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Shy Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home from college with an uncertain future. Then the wife of his father's business partner, the sexy Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), seduces him, and the affair only deepens his confusion. That is, until he meets the girl of his dreams (Katherine Ross). But there's one problem: She's Mrs. Robinson's daughter!
For more about The Graduate and the The Graduate Blu-ray release, see the The Graduate Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on June 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers: Buck Henry, Calder Willingham
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels (I), Elizabeth Wilson, Murray Hamilton
» See full cast & crew
The Graduate Blu-ray Review
Getting the HD treatment, Dustin Hoffman's flagship coming-of-age classic has never looked or sounded better.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, June 9, 2009
And here's to you, Dustin Hoffman. In a role that achieves popular culture iconoclasm, Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. The coming-of-age comedy and social satire keeps audiences coming back for more--not just because of Hoffman's performance but Anne Bancroft's tour-de-force portrayal of Mrs. Robinson and the score featuring some of Simon and Garfunkle's most endearing songs. The Graduate epitomizes the freedoms and frailties of society in the sixties. Some watch it as more than a comedy. The indecisive Ben represents a segment of middle class youth at the time struggling to find a place. Some "tuned in, turned on and dropped out". Others embraced the American dream and values of their parents. But both camps found something to love in The Graduate. It manages to straddle the line between rebelliousness and routine, while raising many eyebrows. As for whether it transcends the sixties--well, yes and no. The choices that earned director Mike Nichols an Academy Award in 1967 also peg The Graduate firmly in its time. But now is a new time--the age of high resolution digital. MGM's transfer allows the Technicolor to shine through as never before, and the multichannel mix is a revelation. It's by far the best version of the beloved classic available, with the 40th Anniversary DVD thrown in for good measure as a "two-fer" release.
For the few readers who haven't seen this classic, after flying home from college, Ben finds himself at his family's home in the suburbs of Los Angeles--Pasadena to be precise. With a brand new Alfa Romeo Spider as a graduation gift, Ben would rather float in the pool or stare absently into his fish tank than go out and socialize, but he rapidly falls prey to the adults in the movie. Their behavior seems all the more predatory next to Ben's nonchalant, low-key demeanor and quiet desperation. He is a lamb among wolves. All the film's comedy comes from the way Hoffman plays opposite Mr. and Mrs. Braddock (William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson), Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (Murray Hamilton and Bancroft) and the other adults. In an early scene, Ben is aggressively confronted and cornered by family friend Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) who insists on giving him career advice. "Just one word--are you listening? Plastics."
The visible discomfort (and audible, as Hoffman repeatedly emits staccato, falsetto sounds in moments of exasperation) that Ben endures in such encounters makes the audience feel his anxiety. But these encounters also deliver a strong dose of social satire. Hoffman underplays it like the straight man in a comedy sketch for much of the film, but he tries his hand at physical comedy too. As the movie progresses, the satirical lightness of Ben's interactions with adults start to feel heavier. Sinking to the bottom of the pool in the SCUBA gear he receives for his 21st birthday, Ben is all too aware of the tremendous pressures awaiting him: marriage, a career and generally living up to his parents' expectations.
One of those expectations is to date Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross). The date is sabatoged before it begins because earlier in the film, Ben is seduced by Mrs. Robinson and lured into an adulterous relationship. The build-up to the seduction is executed to perfection, as Nichols pulls out all the stops in filming it. During the classic conversation, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me...aren't you?", cinematographer Robert Surtees frames a shot of Hoffman through Bancroft's legs, The older woman toys with Ben like the proverbial cat that caught the mouse, reveling in her power and agility. Moments later, with unconventional shot editing, Nichols cuts back and forth from Ben's anguished face to Mrs. Robinson's breast and navel after she corners Ben in Elaine's bedroom.
Bancroft plays the aggressor with great skill, showing how Mrs. Robinson exerts her sexuality and power over Ben to dissuade him from dating Elaine. But due to pressure from his parents and his enjoyment of Elaine's openness and innocence, Ben increasingly defies Mrs. Robinson, leading to dire circumstances. After deciding to follow his heart, Ben finds himself on a bus with his lover after a very public, tumultuous confrontation. He gazes ahead and Nichols seems to shroud the final moment in a cloud of uncertainty as the couple speeds down the road toward an unknowable future that Nichols hints may not be any more meaningful than their parents' existence.
The influence of The Graduate is immense--from Wes Anderson's films to Risky Business to countless coming-of-age stories and satires that borrowed heavily from the wedding scene and other classic Nichols sequences. The irony of Hoffman's brilliant performance is that it was somewhat of a fluke he got the role at all. Robert Redford initially tried out for the part, but he decided to go with another film at the time. Had a more ruggedly handsome actor like Redford been cast as Ben, the entire dynamics of the film would have shifted. As it stands, Mrs. Robinson seduces the socially dysfunctional Ben for her own subversive, destructive reasons that have nothing to do with love or even lust. But with an actor like Redford in the role, who couldn't help but exude confidence and charm, the motives and aftermath of Ben's seduction would have played differently.
The right choice for The Graduate, Hoffman was more versatile than most actors and he was able to evolve after his role as Ben Braddock. He could have easily been typecast as a straight man in comedies and his career would have gone downhill. But few young actors had his skill and ability to transform from role to role. It is a testament to Hoffman's acting abilities that he was nominated for an Oscar both for his role as Benjamin Braddock and again only two years later for a vastly different role, as Ratso in Midnight Cowboy. He would go on to strike Oscar gold twice in the 1980s, in roles that further showcased his versatility, for Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man. My personal favorite Dustin Hoffman flick is Marathon Man, but The Gruaduate is certainly a legendary performance for the young actor.
The Graduate Blu-ray, Video Quality
Shot with anamorphic lenses that allow much of the screen to go soft, The Graduate would never rank as the most stunning or defined 1080p transfer on Blu-ray. But overall, it presents the Technicolor source in good form. The cinematography by Robert Surtees is a joy to watch on Blu-ray. All the tricks he uses, including unique masking and the use of reflections and slow fades pay off as never before. Colors are rich and vibrant, resolution is an order of magnitude better than the most recent release on DVD: the 40th Anniversary edition from 2007. Coincidentally, that DVD is thrown in as a two-fer with the Blu-ray disc, providing a stunning A/B comparison as to just how far home video has come since the days of NTSC just two years ago. I debated rating The Graduate's video performance an 8, but few scenes convinced me I was watching film. Despite the improved resolution, good contrast and vibrant colors, the picture appears "digitized". This may be due to tools like adjustments to contrast/brightness and digital noise reduction. Or we can chalk it up to the encode.
MPEG-2 may not have the bandwidth to fully capture all the nuances in an analog way, such as small grain gently percolating throughout the picture. I was often conscious--in all but a couple of scenes--that I was watching a digitally transferred representation of the classic. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it would be nice if MGM and some of the other majors would take notes from Criterion. When I want to see transfers to 1080p done in a way that makes the picture remain film-like, Criterion is the way to go. As good as The Graduate now looks on Blu-ray, it is not up to reference material. Nevertheless, it's far superior to some titles from that era that ended up as relative stinkers in the 1080p picture department, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. One thing's for sure: the criticisms of The Graduate's picture boil down to videophile nitpicking. MGM's Blu-ray looks remarkable overall and is by far the best presentation of this beloved classic.
The Graduate Blu-ray, Audio Quality
MGM's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a revelation on Blu-ray, with a clarity and crispness I did not anticipate. Like the video performance of The Graduate, the audio appears over-digitized and a bit squashed dynamically. Though you will not hear the strongest imaging or reference quality openness common to the best Blu-ray discs, you will get as close as possible to the original four-track Westrex stereo recording. In the process of mixing it for 5.1, MGM did a good job dusting off the surfaces and clearing away the cobwebs, but as a result of using digital tools and boosting certain frequencies for clarity and impact, the treble is rolled off, the bass is recessed and the sounds in each channel seem stuck in place with not much depth or forward thrust. This would likely be the case even with a straight stereo transfer. But the audio engineering of the DTS-HD MA track does have its pluses. The score, featuring fantastic harmonies by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle, is detailed and precise, with clinical characteristics that let you pick out each instrument and hear it as never before.
The Graduate Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All the bonus content can be found not on the Blu-ray, but on the 40th Anniversary edition DVD included by MGM. Two documentaries--The Graduate at 25 and One on One with Dustin Hoffman are from Criterion's 25th anniversary two-disc laserdisc release. Both featurettes were then included on MGM's subsequent "special edition" DVD, but were spiffed up on the 40th Anniversary release, which has a number of newer interviews and commentaries that are similar.
The 40th Anniversary DVD includes four featurettes released for the first time in 2007: Students of "The Graduate", The Seduction and two audio commentary tracks--one featuring actors Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross, and the other with directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. All are worthwhile for fans of The Graduate. The documentaries feature illuminating interviews. Students of "The Graduate" offers insights from directors Harold Ramis, Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton and Marc Forster--all of whom were influenced by Nichols' work. This Hollywood crowd pontificates about their favorite moments from the movie. The commentary tracks are more rewarding, especially the one featuring Nichols. If you sit through anything on the DVD, this commentary track should be it. Soderbergh interviews Nichols, but often both participate in a detailed conversation. Nichols' anecdotes are priceless as he discusses his experiences in The Graduate with and without the actors to make his vision come to life. He also discusses with Soderbergh details about his approach to film and technical elements on the set. Rounding out the bonus content is the theatrical trailer in standard definition, obviously.
The Graduate Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Like most films from the '60s, The Graduate is slow by today's standards. Extended sequences of unconventional footage serve as interludes to show the passage of time, plot devices and to convey Ben's emotional world. Perhaps the most successful of these is the way Nichols shoots Ben's walk to the pool in his SCUBA gear. The only sound is the heavy, slow inhale and exhale through the tank's regulator. The picture is framed as an oval, as if we are seeing the world through Ben's diving mask. Through this lens, we see Mr. Braddock hamming it up with his friends and waving Ben into the water. We hear none of Mr. Braddock's comments--just Ben's slow breathing and a splash as he falls into the pool and is forced underwater repeatedly by his father. As the camera pulls back slowly, Ben is shown standing at the bottom of the deep end, holding his fishing spear like some sort of awkward aquatic explorer. The scene is comical, but like Simon and Garfunkle's music, it carries more weight and loneliness than humor. Many sequences do. The atmospheric quality of these scenes--relying on Nichols' audio-visual execution--is very well represented on Blu-ray and the high resolution serves the film very well. If you're a fan of The Graduate, or even have passing interest, do not hesitate to pick up the Blu-ray. It is far and away the superior version.
The Graduate: Other Editions
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