American Graffiti – Special Edition, Blu-ray (1973/2011)

by | Jun 3, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

American Graffiti, Special Edition, Blu-ray (1973/2011)

Director: George Lucas; Producer: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Mackenzi Phillips, Wolfman Jack, Paul Le Mat, Suzanne Somers
Studio: Universal 61115348 [5/31/11]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2,0, DD 2.0, French DTS mono
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: “The Making of American Graffiti,” Screen tests of many of the new actors, PIP video commentary by George Lucas, The Music of American Graffiti, BD Live 2.0, Pocket
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: *****

George Lucas second film after THX 1138, American Graffiti is an iconic classic, and fans who already had earlier DVD versions are crowing about how much improved in both picture and sound this Blu-ray version is.  The sound is still only stereo, but since all of the music is mono rock classics of the late 50s and early 60s anyway, who cares. The extras talk about how after the licensing for all the songs was paid – about $2000 each and a real deal compared to today’s costs – there was no budget left for original music anywhere in the film, so Lucas used sound effects dramatically in some scenes instead of music.

It’s about a bunch of typical teenagers in 1962 who cruise the streets of the small town they live in, get in and out of relationships, go to sock hops and the famous Mel’s Drive-In (which actually is in San Francisco), and focusing on two boys who both plan to go away the next day to college. The one played by young Richard Dreyfus vacillates on whether he will go or stay but gets on a plane the next morning, but the other – played by Ron Howard – ends up staying. So many of the young actors became bigtime stars, it’s fascinating to see them here, as well as their sceen tests. And Lucas’ discussion about his struggle to get the movie made and the pressures of shooting it all very simply in just 29 days are interesting to hear. Bringing in Wolfman Jack was a great idea, with his tunes being introduced all thru the film and serving as a background for the lives of the teens. Sound man Walter Murch talks in the extras about equalizing and processing the rock tunes to sound like they did in cars, on portable AM radios, etc. When the Dreyfus character visits the radio station to get him to dedicate a song to a girl he’s seen, Jack pretends the Wolfman is on tape and he’s not him, but Dreyfus sees he really is as he leaves.

It was fun to see the main streets of San Rafael and Petaluma California, which I used to live near. They had planned to shoot all the cruising scenes on San Rafael’s Fourth Street but evidently caused such a ruckus the first night that the city kicked them out and they had to shoot most of the rest of the cruising shots in Petaluma nearby. Famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler is listed only as the Visual Consultant on the credits, but the great on-screen appearance is surely due to his work. It is especially worthy considering the time and money pressures, and most of the film was shot at night, which contributed to some graininess and focus problems which he mostly solved. The excellent Blu-ray transfer makes it look like a much bigger-budget movie.  One of the actors talks about Lucas shooting some scenes over and over until there was a small goof, and that was the one he used because it was more realistic.

 — John Sunier


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