 1970 Pontiac GTO. The combatants agree to race each other along the route 66 highway east to Washington D.C. for 'pinks'. (I.e. ownership of the loser's car!) A normal Hollywood-scripted movie would focus on the race at this point, instead the film focuses on the characters and the hitchhikers that GTO picks up along the way. Who gets to Washington D.C. first becomes a moot point as the story centres upon the alienation the characters develop with each new town they drive into and indeed as they get to know each other along the way. (Sounds so much like the theme that Michelangelo Antonioni used in his films in the 1960s.)

     Warren Oates appeared in all of Monte Hellman's films in his career up to this point. His performance is superb in this film, in fact he came close to winning the best actor for the New York critics award but lost out to Gene Hackman for The French Connection. If Warren Oates was able to become a more high-profile star than a solid supporting character actor throughout his career then maybe Monte Hellman may have enjoyed the type of career that Martin Scorsese had due to Robert De Niro. Sadly, it was not to be.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The film was shot in Technoscope rather than the standard Cinemascope film of the time. This was due to the fact it was cheaper and it used half the film to shoot the same amount of time. This was a factor when cameras where mounted on the cars, as it allowed more film to be shot, however Technoscope is more grainy if not developed correctly. Associate producer Gary Hurtz mentions in the audio commentary that the plan was to develop the film in a Technicolor dye transfer to compensate for the Technoscope film process, alas that procedure by 1971 was slow and expensive and was unavailable for the final transfer print, thus the film will always be presented in a grainy format. (Even if it was to be released onto Blu-Ray!) Lew Wasserman the head of Universal Pictures at the time, disliked the movie and would not promote it upon its release. This may explain the $850,000 budget and the final look of the film.

    The film was present theatrically in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio. The DVD is close to this, 2:37:1 and is 16x9 enhanced

    The film is grainy, as mentioned previously, throughout. As the Technoscope film allowed for less light to be used for night scenes, the picture shows excessive grain in night scenes as artificial lights were generally not used. An exception to this was when the characters stop by a grain silo at 47:25, here the film is not as grainy due to the light source used.

    I felt that the colour was indicative of films shot during the early 1970's. Cinematography was well handled by Greg Sandor, the uncredited cinematographer of the film who did most of the film shooting, but was not part of a union, hence the lack of screen credit. Scenes are in focus and as sharp as could be possible.

    There are very few film artefacts that occur during the film, I would have expected more for the age of the film.

    Unfortunately, there are no subtitles.

    RSDL change occurs at 78:01, in between a scene change.

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

Audio

    The magnetic stereo track employed by the film was not shown in cinemas, instead a standard track was used.

    The movie comes with three soundtracks. Firstly, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 kbps, secondly a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track (192 kbps) and finally the director's/associate producer's commentary is in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kbps) also.

    Dialogue is clear throughout, there are no audio synchronisation issues.

    Music is not commonly used throughout the duration of the movie. Moonlight Drive by The Doors and Me and Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson do feature. The cost of music rights was the main reason why Universal Pictures did not release the film for the home entertainment market until the late 1990s.

    Surround Channel Usage is limited to effects for the sounds of cars revving. There is not much directional difference between the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

    Subwoofer is only utilised for the sounds of cars revving and drag racing.

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

Extras

Audio Commentary by Director Monte Hellman and Associate Producer Gary Hurtz

     This commentary sheds a lot of light upon the making of the film. It was recorded in the late 1990s in London. Both commentators were viewing the film on VHS video at the time and they pause in the middle to apologise for the silence due to them watching the film during critical scenes! Details mentioned include the tension with James Taylor over the script, (by the way he never acted in a film again), the difficulty in casting (Dennis Wilson was the last person cast as the mechanic), the shooting in sequence and the need for a 18 man crew to shoot in all types of weather to fit in with the tight schedule. Even minute details including the specifications of the three 1955 Chevys used during the shooting of the film is mentioned. This was an enjoyable commentary.

Featurette - You Can Never Go Fast Enough: Two Lane Blacktop Revisited

     This is a retrospective documentary with director Monte Hellman as he travels along the same route taken by the main characters in the movie in Needles, California and along Route 66. He mentions how the film was made, the problems of studio support and the casting. Hellman's daughter also comments on her cameo appearance. This 25-minute presentation is 16x9 enhanced.

Biographies-Crew Monte Hellman: American Auteur

     This documentary is a short 14 minute film on the career of Monte Hellman. It mentions the two westerns made in mid 1960s with Jack Nicholson and also the relationship with Warren Oates who starred in all of Hellman's main features until his death in 1982. Harry Dean Stanton makes a memorable appearance in this documentary. This is presented in non-16x9 enhanced widescreen.

Featurette - Jack Sargeant discusses the Road Movie

     Jack Sargeant presents a lecture on the meaning of the road movie genre of the early 1970's and later. He makes some interesting points but overall I found this dry.

Theatrical Trailer

     The theatrical trailer is 16x9 enhanced and goes for 2:30.

Teaser Trailer

     An Umbrella trailer for Jack Kerouac

Teaser Trailer

     An Umbrella trailer for Girl On A Motorcycle

Teaser Trailer

     An Umbrella trailer for Eat My Dust

Teaser Trailer

     An Umbrella trailer for Grand Theft Auto

R4 vs R1

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

     Two-Lane Blacktop has been released twice in Region 1 (US/Canada) and twice in Region 2 (Germany)and (Netherlands).

     The Region 2(Germany) release is 16x9 enhanced and has the same audio commentary as the Region 4. It also includes the 'You Can Never Go Fast Enough: Two Lane Blacktop Revisited' documentary, although it is the longer version at 42:42 minutes in length.

     The Region 2 (Netherlands) release is similarly 16x9 enhanced but has no extras.

     The first Region 1 (US/Canada) release was by Anchor Bay in 1999. That release has a 16x9 enhanced 2:35:1 NTSC aspect ratio widescreen transfer with the same audio tracks as the region 4. The Audio commentary is also included by Hellman and Kurtz as is the same documentary on Monte Hellman's career.

     The second Region 1 (US/Canada) release was by The Criterion Collection in 2007. This release includes a remastered 16x9 enhanced 2:35:1 NTSC transfer, a re-mixed audio transfer, two audio commentaries; one by Hellman and filmmaker Allison Anders, and one by screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer and author David Meyer; new interviews with Hellman, star James Taylor, musician Kris Kristofferson, producer Michael Laughlin, and production manager Walter Coblenz; rare, never-before-seen screen-test outtakes of James Taylor and Laurie Bird; a look at the restoration of a '55 Chevy from the movie and the film's locations today, photos and publicity from Two-Lane Blacktop and Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay (114 pages), reprinted specially for this release; 38-page liner notes booklet with new essays by Kent Jones; appreciations by Richard Linklater and Tom Waits; and a reprint of the 1970 Rolling Stone article 'On Route 66, Filming Two-Lane Blacktop.'

     If you are a fan of the film, the Criterion Collection Region 1 release is the one to go for.

Summary

    Two-Lane Blacktop is an unconventional road movie that rightly belongs as a testament to the change in cultural values at the end of the 1960s. A box office failure at the time, it has since become a cult classic. This will take a few viewings to appreciate it, don't watch it like a conventional film with a standard plot outline and definitive ending.

     The transfer is grainy throughout and soft, this will be exaggerated the larger your viewing display is, especially during night scenes. The extras enhanced my enjoyment of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - Shane A

Comments (Add) NONE