American Pie Blu-ray offers decent video and audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
Jim is your average healthy re-blooded virgin -- he's desperate to "make it" with a woman.
The stakes are raised when his parents catch him with his pants down watching porno films in
his bedroom, his one experience with a beautiful exchange student turns into an online disaster
and his friends make a pact that by the day of their high school graduation, none of them will
be virgins. Pressure's on, but will Jim rise to the occasion?
For more about American Pie and the American Pie Blu-ray release, see American Pie Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
I've come to terms with middle age. It suits me, I think. I'm not even phased by the passing of time any more. Not so long ago, I would have been shocked to learn a film from my high school or college days was rapidly approaching its fifteenth anniversary. But now? It's just another reminder of how how quickly the years slip away after making the transition from adolescence to adulthood. American Pie is thirteen years old. Thirteen. Some of you may need to let that sink in for a minute. For those of you who walked out of the theater in 1999 laughing at the sheer sexual audacity of everything you had just witnessed, you're now thirteen years older. And, like you, American Pie is a dramatically different creature today than it was then. Critics never rallied behind it, audiences were divided, and it wasn't that long before an army of contenders knocked it off its throne. Early '80s Gen-Xers declared it their Porky's, though, and threw their considerably disposable income at the screen to the tune of $235 million. (Quite a feat for an R-rated teen comedy.) It was enough to transform American Pie from a one hit wonder into a successful series; a series that's set to give birth to its eighth entry, American Reunion, on April 6th. But does the film that started it all hold up? Does it have the same bad-boy-on-the-block allure it did in 1999? Has it retained any of its gross-out edge? Has it become a relic of '90s teen culture? Is it even all that funny any more?
"God bless the Internet..."
Before American Pie came along, few filmfans knew the names Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Eddie Kaye, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Shannon Elizabeth, Natasha Lyonne or John Cho. (Don't forget Cho!) Yes, Tara Reid was "the trophy wife from The Big Lebowski" and Alyson Hannigan, the only proven actor in the bunch, had a loyal legion of Buffy fans at her disposal, but even the film's best-known starlets didn't have much in the way of name recognition. Fast forward thirteen years, though, and it's hard to find someone who hasn't heard of Pie's then-unknown properties. And for good reason. When American Pie works, it almost always traces back to its exceptionally talented young cast. Filmmakers Paul and Chris Weitz provide a steady pair of hands behind the camera, sure, but its Biggs' sweet-natured clumsiness and uncertainty that draws you into Jim's awkward world, Klein's aw-shucks sincerity that makes his lacrosse jock memorable, Scott's go-for-broke free-for-all that makes his foul-mouthed troublemaker such a riot, Kaye's confidence and ease that makes Finch worth rooting for, Hannigan's deadpan innocence that still delivers the single funniest twist in the movie, and Elizabeth's... well, I doubt anyone will argue talent and craft are the two things that earned Elizabeth her post-Pie fame and notoriety. None of the young Hollywood hopefuls are immune to the follies of their own inexperience, but for the most part, they're believable as teens in promiscuous peril; Reid and Lyonne being the only ones who come across as being as old as they actually were at the time.
The story is as basic as they come. Four teenage boys race to lose their virginity before graduation. That's it. Pie's A-to-B plot is loaded with hot, sticky filling -- pop culture banter, pre-sex sexual escapades, gross-out gags, and one embarrassing episode after another -- but it all really comes down to Jim, Oz, Finch and Kevin's relationships and friendships, the boys-will-be-boys ribbing and jousting, and little more. That said, the most convincing relationship isn't between the teens or between the guys and their conquests; it's between Jim and his father (Eugene Levy, who departs from the dim, detached, emotionally absentee dads that litter the genre, offering a more functional, more compassionate former teen geek in their place). The downside? When Biggs and Levy aren't on screen, the series' growing pains and hormone surges reek havoc. The boys' banal banter is good; anything more meaningful, though, not so much. The character eccentricities are funny; their fumbling and bumbling with the opposite sex, not so much. The comedy itself, decent; the hard-R content kids paid to see in 1999, not so much. The years haven't been as kind to American Pie as they could have been. Much of the thrill is gone, most of the edge has been dulled, and the entire film seems positively tame circa 2012. We've either become desensitized over the years or more recent teen comedies (like Project X) have set the bar so high (or so low as it were). Or maybe both amount to the same thing.
Had the Weitz brothers focused more on the trials and tribulations of Jim (Kevin earns far too much screentime), the original Pie would be a sharper comedy and a stronger film. It would also be less of a paint by numbers genre pic too; one that only hits its stride at Stifler's after-prom party. It reverts to its old ways soon after, falls back a few too many steps, and lumbers across the finish line as the boys try and fail to tackle some thankfully brief heavy lifting. If nothing else, though, it gave us Jim and his friends. While the benefits may not have been immediately apparent (American Pie 2 is both more of the same and a lesser comedy), and while, in many ways, the still-thriving series has continued to plumb the depths of convention, American Wedding seemed to indicate the teens (and the actors playing them) were far more interesting adults, which bodes well for the upcoming American Reunion. So we arrive back at the beginning. Does the film that started it all hold up? To an extent. Nostalgia factors into the equation, meaning newcomers won't be nearly as smitten as longtime fans. Does it have the same bad-boy-on-the-block allure it did in 1999? Not quite. It has a few proverbial aces up its sleeve, but nothing that shocks or titillates. Has it retained any of its gross-out edge? Some, but just enough to make seasoned vets grin, not enough to make them wince. Has it become a relic of late '90s teen culture? Is it even all that funny any more? Yes and yes. American Pie will never be heralded as a classic comedy, nor should it be. It's good for a few laughs, and even better for a few memorable character beats, but it also ambles, hobbles and stumbles where other genre standouts have excelled. A solid '90s comedy? I'll give it that. Hilarious? That's being generous. Hit or miss? There you go. Stick with that one.
American Pie's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer was, by all indications, minted from a somewhat dated master. That's not to say it looks like an upconverted DVD -- quite the contrary, fans will note the many improvements the Blu-ray presentation offers over its standard definition counterpart -- but it does suffer from a number of DVD-era issues, meaning the end result isn't as satisfying as it could be. There are times when artificial sharpening is out in force, producing unsightly (but thankfully intermittent) edge halos. Noise reduction has been utilized as well, although on more of a scene by scene basis and judiciously on the whole. The majority of shots are actually quite refined, with well-resolved facial textures, seemingly unblemished fine detail, and a veneer of unobtrusive grain; other shots, though in smaller supply, are waxy, over-processed and worse for the wear. Worse, while primaries eek by with some nice (albeit limited) punch, the image is continually undermined by lackluster contrast and a minor blue tint. Skintones often have an overcast reflecting pool quality to them, colors are sometimes skewed, and the presentation drifts into dark, murky waters. Black levels are deep, sure, but instances of dingy whites, muted reds, waterlogged greens and poorly delineated shadows put a damper on things. On a more positive note, sunnier shots boast a welcome warmth that would have benefited the rest of the film, while more glaring issues -- artifacting, banding and the like -- are largely held at bay. (Arguably negligible telecine wobble will prove to be a distraction for some, if only because it comes and goes as it pleases, drawing attention to itself each time.)
All in all, I wish I had better things to say about American Pie's transfer, and suspect I would have if Universal had started from scratch, creating a brand new master specifically for this release. But a dated, problematic master can only produce a dated, problematic presentation, and that's exactly what we get here. Many shots and scenes show potential, but the series' first film remains a bit of a Blu-ray underachiever.
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is beholden to its original sound design, which leads to a number of shortcomings all its own, chief among them rear speaker aimlessness and low-end laziness. Dialogue is clean and clear on the whole, but a few too many lines are thin or slightly muffled; prioritization is decent, but too many crowded hallways and noisy parties are flat and stagy; the soundfield features some notable directional effects, but hardly any feature the precision or finesse one hopes to hear; and LFE output is solid, but favors dutifully providing average support over creating some sense of real weight and cinematic presence. Even the film's soundtrack lacks punch, getting the job done and little more. Don't get me wrong, American Pie doesn't sound bad at all. It just doesn't have the means or the muscle to back up its lossless hopes and dreams.
Theatrical and Unrated Cuts: Two versions of the film are available, both of which clock in at 96-minutes.
Audio Commentary: Paul and Chris Weitz, writer Adam Herz and actors Jason Biggs, Sean William Scott and Eddie Kaye Thomas dig into American Pie and dig their way back out. It's a fairly inconsequential track, truth be told -- especially in light of the disc's franchise-spanning documentary -- but it's fun, so I doubt fans will complain.
American Pie Revealed: The Complete Story of All Three Comedies (SD, 213 minutes): That's right. Three and a half hours of content. Formerly a cumbersome interactive suite, "American Pie Revealed" has been re-purposed and refashioned as one easy-to-watch documentary, complete with countless interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes footage and anecdotes, cast and crew tell-alls, audition tapes, outtakes and more. Chapters include "Begin the Journey," "The Recipe for Pie," "The First Piece," "The Aftertaste," "The Second Helping," "One Last Piece," "The Reunion Dinner" and "FAQ," and cover everything a fan could want to know about American Pie, American Pie 2, and American Wedding.
Casting Tapes (SD, 8 minutes): Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Thomas Ian Nicholas and Chris Klein's casting tapes, each presented in part, not in full.
Poster Concepts (SD, 8 minutes): The many, many posters created during the development and production of American Pie (originally titled Great Falls).
Spotlight on Location (SD, 11 minutes): A vintage -- does 1999 constitute vintage? -- look at the film.
From the Set (SD, 7 minutes): A production photo montage with audio interview excerpts with the Weitz brothers.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 6 minutes): A series of rough scenes, most of which were cut for good reason.
Outtakes (SD, 3 minutes): Bloopers... which amount to a shoddy home video reel as presented.
Tonic Live Performance (SD, 11 minutes): Tonic talks about small, intimate venues before taking the stage.
Music Video (SD, 5 minutes): Tonic's "You Wanted More."
American Reunion: A Look Inside (HD, 4 minutes): An extended promo for American Reunion, the fourth film in the series, due in theaters this April.
American Pie isn't as essential as American pie, but it still knows how to score laughs, features an impressive lineup of then-unknown stars, and has the rare distinction among '90s teen comedies of depicting teenagers as actual ('90s) teenagers. And while, no, it hasn't aged nearly as well as some of you might be hoping, a surge of nostalgia is all you'll need to reconnect with Jim and his friends before their American Reunion. Universal's Blu-ray debut shows its wrinkles too, thanks to a dated, problematic master (and subsequently dated, problematic transfer) and an average DTS-HD Master Audio track. More than six hours of special features (including a three and a half hour documentary of sorts) add some much needed value to the disc, but none of it eliminates the sting of a middling AV presentation. Ultimately, the Blu-ray edition of American Pie bests its DVD counterpart in every way. Simply besting an outdated presentation, though, just isn't good enough anymore.
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