American Grafitti: Collector's Edition (1973)

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Released 13-Dec-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Coming-Of-Age Featurette-Making Of-The Making of American Graffiti (78:08)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Web Links
Production Notes
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1973
Running Time 107:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (86:04) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By George Lucas
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Richard Dreyfuss
Ronny Howard
Paul Le Mat
Charlie Martin Smith
Candy Clark
Mackenzie Phillips
Cindy Williams
Wolfman Jack
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/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 English
French
German
Polish
Czech
Hungarian
Turkish
Swedish
Finnish
Dutch
Norwegian
Bulgarian
Portuguese
Danish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Every once in a while, fashion and trends are taken over by a nostalgia craze. One needs to look no further than to the recent mid-1990s for the resurgence in popularity of the late 70s fashion and music-wise. Unfortunately, I'm told on good authority that the next of these such rehashes is a hark back to the 80s (weren't they bad enough the first time around?). But the pioneer of such mining of the past for the pop culture of today was George Lucas, and the 1973 release of American Graffiti.

    Released with the tag-line "Where were you in '62?", American Graffiti is set on the eve of the loss of innocence of the American Public - the eve of the Vietnam war and the assassination of Kennedy. With the so-called "New Hollywood" of the early 70s contributing to the decline of the studio system of the 50s and 60s, and reflecting the cultural turmoil of the times by producing some violent and downbeat movies, American Graffiti took the movie-going public to a time when life was simpler, and movies made you feel good - teenagerhood in the 50s and early 60s.

    Featuring very little in the way of plot, the movie follows the travels of four young men in separate but linked stories over the course of a summer night in a small American town. Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) is Curt Henderson and Ron Howard (Richie from "Happy Days") plays Steve Bolander, and for them, it is the last night at home before setting off interstate for college. Steve has to deal with leaving his high school sweetheart, Laurie (Cindy Williams, aka Shirley from "Laverne & Shirley"), whilst Curt is getting cold feet about making the break. John Milner (Paul Le Mat) on the other hand, is a little older, and he continues to cruise the strip in the fastest car around, that is, until Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) comes to town, looking to strip him of the mantle. In the meantime, John ducks and weaves after being stuck with the 14 year old Carol (Mackenzie Philips), whom he finds himself babysitting after an attempt to pick up some girls went horribly wrong. Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables) as Terry "The Toad" Fields has problems dealing with his own geekiness, that is until Steve entrusts him with his car, and he picks up the gorgeous Debbie, played by Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell To Earth). Whilst spending their evening cruising the strip and hanging out at the local burger joint, the town listens to the local pirate radio station (helmed by legendary DJ Wolfman Jack), and thus there is an instant soundtrack of wall-to-wall 50s classics to accompany the action.

    Occasional director George Lucas had come to making this movie from the sterile THX 1138, and proved definitively that he could in fact make a technically exciting movie with a heart and on a budget. This led directly to the smash that was Star Wars, and although the comparisons are not obvious, Star Wars fans should be thankful for the existence of American Graffiti and the lessons that it taught its creator. In following his group of teenagers around for the night, Lucas has created a brilliant and original coming-of-age movie: the characters have to get over their respective obstacles, and in doing so, they share the universal problems of the passage from childhood to adulthood; they must deal with their fear of change, and cope with the inevitable loss of innocence. As noted above, these are things that historically were about to confront the American people as a whole, and American Graffiti not only stands as a wonderful piece of entertainment, it also represents something of a historical milestone both in filmmaking (just look above for the number of careers that it launched) as well as a cultural record of both the time in which the movie was set as well as when it was made.

    As is often the case, this classic movie was followed by a lesser sequel in 1979, More American Graffiti, taking a look at the lives of most of the main characters in the Vietnam years. It was somewhat experimental in its presentation, and received mixed reviews. George Lucas does not appear to have been involved in its production. In the way of Lucas trivia from the original, look for the number plate of John Milner's yellow Ford, as well as a little plug for producer Francis Coppola at the cinema next to where the vandalized police car is parked.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Before any discussion of the transfer it must be stated that this movie was shot in Techniscope - as explained in the accompanying featurette discussed below, this technique can be compared to 16mm film, but in widescreen. Why is this of consequence? Because Techniscope (and 16mm film for that matter) has a tendency to display excessive amounts of grain in low light conditions, and produce a somewhat reduced depth of field for the camera operators to work with. As most of the film is shot at night with only minimal lighting, there is plenty of grain, and I've assumed that this is inherent in the source material rather than being introduced by the transfer process.

    The feature is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The almost ever-present grain (together with lots of hand-held camera work) lends a real documentary feel to the movie, and although it wasn't the sharpest transfer I've ever seen, the age of the movie and the intention of the filmmakers meant that what is seen on the DVD is probably fairly close to what was shot almost 30 years ago. Overall, this movie was very dark, and age and the film stock itself means that shadow detail is not great, but this is in keeping with the somewhat diffuse nature of the balance of the image. Low level noise was not a concern.

    For the first couple of minutes of the movie, set late in the afternoon, the colour seems to be a little oversaturated, however, once night falls, this problem gives way to a fairly bright and well represented colour spectrum. Age seems to have dulled the colour a little, but there are plenty of bright 50s colours (including the cars and the clothes), and whilst I wouldn't go so far as to call the palette vibrant, it is reasonably good, bearing in mind the minimal lighting. Black are a little on the brown side, however, 30 years can do that to a movie.

    There were no MPEG artefacts to be found, and the only film-to-video artefact that I could spot was a little aliasing on Steve's check shirt at around the 2:21 mark. Film artefacts were as plentiful as expected, and I suspect that the darkness of most of the feature did well to hide many more. The more noticeable instances of film artefacts occurred at 4:23, 12:45, 92:00 - 92:12, and 100:00 - 100:10 (as the following day breaks and the light gets much stronger).

   This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 86:04. Although it is placed mid-scene, it occurs at a static and silent point in the action, and the brief pause only caused a minor disruption to the flow of the action.

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

Audio

    In addition to the English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack, there are Dutch, Italian, French and Spanish soundtracks (all in Dolby Digital 1.0) on offer. I went with the default English soundtrack, which was no doubt adapted from a Dolby Stereo track (which was produced for a 1979 re-release of the movie) rather than from the original mono source.

    The dialogue was generally of fairly good quality, however the remix of the soundtrack left the music considerably brighter in tone than the dialogue, making the age of the dialogue track as opposed to the restored music a little too obvious (as is the case with most remixes). Only one bit of the dialogue was a little difficult to understand, at 31:50, and this was probably more a result of the acoustics of the filming location rather than a transfer issue. Audio sync was not a concern.

    There is no score per se, however almost the entire movie features a wall-to-wall soundtrack of fifties classics, as played on the pirate radio station which is ever-present in the background (and sometimes the foreground) of the action. Featured artists include Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Big Bopper, The Beach Boys, and Bill Haley.

    I was reasonably impressed with the aggressive use of the surrounds, bearing in mind that the track is only surround-encoded rather than 5.1, for atmospheric effects such as the traffic on the streets and the nightlife generally. At times, there was a little too much reverb applied, and this led the surround effects to sound a little thin and unnatural. With the surround-encoded track, there wasn't much in the way of directional effects from the surrounds.

    Without a specific .1 channel to really put the subwoofer through its paces, bass tones were fairly regular from some of the in-movie music, as well as the rumbling of the cars during the many hotrod and traffic scenes. Not exactly demo stuff, but the subwoofer supported the soundtrack reasonably well given the mono nature of the original source soundtrack.

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

Extras

    There are some fairly basic extras accompanying one excellent one - not quite a Collector's Edition by my definition, but the lengthy documentary is compelling viewing.

The Making of American Graffiti (78:08)

    This 1998 documentary is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (with clips at 2.35:1) and features Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 enhanced. Having the luxury of being somewhat of a retrospective look at what was quite a significant movie, it is allowed to be much more interesting than say a promotional featurette where the opinions of the interviewees tend to be somewhat scripted and contrived. It contains revealing present day interviews with George Lucas, Francis Coppola, the screenwriters, as well as many of the main cast, including Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford among others. This is one of the better documentaries that I have seen, as it explains in depth some fairly fascinating events surrounding the early days of the careers of many of those involved in the making of the movie, as well as covering all aspects of the production (some of which were groundbreaking for their time) in some detail.

Cast & Filmmakers

    Brief biographies and film highlights of Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, Wolfman Jack, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

Universal Website

    If you can't be bothered typing the URL provided, then using Windows Explorer (or equivalent) you can open a html file which provides you with a link (surely a more laborious process than typing the URL in any event).

Production Notes

    A fairly brief essay on some aspects of the making of the movie and its aftermath: a worthwhile addition.

Theatrical Trailer (2:41)

    Presented at 2.35:1 (without 16x9 enhancement) with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, the trailer is a little murkier than the feature, and contains a couple more film artefacts.

R4 vs R1

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

    With the exception of the PAL formatting utilized on the Region 4 version of this DVD (as opposed to the NTSC formatting of the Region 1 counterpart), the two versions are identical. Accordingly, the Region 4 is to be preferred by reason of the superior formatting.

Summary

    American Graffiti is a landmark piece of filmmaking, and its release into the Region 4 market is most welcome. The audio and video transfers were presented reasonably well in light of the source material, and an excellent documentary took the extras package from average to superb (although an audio commentary from George Lucas would have launched it into the stratosphere). All in all, a creditable DVD presentation.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Anthony Curulli (read my bio)
Friday, January 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D608
SpeakersFront: Yamaha NS10M, Rear: Wharfedale Diamond 7.1, Center: Wharfedale Sapphire, Sub: Aaron 120W

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