Blue Underground // 1979 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 29th, 2009
Life is fast at 240 miles per hour!
I first heard about noted cult video label Blue Underground because of its DVD release of David Cronenberg's "lost" Fast Company. I was floored when I saw it was being released at all, but I went into overdrive when they announced a limited edition version with his two earliest (feature) films, Stereo and Crimes of the Future. Once I had it in hand, I knew this was one of the most fan-considerate DVD release ever, with the aforementioned films plus a commentary and interviews with John Saxon and DP Mark Irwin. Now, it's the hi-def age, and Blue Underground has once again stepped up to the line by delivering Fast Company on Blu-ray. Gone is the "limited edition"; instead all of the content from the previous two-disc edition is included on one hi-def disc.
Fast Company is the story of Lonnie "Lucky Man" Johnson (William Smith, Maniac Cop), a driver who races for FastCo oil company. Lonnie's job isn't to win so much as it is to keep his sponsor in the spotlight, but after a nasty explosion on the racetrack, marketing guru Phil Adamson (John Saxon, Nightmare on Elm Street) shows up to keep a tighter rein on Lonnie and his crew. When Lonnie won't knuckle under to Adamson's demands, he and his team are replaced by a rival driver. With his competitive nature, Lonnie won't take this treatment lying down, so it's off to the races for a spectacular showdown.
Watching it now, with films like Videodrome, Crash, and A History of Violence behind us, Fast Company might not seem to fit comfortably into his peculiar body of work. However, it's entirely possible that without the genre-bound Fast Company, there would have been no Videodrome, or anything else for that matter. Cronenberg might have taken up writing, or become a driver himself, because this film demonstrated that Cronenberg wasn't simply an idiosyncratic director of Canadian body-horror. This film gave him a budget, a stringent set of genre conventions (from both the Western and the sports/racing movie), and a shot at a wider audience. Through no fault of his own, the latter didn't appear, but the film still showed that Cronenberg could work within an established system.
Looking back thirty years later, we have a film that's more likely to appeal to gearheads (which Cronenberg admits to being) than Cronenberg fans. Certainly the black-and-white tale of rival racers seems to hold little in common with the man who dealt with shades of gray in Dead Ringers. That's really not a knock on the film, though. It's a simple tale told with workmanlike competence and an eye on the bottom line. Those really looking for the familiar Cronenberg will catch glimpses in the loving detail shots of engines and the sometimes odd relationship between man and machine represented by car and driver.
While Fast Company won't satiate most fans of Naked Lunch, Blue Underground has kindly included two films that probably will: Stereo and Crimes of the Future. Both films are more in line with the Cronenberg mindf**k aesthetic, and both run about 60 minutes long. I don't want to say too much about them, partly because they're best unspoiled and partly because they defy categorization. However, I will say that both initially come off as typically pretentious student films (although credit must be given because they were made in the late '60s), but upon further inspection they already hold the seeds of the rest of Cronenberg's career.
The other the extras focus on Fast Company. As usual, Cronenberg is talkative and astute in his commentary track, discussing the film's genesis, its effect on his career, and why it basically vanished for several decades. We are also treated to interviews with actors John Saxon and William Smith, as well as cinematographer Mark Irwin. Rounding out the extras is the film's trailer. This disc is also enabled for D-Box motion control, for those with that capability.
After seeing the words "racing," "genre," "'70s," and "John Saxon," you could be forgiven for thinking that Fast Company wouldn't gain much out of the high-definition treatment. I made that same mistake, but luckily I was wrong. Although the film stock and hairstyles scream 1970s, this is one of the more film-like transfers I've seen. Grain is kept in check, colors are strong throughout, and detail is just right. Although it doesn't have the flash that some contemporary films do, Fast Company boasts an amazing transfer. Equally impressive are the various audio options, including both a DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD surround track. Both tracks capture the rumble of engines and roar of the crowd.
I have a single quibble with this release: Stereo and Crimes of the Future aren't in hi-def. Since it's amazing we have them at all, I'm not going to complain too loudly.
Although its primary appeal now will be to '70s racing-film fans, Fast Company offers a fascinating peek at a master in development. Fans of later Cronenberg will be delighted with the inclusion of two of Cronenberg's earliest cinematic explorations. For fans of all stripes, Fast Company has never looked better, and upgrade decisions are going to depend on how much you think the hi-def transfer is worth.
For porting a fantastic release into high definition, Blue Underground is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Bonus Films