Our review of The Big Chill (1983) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection, published July 29th, 2014, is also available.
How much love, sex, fun, and friendship can a person take?
The Big Chill is a wonderful film about the loss of innocence of a generation, and how people can grow up and have to make choices. Compromises are made, for better or for worse, and sometimes friends fall by the wayside. This film is about such friends, who reunite after one of their group in college commits suicide. A great cast and director, along with ample rehearsal time, make this a very well crafted piece of American filmmaking. Here we have a very nice special edition of it on DVD.
Frankly, I've had a bad week. It started out well enough with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But then I worked my way through the strange and avant-garde Free Money, and then things went downhill through Poison Ivy and Poison Ivy: The New Seduction. I needed a break. So I borrowed a DVD of a film I've always enjoyed, and sat down to watch it, without any thought to reviewing it. I basked in the glow of witty and well-delivered dialogue, with an ensemble of strong actors under the careful planning of a director I respect. When it was done, and I looked through the extras, I decided I needed to write about it, if for no other reason than that you should have the chance to know about it, even though it's not a new release.
Well, for those who don't know it, here's the story. A group of thirtysomethings who've moved on from the radical '60s to become successful lawyers, doctors, actors, and journalists are reunited when one of their group from college commits suicide. The cast includes Kevin Kline (Wild Wild West, Dave, Fierce Creatures) and Glenn Close (Air Force One, In and Out, Mary Reilly) as Harold and Sarah. He is a successful businessman and she is a doctor, and they lived close by their friend Alex, the one who killed himself. Their home becomes the set for most of the movie.
From all over the country their old college friends come for the funeral; Nick (William Hurt, The Big Brass Ring, Dark City, Children of a Lesser God) a former radio psychiatrist now into fast cars and drug use; Meg (Mary Kay Place, Being John Malkovich, The Rainmaker) who wants a baby, and since she has no husband hopes one of the men present will provide the seed; Sam (Tom Berenger, A Murder of Crows, Last of the Dogmen, Major League), a star on a popular action TV series; Michael (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, The Fly), a writer for People magazine wanting to hit up his friends for money to open a nightclub; and Karen (Jobeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, Poltergeist, From the Earth to the Moon) as the now married mother who still has a thing for Sam. Added to this mix is Meg Tilly (The Two Jakes, Camilla, Agnes of God), the girlfriend of Alex at the time of his suicide; younger and less self absorbed than the others.
After the funeral all of these people come to stay at Harold and Sarah's home for the weekend. There they discuss life, their friend, the changes that have come, and much more. This movie is funny, but doesn't go out of its way to get a laugh. There are some classic quotes here: Meg remembers the last time she spoke to Alex they had had a fight, and Nick replies with a totally deadpan delivery "That is probably why he killed himself." Every line seems crafted and natural. This did not happen on its own. The director, Lawrence Kasdan (French Kiss, Wyatt Earp, Silverado), had the cast spend four weeks together in rehearsal where they stayed together even when they weren't the ones being shot. This developed the familiarity that comes off so naturally between the characters who are old friends. You see the dynamics of these character interactions take over as Karen makes her play for Sam, and the different men come up as candidates for becoming the father of Meg's child.
All through The Big Chill is a wonderful soundtrack full of late '60s hits and Motown. This soundtrack comes to you brilliantly with both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks. Dialogue is always intelligible, even over the music. The soundstage is great, without overwhelming anything. There are also French and Spanish language tracks on the disc. The video is perhaps its weak link, colors are a bit washed out sometimes; though black levels and flesh tones are right where they should be and the picture is pretty sharp, with only a little grain here and there. I should say that at least it's a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer.
While there aren't a ton of extras, those that are included are top-notch. The best of them is the one-hour retrospective documentary, where the director and all the stars discuss the making of the film and many anecdotes about its filming and production. It matches or exceeds any commentary track I've seen. The rest of the extras are deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, interactive menus (I know not really an extra) and the trailer for Silverado. It could have had more, but what is there is plenty to make it a special edition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said, the video wasn't the best I've ever seen, but it's not bad at all for a 16-year-old film, and better than most transfers of movies of similar age. The only other nitpicky complaint is that one deleted scene is not included, and that is what was almost the final scene of the film, set back in the group's college days, and Alex was there with them. A very young unknown named Kevin Costner played Alex in that scene, but now the only place you see him is in the opening credits as Alex the corpse being dressed for his funeral, and you only see his hairline and extremities. I think it would have been nice to include that in the deleted scenes.
If you're old enough to know what it's like to grow up and change, then this is a disc that should be in your collection. A great film, great writing (Lawrence Kasdan also helped write a few little gems called Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and a great cast combine to make one of the best films of the '80s.
Both disc and film are acquitted.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Retrospective Documentary
Review content copyright © 1999 Norman Short; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.