Judge Erich Asperschlager is trying to seduce you.
"I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends."
The Graduate is an American cinematic masterpiece. Merging the best of theater and film, it broke with conventional Hollywood wisdom—sparking a cultural and creative movement that changed the way films are made. MGM celebrates four decades of this landmark film with the release of The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition.
If you're serious about film, The Graduate is required viewing. It's like an hour-and-forty-six minute master class in filmmaking: If you want to know how to edit, watch this film; if you want to know how to compose a shot using the entire picture frame, watch this film; if you want to see why the disciplines of stage acting matter, watch this film; if you want examples of symbolism helping a story, not hindering it, watch this film; if you want to see a director at the top of his game, using everything in his filmmaking "toolbox" to create a visually stimulating experience, watch this film. In fact, the technical variety and creativity used by director Mike Nichols brings to mind another famous film—a certain black-and-white movie from 1941 that consistently tops critics' "all-time-best-of" lists.
Perhaps due in part to Nichols's experience directing theater, The Graduate combines the best of both mediums. He's as comfortable drawing attention to the camera—through the use of montages, zoom lenses, stylized angles, and trick shots—as he is letting it be mere observer of character interaction. With cinematographer Robert Surtees by his side, Nichols created what is essentially a surrealist film: where scene lighting changes to fit the mood; full-length Simon and Garfunkel songs play over dialogue-free action; and close-ups pull back into long shots that turn actors into onscreen specks.
The Graduate is more than a technical triumph, though—it's also hilarious, thanks to Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry's screenplay adaptation of Charles Webb's novel, and universally strong performances by everyone from leads Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross to supporting cast members like William Daniels (Knight Rider), Murray Hamilton (Jaws), and Norman Fell (Three's Company).
It's hard to believe a movie that feels this fresh is really 40 years old. The Graduate has always had its detractors—early critics who felt it shouldn't have ignored the late-'60s anti-war youth movement and modern critics who don't feel the story has aged well—but there's no denying its importance in film and pop-cultural history.
Fans who have bought previous versions of this film know how disappointing past DVD options have been. Great films deserve great DVD releases. Thankfully (and finally) MGM has given it to us.
Facts of the Case
The Graduate tells the story of college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie, in his first film), who returns to his parents' Los Angeles home filled with anxiety about his future and surrounded by oblivious adults who want only to shake his hand and usher him into their world of cocktails, pool parties, and "plastics." On the night of his graduation party, Benjamin is propositioned by family friend—and wife of his father's business partner—Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker). Though he flees her initial advances, he later changes his mind and the two begin an affair, meeting frequently at a local hotel. Concerned about his seeming lack of motivation, Benjamin's parents insist he take the Robinsons' daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), out on a date, which he does against Mrs. Robinson's wishes. When Benjamin falls for Elaine and ends their affair, Mrs. Robinson threatens to expose the adultery and sabotage his chances with her daughter.
This DVD has been a long time coming. As the first true anamorphic widescreen release for this film—with much-improved picture quality and 5.1 surround audio—this transfer is reason enough to dip, double-dip, or, heaven forbid, triple-dog-dare-dip with this disc. The picture is sharp, with rich darks and a nice color range. Though there's not a lot for the surround mix to do, it makes good use of directional effects; when the music does come in, it benefits from the bump.
I feel confident recommending this disc on the strength of the film's presentation alone—that the extras are also top-notch takes this great release and makes it even better.
At least two of the bonus features—"The Graduate at 25" and "One on One with Dustin Hoffman"—are carry-overs from the 25th anniversary laserdisc release and the subsequent "special edition" DVD. Since the special edition had a lousy non-anamorphic transfer, it's nice to see these features get a do-over. A lot of the information in "The Graduate at 25" overlaps with the newer featurettes; while the Hoffman interview is candid and fun, he and Katherine Ross share a feature-length commentary elsewhere on the disc. Was it necessary to include these older features? Maybe not, but it's hard to complain about getting more for your money. Just think of them as "bonus" bonus features.
There are four new features for this 40th anniversary release: "Students of The Graduate," "The Seduction," and two audio commentary tracks—the aforementioned Hoffman/Ross track, and one with Mike Nichols and fellow Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape).
"Students of The Graduate" features filmmakers and critics who are also fans of the film. Directors like Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), and Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction) discuss their favorite scenes, shots, and performances from the film. "The Seduction" is, in many ways, a continuation of "Students" (it's also about half as long). The interviewees are back, this time focusing specifically on the movie's relationships. Both features are insightful and informative, and are a good argument for including outsiders' perspectives on DVD sets.
Providing the insiders' points-of-view are two stellar commentary tracks. In the first, Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross talk about the film as actors—from the auditions, to what it was like working with Mike Nichols, the rest of the cast, and with each other. Hoffman dominates the discussion, but that's probably because Ross's character is only in the second half of the film. The discussion is detailed, fascinating, and surprisingly candid (I guess being 40 years removed from a project helps).
By far the best of the features, though, is the commentary by Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh. What starts with Soderbergh interviewing Nichols becomes a rich discussion of filmmaking technique and creative philosophies. Nichols is a great storyteller, and does an amazing job of recreating his experience making this film—his directorial influences; rehearsing with the actors; the painstaking preparation; how working with Sertees made shooting his vision possible; and stories behind the film's iconic moments. It's so riveting you won't care that what they're talking about doesn't always match up with what's happening onscreen.
The extras are rounded out by the theatrical trailer and a second disc which, though billed as a "soundtrack CD," is basically a Simon and Garfunkel EP, containing the songs "The Sound of Silence," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," "April Come She Will," and "Mrs. Robinson" (the only song written specifically for the film, and whose relatively obscure lyrics make a little more sense once you know its original title was "Mrs. Roosevelt"). All four songs are classics and a nice accompaniment to the main DVD. However, considering even casual Simon and Garfunkel fans probably already own these songs, I'd like to have seen them include different versions of the songs—the stripped-down "guitar riff" version of "Mrs. Robinson" from the film, for example.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the world of DVDs, the general philosophy seems to be "more is better." Although I'm not usually one to complain about getting more, The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition teeters on the edge of having too many extras. Taken individually, all of the bonus features are full of fascinating information and critical insight. The problem is, you get the same fascinating information over and over again. It's not a big deal, really, since repetition helps retention. Still, considering how famously tight the film is, the bonus features probably could have learned a thing or two about editing.
This is the DVD that fans of The Graduate have been waiting for. The film looks and sounds better than ever, which will make re-watching it as many times as you'll undoubtedly want to that much more enjoyable. If you've never seen The Graduate before, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Buy with confidence—this DVD belongs in every film buff's library.
Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. Since we don't make moral judgments here, I have no problem finding this classic not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Actors Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross
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