Universal // 1982 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // August 9th, 2011
Brad: "Why don't you get a job Spicoli?"
Jeff: "What for?"
Brad: "You need money."
Jeff: "All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine."
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was considered a pretty small film when they made it, just your average teen comedy. A young Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) adapted the story from research he did by going undercover in California high schools for his reporting gig at Rolling Stone which then turned into a book. A rather untested director named Amy Heckerling (Clueless) was hired to adapt for the screen it by a trusting studio. Finally, there was a cast of unknowns playing the teens including Sean Penn (Milk), Phoebe Cates (Gremlins), Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ), Eric Stolz (Mask), Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop), Forest Whitaker (Platoon), and Nicolas Cage (Wild at Heart). It was a hit, of course, and everybody involved seemed to go onto bigger and better things. Now the beloved little film hits Blu-ray with all the bells and whistles of the high def treatment. Is the film totally awesome or bogus at its thirty year reunion?
Fast Times at Ridgemont High follows several typical teens as they party, go to school, hang out at the mall, and work in fast food joints. We get to see Stacy Hamilton (Leigh) and Mark Ratner (Brian Backer, The Money Pit) as they earnestly look for love, or at least a nice date. The duo are helped along by their older classmates, Linda Barrett (Cates) and Mike Damone (Robert Romanus, The Runaways) who dole out patently bad advice at every turn. There is also the stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli (Penn) who faces off with the stern history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston, Picket Fences). We also get to see Brad Hamilton (Reinhold) struggle with his summer job, as he prepares for the "real world."
If you were a child of the '80s or ever wanted to be, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is classic and essential material. It was more "Rebel Without a Clue" than Rebel Without a Cause, but feels painfully authentic capturing what it was like to be hormonal back when cell phones didn't exist. All the teen hallmarks of 1982 are on display here, including arcades, malls, high fashion jeans, the Pat Benatar look, and upturned Izod collars. The music screams classic '80s with The Cars and The Gogos prominently featured throughout. And even if the music and clothes are dated, the struggles still work because the kids obsess over what kids always do -- sex, love, money, and graduating. It's still a fun watch, just like it was back in the day. The biggest treat is to see all of these stars so young and vibrant! Hard to believe this was ground zero for so many up and coming talents, but here they are without their Oscars or big glitzy billing just acting like the kids they were.
On Blu-ray, the transfer is solid, but the era holds back its presentation. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was shot on rather flat looking film stock that was common for the early eighties. As a result, the depth of field and color vibrancy can only be brought up so far, and there is always a wash of grain. It looks as good as it can, but the upgrade to 1080p doesn't perform any miracles. Previously released on HD-DVD, I suspect this is simply a port of that now defunct format's transfer. That said, by comparison, the color and detail are improved. If you're a hardcore fan, this release is a treat to see.
Audio comes in a similar package, upping the game but not running away with it. Expanding the audio field to five channels does make the vintage '80s songs pop a little more, but there's not much beyond that. It has a thin sound throughout, although there is a nice expansion of the rhythm tracks in the soundtrack. The film has almost wall to wall music cues, so a little boost helps that without doing much for the other elements. Dialogue is clear enough, but use of directional effects is limited.
As far as supplements go, the Blu-ray feels just like the collectors edition DVDs, since all the material comes from those previous released sets. We get an old commentary track featuring Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling discussing the film in-depth. It's a great listen if you've never heard it. There's a documentary feature that gets together most of the cast and crew to talk about the film. Some of the big names like Penn and Cage are missing, but it's still a solid enough look back on the project. This is the same feature found on the DVD, presented in low definition. Missing are the song menus and video maps of the teen hangouts which did not make the leap from DVD.
New to this edition are the U-Control features, which aren't really as new as you would expect. Scene specific commentary is provided, but it's just the documentary feature spliced into the movie via Picture-in-Picture. Any time a song comes, on a bubble will pop up to tell you who did it and who published it. I suppose this replaces the soundtrack menu from the DVD. We still don't get the much fabled deleted scenes from the network broadcast version. However, you can find them on YouTube, if you want to search.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a teen sex comedy from the '80s that established the genre and spawned countless imitators. It's interesting to revisit, simply because of the high level star power of its then unknown cast, and it still has an appealing authenticity to what it feels like to be a teenager. Of course, the whole thing is hopelessly dated, but that's the fun now. Given what little has been done for its jump to Blu-ray, this isn't crucial upgrade, but certainly the best the film has looked and sounded to date. If the thought of Phoebe Cates emerging out of a pool in a red bikini in high-definition gets your heart racing, then have at it.
Guilty of saying "aloha" to Mr. Hand.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Picture in Picture
* Scene Companion