Universal // 1982 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // December 9th, 1999
It's Awesome! Totally Awesome!
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was originally panned by critics, not even given a nationwide release, but the public knew better, and flocked to theatres. In the 17 years since then it has grown into a cult classic and it is ever more recognized that this film, presumably a teen sex comedy, tried to be much more and succeeded. It portrayed a far more realistic view of teenagers of the early '80s generation than the other teen fare of the day and was both funny and touching without becoming sappy. Originally a low budget film, its cast was filled with unknown actors who went on to become big stars.
I've got to be honest here. I saw this movie back in '82 as a young man, and afterwards all I really remembered was Sean Penn (The Thin Red Line,Dead Man Walking, Hurlyburly) as the ultimate surfer dude and an umm...certain pool scene with Phoebe Cates (Drop Dead Fred, Private School, Paradise). It was only years later I was able to look at it again and really see it through eyes not blurred by testosterone overload. Fast Times at Ridgemont High takes on a whole new light with time as well because you see the careers of the actors that began there. For a moment let's just look at some of the bit parts: Eric Stoltz (The Fly), Nicolas Cage (Con Air, Leaving Las Vegas, 8mm), and Anthony Edwards ("ER" on TV) all got started here, with parts named "Stoner Bud" and "Brad's Bud."
This all began when writer/director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Singles, The Wild Life) was young -- young enough to pass as a teenager -- and spent a year masquerading as a high school senior and recording his observations for Rolling Stone magazine. The novel was conceived then and the movie rights sold to Universal during that year. He went on to write the best selling novel and the screenplay. The job of director went to Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Look Who's Talking, Johnny Dangerously) in her first feature film. She proceeded to put together an ensemble cast of young actors who would basically be telling different stories at once, while weaving them together as the characters came in contact with each other.
Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop, Ruthless People) plays Brad Hamilton, a confident kid who finds himself in his job at a burger joint and his classic car. Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ, Flesh + Blood, Single White Female) plays his 15-year-old sister Stacy who believes everyone else is having sex and wants to join that club as quickly as possible. She gets advice and tutoring in certain methods from Phoebe Cates, who plays Linda Barrett, the girl every guy wants but dates an absent college boy. Brian Backer (The Money Pit) plays the shy Mark "Rat" Ratner who is infatuated with Stacy, but lacks the confidence and words to approach her. He is given advice from his friend Mike Damone, the oh-so-cool and knowing ticket scalper and schoolmate played by Robert Romanus (Carlo's Wake).
Two of the few adult roles in the movie are played by Vincent Schiavelli (Tomorrow Never Dies, Ghost, People vs. Larry Flynt), the laid back biology teacher, and Ray Walston (The Stand, Johnny Dangerously, Damn Yankees) as the strict history teacher Mr. Hand, who is bedeviled by Jeff Spicoli, the blonde, perpetually stoned surfer dude played by Sean Penn. Spicoli is definitely the funniest character in the film. Several scenes are either for him or stolen by him; such as when he has a pizza delivered to Mr. Hands class, falling out of a smoke filled van, crashing the football star's car, and a classic dream sequence where he is a world champion surfer who says of his competitors "Those guys are fags!." Penn plays him masterfully, always remaining authentic to the character and refusing to let him completely overshadow the rest of the cast. He said "I'd rather the audience left wanting more Spicoli than just get repetitive with him." Forest Whitaker (Phenomenon, The Crying Game, Good Morning Vietnam) plays the football star Charles Jefferson, who gets fooled into believing his car was destroyed by the rival team instead of by Spicoli (who had the classic line "People on 'ludes shouldn't drive") and single-handedly annihilates the opposing team in the next game. This was also Whitaker's first role.
This collector's edition disc has a beautiful anamorphic transfer in 1.85:1 ratio without any noticeable artifacts, film noise, or grain. Flesh tones and black levels are dead on, and I was surprised and delighted at the quality of the video in this 17-year-old film. The menus are cut with scenes from the movie and spliced in little tidbits when switching from item to item, very nice as well. Unfortunately the sound doesn't delight. At first I was sure something was wrong but it turned out I was only hearing the Dolby Digital mono track, which in Pro Logic mode or any DSP my receiver was capable of sounded like an AM radio coming out of my center speaker. Turning off any surround effects improved the sound quality, though it was only coming out of my two front main speakers. A shame that the soundtrack of now classic tunes couldn't have had a better sound.
I will give Universal a lot of credit for the extensive extras on this disc. Extras include a documentary "Reliving our Fast Times at Ridgemont High" with most of the stars and now-famous bit players talking about the movie. Good stuff. Then we have a commentary track with the director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe as they both inform about the movie and reminisce. It is one of the better commentary tracks I've listened to, with little to no empty gaps in sound. If that wasn't enough, there is a little map that shows video feeds and comment on the locations in the film, production notes, cast and filmmakers' bios and filmographies, the theatrical trailer, and music highlights which take you to the places in the film where the soundtrack songs start. There is even an Easter egg found by clicking on the two bare feet in every bonus menu spot to take you to the spots where classic quotes in the movie begin. 18 chapter spots in this 90-minute movie also ensure you can find that little spot you want to find. Some of you may hit certain spots more than others.
As described above, the audio deserved at least a stereo track and an AC-3 track would have been even better. Universal used the Alpha Keep Case, my least favorite way of storing a disc. The rest of the complaint concerns the extras NOT on this disc, which sounds petty. One little known fact about Fast Times at Ridgemont High is that it was almost rated X, and some sex scenes were trimmed to make it an R. There were also quite a few extra scenes, some of which are still shown on TV versions of the movie. None of those deleted scenes or ones shown on TV are present. Many of them, it turned out, were destroyed by Universal years ago. I still think they could have given us the unrated version of the film though. Considering the number of extras ON the disc, this sounds like nitpicking, but would have been nice.
Universal has released a great looking disc with a phenomenal set of extras of a classic film showing off many stars in their youth working together to make a funny yet touching film. It does a great job of confronting youth with their own culture and showing the awkwardness of sex for the inexperienced and giving us a glimpse and remembrance of being too young to handle all that comes with being an adult, but handling it anyway. This might just have been the perfect disc but for the lack of an AC-3 track and some deleted scenes.
I sentence the prosecutor's office to 27 consecutive viewings of Porky's for bringing this fine film and disc up for trial. The film and the disc are totally acquitted, and Universal climbs another notch in my estimation, though I remind them that the Amaray Keep Case is the preferred one of this court, and not to try our patience with a lesser disc not being kept in one.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production notes
* Cast and Crew
* Music Highlights
* Classic Quotes
* Location shots