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Fast Times at Ridgemont High(1982)
Teenagers struggling with independence, sexuality, money, maturity, rock'n roll, Spicoli ordering pizza and high school. Oh and that pool scene.
For more about Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray release, see Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 21, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, Ray Walston
Director: Amy Heckerling
» See full cast & crew
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray Review
Is 'Fast Times' still crazy after all these years?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 21, 2011
There's a famous adage that if you remember the 1960's you can't possibly have been there. That same idea might be applicable to at least some of the characters of a comedy that takes place a couple of decades past the 60's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a late 70's-early 80's-fest that is fondly remembered by a certain subset of the movie going public who may have been either high school aged or just slightly older when the film first arrived at megaplexes in 1982. The film is a rather fascinating concatenation of now famous names both in acting and behind the scenes roles, having been either the first or one of the first films for a whole slew of current day icons including Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage (then billed as Nicolas Coppola for the one and only time in his career), Forest Whitaker, and Eric Stoltz in front of the camera, and Cameron Crowe (later to win an Academy Award for Almost Famous, a film tonally linked to Fast Times) providing his first screenplay, one culled from a 1981 book he wrote while working for Rolling Stone. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is perhaps more than usual a product of its times, and so may seem hopelessly out of date to a newer generation raised on videogames and other attention deficit disorder producing media, but seeing it now some 30 years after its release (wow!), the film is still surprisingly spry and often very funny, if undeniably somewhat dated.
It's a little amusing to see Fast Times at Ridgemont High now with the benefit of 30 years' hindsight, and to realize at the time of its release Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates were two of the biggest names in the younger generation of the cast (Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, the officious teacher who torments Penn's Spicoli character, of course probably wins the honors for best known name overall in the cast, at least circa 1982). (Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh actually get top billing in the film). Reinhold portrays Brad Hamilton, an all around good guy, perhaps similar to the Ron Howard character in American Graffiti (yet another film to which Fast Times bears a certain similarity), who early in the film finds his life going to hell in a handbasket when in quick succession he's fired from his after-school job and his longtime girlfriend Lisa (Amanda Wyss) ditches him. Playing out against Brad's story are a number of interrelated subplots, including one involving Brad's younger sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a somewhat insecure Freshman who becomes sexually active to devastating results. Comedy relief is securely in the perhaps somewhat unexptected hands of Sean Penn, in a time long before his really serious acting chops had been regularly displayed. Penn portrays perpetual stoner Spicoli, a guy who wafts into class amidst an almost visible cloud of pot smoke, and who is the eternal nemesis of Ridgemont High's history teacher Mr. Hand (Walston). Also along for the ride is Cates as Senior Linda, a kind of proto-sexpot "bikini body" who is also one of Stacy's confidants.
Cameron Crowe actually went "underground" as a slightly older than high school age reporter when he did his "field work" for what became Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Crowe has proven himself again and again to be a really smart and sharp observer and that element is front and center throughout the film. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High is by its very nature rather anecdotal, the anecdotes themselves are filled with little character beats which are fascinating, compelling, and most importantly, real feeling. Even the stoned out lunacy of Spicoli is oddly truthful in its own way, and Penn's completely deadpan performance simply knocks it out of the park. For a comedy (and a lot of Fast Times is still very, very funny), the film has a rather serious subtext and this set of characters finds themselves on the cusp of adulthood without all of the necessary tools to effectively make the transition.
Director Amy Heckerling also deserves major kudos, especially as Fast Times at Ridgemont High was her first feature film. Heckerling has an unerring eye for her characters, and even the ones about whom we're probably not meant to overly sympathize aren't treated with disdain. Heckerling also completely ably recreates the crazy social strata that defines most people's high school experiences. She also places the film near perfectly between great comedy moments and more serious, introspective dramatic beats that gives Fast Times at Ridgemont High its very distinctive flavor. Aided and abetted by a game cast, many of whom were just beginning their professional careers, the film careens along at a somewhat manic pace that nevertheless is always more or less under control.
Too often when one revisits films that are so completely anchored to their time periods one is reminded of the old adage iconized in a novel title by Thomas Wolfe, "You can't go home again." It's really rather bracing, then, to find so much still so enjoyable in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If the Baby Boomers had their celebratory coming of age film in American Graffiti, this is no doubt the same sort of film for that quasi-generation that came after the earliest Boomers but not late enough to have been considered part of Gen-X. They may have been forgotten by the wags who come up with these generational titles, but the good news is they're forever memorialized to often delirious effect in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray, Video Quality
Whoa! Bad trip, man! Let's be clear right up front: Fast Times at Ridgemont High has never been a gorgeous looking film. It has virtually reeked of its low budget ethos from its theatrical exhibition through its various home video incarnations. But, wow, a lot of folks are probably going to be shocked at how shoddy this VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 looks. The opening scenes in the shopping mall are swarming with on-again off-again digital noise that attacks backgrounds like hordes of tiny locusts. This particular anomaly thankfully improves dramatically after what would have been the first reel or so, but it never completely evaporates. While colors look suitably robust and lifelike throughout this presentation, the overall image is fuzzy, soft and rarely incredibly appealing. There are a couple of notable exceptions, one of them being the brightly lit poolside scene featuring Jason Leigh and Cates, which probably due to its brighter than usual lighting source, finally pops in something at least approaching high definition (and that's obviously good news to a lot of guys who probably have the scene forever imprinted on their libidinous memories). Somewhat surprisingly to this reviewer, the screencaps uploaded to this review actually look at least a little better than the film really does as it plays, something that isn't always the case when extracting a frame here or a frame there. A lot of these issues are no doubt endemic in the source elements, but this is still a pretty sad looking Blu-ray.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Fast Times at Ridgemont High's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really comes alive in the film's ubiquitous use of rock and pop hits of the day (including a tune by my hometown of Portland's one attempt at producing a 1980's arena rock act, Quarterflash). The music, so important to establishing the time and tone (no pun intended) of the film sounds absolutely fantastic and actually rattles the floorboards a couple of times. While dialogue is certainly clear and crisp, the rest of the film doesn't bristle with surround activity, and indeed is fairly squarely rooted in the front channels, though there are some nice exceptions, as in the opening mall sequence and, later, in some of the establishing shots at the high school, where crowd noise permeates the side and rear channels. Fidelity here is very strong, dynamic range is excellent, and the overall mix is very well handled.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Unlike some other coming of age dramedies, Fast Times at Ridgemont High has aged surprisingly well. Bolstered by some fantastic performances by a coterie of youngsters who would go on to define their generation's acting, and with a very smart and surefooted screenplay by Cameron Crowe, and equally strong direction by Amy Heckerling, this is a film with relatively modest ambitions that nonetheless is surprisingly nuanced and actually rather profound at times. This Blu-ray has a disappointing image quality, at least partially attributable to the film's lo-fi source elements, but the soundtrack is amazing in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Even with reservations about how the film looks, this release is Recommended.
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