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American Graffiti: Collector's Edition

review by Eric Dahl


Rated PG

Studio: Universal

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, and Charles Martin Smith

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Written by George Lucas, Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck

Directed by George Lucas

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: "The Making of American Graffiti" Documentary, Theatrical Trailer, Cast & Crew Biographies, Production Notes, DVD-ROM Web Links.

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, English Captions, Spanish Captions, and Chapter Search (49 Chapters for the Movie, 7 for the Documentary).

In 1973, a little movie came out that was directed by a man who only had one previous film under his belt and had a cast of almost completely unknown teenagers. This film, doubted by it's studio, and thought to fail on all counts by everyone excluding it's cast and crew, went on to get nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including best picture, claimed itself a spot in the American Film Institute's best 100 films of the last century, and in the process, won itself into the hearts of many a moviegoer. If you haven't guessed already, this film is 1973's surprise hit, "American Graffiti". The film, which made the names of practically the whole cast and crew (Including director George Lucas, stars Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, and Charles Martin Smith.) household ones, follows the lives of four teenagers (Dreyfuss, Howard, Smith, and Paul Le Mat) on the night before two of them are set to go to college.

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 picture on this DVD is the best that this movie has ever had, and compared to the video version, boy does it show. The film was shot intentionally grainy, as to make a documentary-ish feeling so this DVD will be nowhere near reference quality. The colors are fairly well defined, and the picture is a little soft at times, but it is never distracting. A few little things I noticed, comparing my hack-job Pan-and-Scan video to this beautiful Widescreen DVD are that George Lucas used his 2.35:1 ratio to the absolute fullest, making the video full of unnecessary, distracting pans back and forth across the screen. Also, during the "Where are they now?" epilogue at the end of the movie, Lucas' original vision of having all four character's futures displayed in the same frame is here, instead of the "full screen one-at-a-time" method used on the video. Anyone who is familiar with the video will now notice an amazing, extremely well composed, and now great looking Widescreen version of their favorite film.

The THX enhanced Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix has never sounded better, save inside the theaters from which the film was first seen. I kind of hoped that Lucas would have sprung for a 5.1 remix to further accentuate the awesome wall-to-wall soundtrack of classic oldies, but the 2.0 mix does the job just fine. Dialogue is clear and pronounced and although this isn't a John Woo bullets- flying-from-all-corners-of-the-room soundtrack, the soundtrack composed of late fifties, early sixties rock and Motown hits are adequately used throughout the surround speakers.

This DVD, dubbed a "Collectors Edition" by Universal, well deserves the title is has been bestowed. The DVD isn't loaded with TV Spots and the like, but the one highlight is one of the greatest I have ever seen...

"The Making of American Graffiti". The day I received this DVD in the mail, I eagerly ripped it open, wondering what features Universal would give one of my favorite movies of all time. I started watching this documentary, thinking that it would be one of those 15-minute promotional featurettes. Man, was I wrong. Before I knew it, about an hour and twenty-two minutes had passed and I knew more about this movie than I could have ever dreamed to known. This is one of the most informative, well done, and least boring documentaries I have ever seen. Almost the entire cast and crew gets their whole two cents in, and they seem to be gleefully reminiscing about the best time in their lives. They tell some great stories about the shooting of the movie and all seem to have a great time doing it. The documentary also features screen tests and auditions, for what it's worth. This feature alone makes the disc worth every penny it costs.

The Theatrical Trailer is pretty nifty, posing as a yearbook for the high school within the movie. We get the pictures of the cast along with clips from the movie while being narrated by Wolfman Jack, the Disc Jockey from the movie who also was very notorious in real life during the period when the movie took place.

Production Notes as well as Cast & Crew Biographies are pretty standard, but are very welcome as a couple of little extra extras.

While I eagerly wait for George Lucas' masterpieces, the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" trilogies, to be finally released in the best format available, I can sleep partially well knowing that Lucas decided to give "American Graffiti" the treatment it so richly deserves instead of his lesser known failures, "Howard the Duck" and "The Radioland Murders". Just the close-to-90-minute documentary makes this DVD a must buy for anyone who even partially likes "American Graffiti", and for the die-hard fans of it like me, well, if you don't have it, run, don't walk to your nearest store and pick yourself up a copy this modern classic.

(4/5, NOT included in final score)




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