Blu-ray Disc review by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits
American Graffiti: Special Edition
1973 (2011) - Universal
Released on Blu-ray on May 31st, 2011
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 17
"Someone wants me... someone roaming the streets wants ME!! Will you turn the corner?!"
In 1973, George Lucas made his first commercial success with American Graffiti. While not a particularly revolutionary film per se, it did rekindle interest in 1960's culture and music.
The film's soundtrack consisted solely of songs from that era instead of a traditional score. The film was also meant to play as a documentary, but wound up being a pseudo-music video and a snapshot of the era. Lucas' previous film, the commercial failure THX-1138, was the springboard for the birth of the project. He was challenged by friend and co-producer Francis Ford Coppola to make a mainstream comedy for very little money. Drawing on his experiences and images from his teenage years in Modesto, California, Lucas managed to pull it off. Although Universal didn't initially understand American Graffiti, going so far as removing several scenes prior to its release, the eventual success of the film proved to be lucrative. It also allowed Lucas the opportunity to have enough creative freedom to make his next project: Star Wars. Today, American Graffiti is seen as an important look back at American culture. It's also a film that the perfection-driven Lucas has managed to leave intact as is, without content changes (for the benefit of us all).
For its debut on Blu-ray, American Graffiti has really been given great treatment. It's safe to say that this film has never looked better, with an ultra-sharp transfer that's clean and crisp. Even the darker scenes benefit from the higher clarity. The film grain is also absolutely minimal and stable, with very little digital manipulation, making for an extremely pleasant picture. There's been some edge enhancement in a few scenes, but not nearly enough to get worked up over. The color palette is just as rich as it's always been, while contrast evens the picture out without brightening it up too much. Needless to say, this is definitely a worthy presentation. As for the audio portion, you get two options: an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a French DTS 2.0 Mono track. Although I would have preferred hearing the movie in the original mono, this is a good substitute. The music itself has been mixed mostly into the rear speakers and a bit toward the front. In the scenes where we can hear the radio being played from far away, a wall of sound can be heard all around us - encapsulating the movie. The dialogue and sound effects still sound like they need a bit of sweetening to me, which is one of the reasons why I'd just prefer to have a mono soundtrack. Nonetheless, it sounds good enough, and complements the presentation very well. Three subtitle options are also presented: English SDH, Spanish and French.
The Blu-ray includes two brand new extras, both using the U-Control option. There's a picture-in-picture video commentary with George Lucas and a song identifier application. With the latter, there's an on-screen display informing the viewer which song is playing in each scene, with the option of downloading each song through iTunes if you so choose. The video commentary is a decent one, but not altogether great. Lucas tends to fumble a lot and seems to be searching for something to say at times, but there are some interesting anecdotes hidden within if you listen long enough. The rest of the extras are culled from the DVD release, including the The Making of American Graffiti documentary, screen tests and the theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, the DVD's production photographs didn't carry over. There's also a My Scenes bookmarking option, as well as BD-Live and pocketBlu options. Yes, these extras may seem a bit on the slim side, but there's a decent enough amount that most people should be satisfied with it. It's just a shame that more vintage stuff from the Lucasfilm archives couldn't have been included... and I'm sure that it's out there.
While American Graffiti might have been seen as unconventional at the time, it helped to usher in the era of the "summer blockbuster." It also became one of the most successful money-making movies of all time. While Lucas would go on to create his great space opera and Steven Spielberg would eventually make the blockbuster Jaws, I think it's fair to say that American Graffiti helped kick the door of convention down, letting the studios know that audiences wanted new kinds of filmed entertainment. Thankfully, this new Blu-ray release should delight fans both old and new.