DirectorJohn A. Alonzo
Release Date(s)1978 (July 2, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
Despite being wall to wall with popular rock and roll music, likable characters, and a generally fun atmosphere, FM unfortunately did not catch the world on fire upon its release in 1978. It did, however, spawn a radio hit with Steely Dan’s FM (No Static at All), as well as a hit soundtrack, chock full of great artists including The Eagles, Bob Seger, The Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Foreigner, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Queen, and many, many more. Sadly, the story took a backseat to the music, going mostly underappreciated for most of its home video afterlife.
QSKY FM is the most popular rock radio station in town. It’s free of commercials and loaded with a group of beloved disc jockeys and plenty of great music. The station’s leader, the free-wheeling, down-to-Earth, and much-respected Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) heads up a team that includes the smooth-talking Prince of Darkness (Cleavon Little), the self-obsessed but lovable Eric Swan (Martin Mull), the older, more experienced Mother (Eileen Brennan), cowboy Doc Holiday (Alex Karras), and Dugan’s flame-to-be Laura (Cassie Yates). Troubles start brewing when the station’s upper management insists upon more commercials in order to make larger profits, valuing quantity over quality, which Dugan and his crew try desperately to avoid.
Helmed by John A. Alonzo, a noted cinematographer (Harold and Maude, Steel Magnolias) who got his first chance at directing, FM is ultimately a confused film when it comes to tone, specifically its comedy. In one sense, it wants to be more akin to something like Porky’s, such as the scene in which one of the disc jockeys has sex with a fan in the recording booth and accidentally leaves the microphone on. In another sense, it wants to be more of a lighthearted affair with occasional visual gags and character dynamics. It also pulls a Do the Right Thing towards the end and gets serious pretty fast, but is resolved just as quickly.
On the other hand, it earns its authenticity by following the day in, day out lives of the disc jockeys (which the film’s writer, Ezra Sacks, was all too familiar with, being a former disc jockey himself). We’re also treated to live performances by Jimmy Buffet and Linda Ronstadt, as well as an appearance by the late, great Tom Petty who shows up for a radio interview. While the story feels a bit disheveled and the tone isn’t quite ironed out, FM still offers plenty to enjoy for fans of classic rock and music-driven comedies like The Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, and Empire Records.
Arrow Video brings FM to Blu-ray with a high definition master supplied by Universal Pictures. While grain is varied in spots, detail is crisp and well-defined. Nothing appears too sharp as the film maintains a slightly soft quality. Colors are assorted nicely, though they don’t tend to pop all that much, aside from scenes taking place at concerts. Blacks are deep, contrast levels are good, and there’s no major leftover damage to speak of other than extremely mild instability.
The audio is presented in either English 2.0 LPCM or English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo mix is closer to the original theatrical experience, but the 5.1 fills out the other speakers with a bit more muscle. Ambience and speaker-to-speaker activity are not the stars of the show, but the music is, and both tracks offer it up potently. Dialogue exchanges are always discernable and there are no instances of leftover hiss, distortion, or dropouts.
Extras include No Static at All, a 25-minute interview with actor Michael Brandon, which is an engaging discussion about the actor’s career; Radio Chaos, a 23-minute interview with writer Ezra Sacks, in which he details his time working at a radio station and coming up with the idea for the film; The Spirit of Radio, a 23-minute video appreciation of the FM radio era and many of the tracks from the film’s soundtrack by music critic Glenn Kenny; an isolated music and effects audio track presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital (a bit of an oversight); the film’s theatrical trailer; 3 image galleries: 60 production and promotional stills, 16 images of posters, lobby cards, and a newspaper clipping, and 45 images of soundtrack artwork; and a 20-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, Do You Remember Rock ’n’ Roll Radio? FM and the Decline of the Freedom DJ by Paul Corupe, and transfer details.
FM was not received well critically when it first hit. Most accused it of mediocrity, but with a movie carrying such a heavyweight soundtrack and enjoyable characters, that’s just not possible. It’s actually more of a laid back film that could have been even better had it solved its tonal issues. Arrow Video’s presentation is a solid one and definitely worth upgrading if you’re still clinging dearly to that old Anchor Bay DVD release.
– Tim Salmons